Bruins Top 20 prospects, Fall 2007

By Janine Pilkington

Through trades, standout performances and the 2007 draft, the Bruins have plenty of movement in their top 20 and a total of five new additions. They now boast one of the top goaltending prospects in the world, a fully stocked collection of defensemen and a mixture of skill, grit and character among their forwards.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Tuukka Rask, G
2. David Krejci, C
3. Matt Lashoff, D
4. Zach Hamill, C
5. Carl Soderberg, C
6. Mark Stuart, D
7. Vladimir Sobotka, C
8. Jonathan Sigalet, D
9. Adam McQuaid, D
10. Milan Lucic, LW
11. Matt Hunwick, D
12. Martins Karsums, RW
13. Tommy Cross, D
14. TJ Trevelyan, LW
15. Brad Marchand, C
16. Yuri Alexandrov, D
17. Ben Walter, C
18. Kevin Regan, G
19. Mikko Lehtonen, RW
20. Nate Thompson, C

1. (2) Tuukka Rask 8.0B
Acquired via trade (2006)

Twenty-year-old Tuukka Rask has been a part of the organization for just over a year, but his arrival in Boston is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated of all the players in the Bruins system. An elite talent in the prospect world, Rask projects to be a starting goaltender in the NHL, and a very good one at that.

He’s got a big frame that fills a lot of net, and combines explosive movement with quick reflexes. Both skilled and confident in the net, Rask has been an asset to his team, helping them win games even when they were unable to generate offense. In addition to capturing the starting role with Ilves, he has represented Finland in numerous World Junior competitions.

The acquisition of Manny Fernandez will give Rask the opportunity to develop at a natural pace, as the potential is there for a franchise goaltender. He is signed and ready to play American pro hockey for the 2007-08 season, and unless he blows away the competition in training camp, he is expected to play for the Providence Bruins (AHL).

2. (6) David Krejci 8.0C
2nd round, 63rd overall (2004) 

A highly-skilled center who has excelled at every level, Krejci may find himself in the NHL sooner rather than later. As a rookie in the AHL, Krejci averaged more than a point per game, for a total 74 points (31 goals, 43 assists) in 69 contests. He finished out the regular season ranked 13th overall in the league in scoring, third among all rookies and tops on the P-Bruins. This is nothing new to Krejci, who has consistently been one of the top scoring forwards on his team since he played in the Czech Republic, but it is no less impressive how quickly he transitioned to the pro game. 

Krejci’s blend of skills and hockey sense are his trademarks, however it is his tireless work ethic that will help him to take advantage of any opportunity he receives. Somewhat underrated has been his defensive responsibility and his willingness to play physical, both of which became apparent as his rookie season progressed. He’s a talented playmaking center who is just as adept at getting the puck to his linemates as he is finding the back of the net. In the NHL, he may not be an elite center, but at his best, he has the potential to be a top line scoring forward.

3. (3) Matt Lashoff 7.5B
1st round, 22nd overall (2005)

Lashoff has all the characteristics of a future top pairing defenseman in the NHL — size, mobility and hockey sense. He put together a strong rookie performance in Providence during the 2006-07 season, leading all defensemen on the team in scoring with 36 points, and earning a trip to the AHL All-Star game. He’s a consistent performer at both ends of the ice, he can kill penalties and knows how to run a power play. Lashoff transitioned well to the pro game, earning a couple recalls to Boston, where he is positioning himself for a full-time job in the near future.

He could be ready to compete for a job in Boston this season, however it is entirely possible that he could spend another season in Providence, or at least play there in the early half of the 2007-08 season.

4. (NR) Zach Hamill 7.5C
1st round, 8th overall (2007)

While he was somewhat unheralded prior to the 2007 draft, 18-year-old Zach Hamill made enough of an impression to not only be chosen eighth overall by the Bruins, but to sign a contract with them a little more than a month after he was drafted. Hamill might not be considered an elite prospect, but he is highly skilled, with both the tools and the drive to develop into a top six forward in the NHL.

He’s young, but he’s already got three full seasons in the WHL under his belt, and in that time he’s improved steadily to become a powerful offensive threat for the Silvertips. Hamill led the league in scoring for the 2006-07 season, averaging well over a point per game, for a total of 93 points in 69 games.

He’s got an impressive array of offensive skills, particularly in his stick and puck handling and is able to create time and space for himself and his teammates. Realistically, he is a few years away from playing in Boston, but Hamill looks to be a smart pick who could be a big part of the Bruins in the future. He is expected to spend the 2007-08 season with the Silvertips.

5. (NR) Carl Soderberg 7.5C
Acquired via trade (2007)

In an even swap for goaltender Hannu Toivonen, the Bruins acquired Swede forward Carl Soderberg from the St. Louis Blues during the offseason. A former second round pick, Soderberg is a skilled center coming off a breakout season in Sweden’s Elite League. He averaged nearly a point per game with Malmo, totaling 30 points in 31 contests, before an eye injury cut his season short.

In addition to the injury, he does come with some baggage, having received a suspension from the Blues last season for violating his contract when he refused to play for their AHL affiliate in Peoria. Still, Soderberg is the type of player who is well worth the risk. He’s 6’3 200 lbs, and not only strong, but an agile and often explosive skater. Additionally, Soderberg has excellent hockey sense, an accurate shot and considerable puckhandling skills.

The big Swede will have to show a commitment to his new team, no matter where he lands next season, but it may be that a fresh start is all he needs. If he has fully recovered from his injury and is back in game shape, Soderberg will have every opportunity to make the Boston squad in the 2007-08 season.

6. (5) Mark Stuart 7.0B
1st round, 21st overall (2003)

Aside from a couple of recalls, Stuart would spend the majority of his second pro season playing in Providence (AHL). Offseason knee surgery put him a step behind at training camp in the fall of 2006, and instead of building upon a strong rookie campaign that had brought him all the way to the NHL, he was forced to play catch up in the AHL. While in Providence, however, he was easily one of the best defensemen on the ice, a tough competitor who gives his all.

Stuart will not put up many points, but he’s a good sized player and an excellent skater, both which he uses to his advantage while trying to intimidate opposing forwards. He is the kind of defenseman who will not give an inch.

While his second pro effort was disappointing only in the sense that he wasn’t able to secure a full-time job in Boston, there is nothing disappointing about his development, and Stuart will have a shot to make the team in Boston again this fall.

7. (11) Vladimir Sobotka 7.0C 
4th round, 106th overall (2005)

The Bruins signed Sobotka this offseason, and the small but fearless Czech forward will get his first opportunity to play North American hockey during the 2007-08 season. The second of two fourth-round picks in 2005 (106th overall), Sobotka played 33 games in the Czech Extraliga during the 2006-07 season before suffering a season ending injury. He was also one of the top Czech players in the 2007 WJCs.

Sobotka is a skilled puck carrier with a heavy shot and he’s relentless on the forecheck. He possesses raw talent in many areas and is a hard-working player who has shown improvement since he was drafted. The 20-year-old may not be a prolific scorer at that level, but he is versatile, and is a good bet to make it there on some level, though he will likely need some polishing before he gets there.

8. (9) Jonathan Sigalet 7.0B 
4th round, 100th overall (2005)

Sigalet had his second pro season cut short from injury, but if all goes well it should be nothing more than a minor setback for the young defenseman. He’s come a long way from the skinny kid who opted to leave college early for the pros shortly after he was drafted in 2005.

He’s begun to fill out, enough to make a noticeable difference at the beginning of the 2006-07 season, which, combined with the experience gained as a rookie has made him a much more confident and consistent performer. Sigalet is an excellent skater and highly intelligent defender who plays his position well and has the ability to chip in some offense. He may need at least one more season in Providence, but if he’s able to pick up where he left off, he will certainly earn an extended look in Boston sooner rather than later.

9. (NR) Adam McQuaid 7.0B
Acquired via trade (2007) 

The Bruins sent a draft pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets back in May of 2007 for Sudbury Wolves (OHL) defenseman Adam McQuaid. Standing 6’4 and weighing in just over 200 lbs, McQuaid brings size that has been lacking among the Bruins defensive prospects since Andrew Alberts and Milan Jurcina moved on to the NHL.

Primarily a defensive defenseman, the hard-working McQuaid is an excellent skater who can play physical and generally makes good decisions on the ice. He had OHL career highs in points and penalty minutes playing as a top-pairing defender, with a total 31 points and 110 penalty minutes in 65 games during the 2006-07 season. McQuaid has a contract with the Bruins and will begin his pro career, most likely in Providence, during the 2007-08 season.

10. (12) Milan Lucic 7.0C 
2nd round, 50th overall (2006)

It will be tough to top a Memorial Cup winning season, but the next step for the big, bruising winger will be to take the reins as captain of a team that looks to defend their title. With a new contract from the Bruins in hand, this 2006 draft pick has not gone unnoticed, and holds promise as the power forward that they have been lacking for some time.

He is known for his intimidating physical style of play, but his offensive game blossomed during the 2006-07 season as well, when he more than doubled his point totals from the previous season.  Another hard-working, high character player, his rapid progression over the past few seasons have made him a legit candidate to play in the NHL.

Realistically Lucic is a few years away from playing in Boston. He has some potential to chip in some offense in the NHL, but his size and willingness to play physical increase his chances of someday finding a place on the Bruins roster.

11. (14) Matt Hunwick 7.0C
7th round, 224th overall (2004)

After a strong career with the University of Michigan, 22-year-old Matt Hunwick signed his first contract with the Bruins in June of 2007. A lat- round draft pick (7th round, 224th overall) in 2004, Hunwick quietly worked his way through the college ranks and looked to be a long shot to ever become an NHL player.

The biggest knock on Hunwick at the time he was drafted was his size, as he was listed at 5’10, which is small for a defenseman even by today’s standards. Since he was drafted, however, Hunwick has grown to 6’0 and filled out to just below 200 lbs. Additionally, he’s an extremely mobile and skilled defenseman who can lead a dangerous power play attack.

As a senior at Michigan, he was team captain and a top-pairing defenseman, earning accolades for his performance as the CCHA’s best defensive-defenseman. Realistically, Hunwick will need a couple seasons in the AHL before he’ll be ready for the NHL, but he’s got a style of play that is well-suited to today’s game that could put him at an advantage down the road. 

With a number of promising defensive prospects in the mix for the Bruins, Hunwick will have plenty of competition, but he has a reasonable shot to play in the NHL someday and the potential to be an effective middle pairing defenseman and power play specialist.

12. (8) Martins Karsums 6.5C
2nd round, 64th overall (2004)

Karsums drops in the rankings mainly because of the introduction of new players, but he’s still a prospect who brings a lot to the table. He played his rookie year in Providence during the 2006-07 season, making progress, but because of injury, he never quite had the opportunity to break out.

All things considered, the 21-year-old winger did put up respectable numbers, tallying a total 35 points in 54 games, and with the same willingness to plow through opponents that he demonstrated in juniors. Karsums has good hockey sense, and is a skilled puck carrier with strong scoring instincts.

He is a good bet to make the NHL on some level, as he has the ability to play either a scoring or a checking role. The most important thing for Karsums’ development will be a solid healthy season, something he really hasn’t had recently. At this point, the only thing holding him back is injury, and it does raise some question about his durability down the road. If he can keep it together, the potential is there for a successful NHL career.

13. (NR) Tommy Cross 7.0C
2nd round, 35th overall (2007)

The Bruins traded up a couple spots in the 2007 draft to land 6’3 195 lb defender and Connecticut native Tommy Cross, who spent the 2006-07 season playing prep school hockey. In 25 games with Westminster High, he totaled 20 points and 20 penalty minutes, playing against some of the top prep schools in New England.

One of the most attractive things about Cross is his size. He is a superb athlete, with the potential to be a dominant defenseman, and he owns enough skill to add a more offensive element to his game. Though he had originally planned to play in the USHL for the 2007-08 season, it looks like Cross will play another year of prep hockey before he moves on to Boston College. He is still many years away from playing pro, but he’s another strong addition to the Bruins’ growing crop of defensive prospects.

14. (17) TJ Trevelyan 7.0C
Signed as free agent (2006)

Trevelyan was a pleasant surprise in the 2006-07 season, when, following an assignment to the ECHL early on, he earned a recall and played his way into a regular roster spot with the P-Bruins. A free agent pickup in the summer of 2006, Trevelyan was coming off an impressive college career with St. Lawrence University.

The best way to describe Trevelyan is opportunistic — when given the chance, he will find a way to the net.  His skating ability is deceptive, in that he may not always appear to be the quickest player on the ice, but he is adept in his ability to weave his way through traffic, and will turn on the jets when necessary. A big part of Trevelyan’s success is in his timing. His on-ice awareness combined with quick thinking make him a danger to score at all times, and he can score from just about anywhere.  He is also one of the smallest forwards in the Bruins system.

While his size could have an impact on his NHL future, however, his willingness to block shots and take the punishment to make plays helped him to hold his own as a rookie. The next step for Trevelyan will be to build upon a successful rookie campaign as he pushes for a chance to play in the NHL.

15. (15) Brad Marchand 7.0C 
3rd round, 71st overall (2006)

Nineteen-year-old Brad Marchand capped off an impressive season with the Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL) at 80 points (33 goals, 47 assists) in just 57 games. The feisty little forward enjoys playing the role of pest, but he also likes to be actively involved in his team’s offense.

In the past, the biggest downside for Marchand was that he had the tendency to try to do too much, but he has since worked to simplify his game. Marchand may be on the small side, but he is also relentless in his pursuit of the puck and will not back down.

In addition to a strong season with Val d’Or, Marchand played for the gold medal winning Team Canada in the 2007 U20 World Juniors, and while he didn’t put up huge numbers, it was the first time in the WJC.

Marchand should have another season in juniors before he turns pro, and while he owns considerable skill, he will need to figure out how to separate from the pack.  As with most any prospect he is not a sure bet, but he is a battler, and one gets the sense that if there’s a way, Marchand will find it.

16. (10) Yuri Alexandrov 7.0D
2nd round, 37th overall (2006)

Alexandrov turned heads when he found a job in Russia’s top tier league at the age of 17, something not often seen in such a young defender. He spent the 2006-07 season with Severstal, his second in the RSL, appearing in a total 45 regular season games.

Alexandrov’s a good skater, and his ability to move the puck, as well as his responsible defensive play, point towards a potential middle pairing defender in the NHL. He’s got a good sized frame, but still has a very thin, boyish physique that he will need to fill out.

The Bruins haven’t had the best of luck with their Russian draft picks in recent years, and the lack of a transfer agreement could have some affect on their ability to bring him over. Until he comes to North America he looks to be a longshot, still, Alexandrov has the potential to be an NHL player and he should not be ruled out as a viable prospect.

17. (13) Ben Walter 6.5C
5th round, 160th overall (2004)

After two pro seasons with the Providence Bruins, Walter has made progress, and the only question now is can he push himself that extra mile to become a full-time NHL’er. Walter improved upon his rookie season, finishing second on the team in scoring with a total 67 points (24 goals, 43 assists) in 73 games, took home the team’s MVP award, and was also the plus/minus leader at +23 on the season. 

He has made strides with his decision making, which no doubt helped to boost his offense, and spent much of the season centering Providence’s second line. Walter is an excellent playmaker with strong on-ice vision, good puck skills and distributing the puck to open teammates seems almost like second nature.

He is the type of player who will get to the NHL not by exceptional talent but by hard work and determination, and the upcoming season could be pivotal in deciding his future with the organization. After two full seasons in the AHL and a brief taste of the NHL, Walter should, at the very least, get an extended look in Boston.

18. (19) Kevin Regan 6.5C
9th round, 277th overall (2003)

Things seemed to come together for Regan in his junior year with UNH, who took over the starting role with poise, and helped his team towards a strong season. Statistically, Regan had career highs in all categories, and was among the best of all Hockey East goaltenders. He had a 24-9-2 record, Hockey East leading .935 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.06.

Although he’s always been a tough competitor and an agile, athletic goaltender, one of the biggest improvements for Regan in his third college season was in his consistency. Regan exuded confidence in the net and his positioning and rebound control were on track. 

Wrapping up his college career in the 2007-08 season with another outstanding performance will be the first big hurdle for Regan. Translating that success to the pro game will be next, and he’s a player who appears to have the drive to do so.

19. (20) Mikko Lehtonen 7.0D
3rd round, 83rd overall (2005)

Lehtonen is a bit of a mystery, and now that he has his first contract in hand with the Bruins, it will be interesting to see which path he follows as he begins his career in North America. The tall but lanky forward holds promise to be a force on the ice, but a physical player he is not. Lehtonen has shown flashes of his skill, most notably in his outstanding performance at the 2007 WJC and he’s a player with the tools to contribute offensively. His numbers were not eye-catching in Finland’s elite league, though this may be a result of his limited ice time, where he was often relegated to fourth line duty. Lehtonen also had his season cut short by injury.

His puckhandling ability is quite good, as is his work on the power play, where he scored the majority of his goals during the 2006-07 season, and he is a quick skater that is hard to stop once he gets going. Lehtonen will need to fill out more, and will benefit from a couple seasons in Providence, where he should get more ice time, and the opportunity for a breakout year. With continued work, if he reaches his peak potential, Lehtonen could be a second line player in the NHL, however, he has a long road ahead of him before he gets there.

20. (NR) Nate Thompson 5.5B 
8th round, 247th overall (2003)

While he doesn’t always get the attention he deserves, Thompson is one of those hard-working players who does all of the little things that help win games. He’s a high energy forward who can kill penalties and throw opponents off their game. Thompson is a superb skater who will throw his weight around and won’t back down from a fight.

Sporting an “A” on his jersey for Providence during the 2006-07 season, Thompson exceeded his rookie point totals with 23 points in 67 contests and earned a look in Boston. A sixth-round draft pick in 2003 and product of the WHL, the 22-year-old is in the running for a roster spot in Boston this fall, but will need to work hard to get it. 

Missing the cut:  Wacey Rabbit, Levi Nelson and Brock Bradford.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.