By Kirk Luedeke
The 2012-13 season has been the best of times and worst of times for the Boston Bruins and their fans, who watched a terrific start in the months of January and February give way to inconsistency and malaise in March and April. Although the B’s made the postseason, they did so as the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed, failing to secure the second position as Northeast Division champion on the regular season’s final night.
What the B’s can accomplish in the NHL playoffs remains to be seen, but the news on the prospects front is an encouraging sign of some organizational depth that GM Peter Chiarelli and his front office staff can perhaps leverage to build a stronger contender in 2013-14 and beyond.
The AHL’s Providence Bruins overcame a tough start to finish with that league’s top regular season record, and several farmhands from that successful club could find themselves as full-timers in Boston next year or soon thereafter. The bad news for Providence is that after such a strong year, they dropped both of their home playoff games to the Hershey Bears and appeared to be on life support, needing three consecutive wins to avoid elimination in the best of five series.
Beyond the AHL farm club, the Bruins also have done a fine job of identifying and drafting key players in the Ontario Hockey League. Dougie Hamilton made impressive contributions earlier this season and show a tremendous amount of promise as a core player for the Bruins. The Boston top-10 is rife with prospects coming out of that storied league and longtime producer of NHL talent.
Here’s a look at where the current crop of Bruins futures stands from 11-30.
We’ll return in a few days to give you the organizational top-10, and you can see where top prospects like Ryan Spooner, Malcolm Subban and Alexander Khokhlachev graded out.
11. Zach Trotman, D Providence Bruins (AHL)
Upside: The final pick in 2010 NHL draft has size (6-foot-4), mobility, a cannon shot, and upside to play in the big show. Trotman is a smart, creative player offensively who doesn’t get enough credit for what he brings to the table as a prospect and all-around defender.
Downside: Development stalled by concussion, nagging injuries in first full AHL season. Trotman doesn’t play all that physical a game for his size, but he does use his body effectively along the walls and in front of his own net.
Outlook: The Lake Superior State product and Indiana native could be an effective No. 4/5/6 with power play impact if he can work his way into a veteran Boston lineup in the next several seasons.
12. Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.), D Boston University Terriers (HEA)
Upside: Superb freshman season for the 2012 third-round pick; has an abundance of speed, hockey sense, character and high-end puck-moving ability.
Downside: Below average size; like Krug, will have to overcome that significant obstacle to prove he belongs in the NHL.
Outlook: Another longer-term project, but the Townie wowed the B’s with his great skills and attitude, prompting the team to take him earlier than projected. He justified Boston’s early draft faith in him by posting HEA All-Rookie Team honors.
13. Brian Ferlin, RW Cornell Big Red (ECAC)
Upside: Big-bodied (6-foot-2, 205), athletic power forward has the hands and shot to be a solid third-line player with potential to be a NHL role player some day. A deceptively fast skater with an explosive burst and ability to attack defenses with speed.
Downside: Lacks the natural jam and physicality you want to see from a player of his type.
Outlook: The Floridian and fourth-round pick in 2011 had a tough start, but managed to get his scoring going at the end of his sophomore season. Still has work to do on his all-around game.
14. Carter Camper, C Providence Bruins (AHL)
Upside: Tenacious little (5-foot-9) pivot has been a point producer and impact performer at every level with his soft hands and great head for the game.
Downside: Small, plus lacks separation speed and quick burst to compensate for his lack of size.
Outlook: The former Miami University captain finds himself at a crowded position for jobs with the big team. He scored his first NHL goal in his three-game call-up last season, but did not get a shot this year. A change of scenery might be best for Camper.
15. Jordan Caron, RW Providence (AHL)/Boston Bruins (NHL)
Upside: Caron has flashed NHL ability since he turned pro during the 2010-11 hockey season; has a power forward’s body and wicked release to go with a heavy shot.
Downside: Any hopes that Caron might be a top-six scoring forward in the NHL level are waning, given his heavy boots and lack of consistent physical dimension in 88 NHL games.
Outlook: The arrival of Carl Soderberg saw the end of Caron’s latest stint (17 games) in Boston. If the 2009 first-rounder is still in the Boston system come opening night in October, it will be a surprise.
16. Craig Cunningham, RW Providence Bruins (AHL)
Upside: Opportunistic forward finished second on the team in goals (25) to Jamie Tardif. More quick and elusive than fast, the 2010 fourth-rounder has a natural nose for the net as an effective two-way winger and solid team guy.
Downside: Another smallish prospect in the B’s system; gets knocked off of the puck and not quite ready for the regular NHL grind.
Outlook: The Bruins drafted the former junior teammate of Milan Lucic more for his versatility and character than anything else. He brings the attributes that Boston values for the lower lines and special teams units, but does not have much in the way of scoring upside at the highest level.
17. Mike Hutchinson, G Providence Bruins (AHL)
Upside: The 6-foot-3 puckstopper has fine physical tools to play the position; when on his game, he’s extremely tough to beat given the quickness and agility that belies his large frame. Hutchinson is a good guy and teammate who puts in the requisite work to be a pro.
Downside: Consistency has prevented the 2008 third-rounder from establishing himself as a legitimate starter at the AHL level after leaving junior three years ago. Outlook: Given the potential of Subban and Svedberg ahead of him, it’s hard to envision that the Bruins will keep the game, but still developing Hutchinson in the picture much longer. He might be able to land on his feet in another organization.
18. Tommy Cross (Simsbury, Conn.), D Providence (AHL)/S. Carolina (ECHL)
Upside: When it comes to leadership and intangibles like work ethic and selflessness, they don’t make them much better than Cross. Good size, a big point shot and shutdown ability round out the former BC captain and two-time NCAA champion’s package.
Downside: A major knee injury suffered the week he was drafted in 2007 has kept Cross day-to-day for life, as his durability will always be a question mark.
Outlook: Lacking in pure skill and offensive upside, Cross might have a shot in Boston as a bottom-pairing defender, but is not a sure thing to develop into an NHL.
19. David Warsofsky (Marshfield, Mass.), D Providence Bruins (AHL)
Upside: Fast, creative and scrappy; won a NCAA championship at BU in 2009 and a gold medal at the World Jr. tournament in 2010-- winner. Effective puck-moving d-man and power play specialist in the AHL, plays a similar style to Andrew Ference.
Downside: Size is an issue, and he doesn’t quite have Krug’s wheels and offensive creativity.
Outlook: The B’s traded fan favorite Vladimir Sobotka for the South Shore native at the 2010 draft, but Warsofsky was up against tough timing, as Andrew Ference established himself as one of the team’s key players. Although Warsofsky is skilled and determined, he’s subjectively behind Krug and Grzelcyk in the pecking order and may have to find another landing spot.
20. Justin Florek, LW Providence (AHL)
Upside: The player his teammates call
“Giraffe” is a big power forward and former Northern
Michigan captain has an absolute bomb of a shot and can put it in
the net from outside the faceoff circle.
Downside: Sluggish initial first few steps; not an especially fast or agile skater. Although he can chip in with goals and points, the Michigan native (Upper Peninsula) does not possess a high offensive ceiling.
Outlook: Because of his size and character, Florek has a chance to earn some time in Boston next season as an injury replacement if the team needs him. He’s one more solid forward in a crowded field of blue collar/plumber types.
21. Zane Gothberg, G University of North Dakota (WCHA)
Upside: Former USHL goalie of the year lost out on playing time to the older Clarke Saunders, but shined when the Sioux starter was injured during the season. Gothberg is athletic, poised, and quirky; plays well under pressure.
Downside: Gothberg was involved in an underage alcohol-related incident early in the season that saw UND recently reduce a portion of his athletic scholarship. Goaltender depth in the Boston organization is not his friend.
Outlook: The Minnesota native is on the long road, so the B’s will be content to keep him in school and not accelerate his timeline. He’s a good kid who should learn from his mistakes and is a player to watch as one who could elevate himself into the elite ranks of the NCAA as soon as next season.
22. Alexander Fallstrom, LW Harvard University (ECAC)/Providence (AHL)
Upside: Big (6-foot-2) Swedish defensive forward out of Harvard plays an efficient, meat-and-potatoes, up-and-down-the-wing game. His hockey sense/vision and soft hands allow him to make plays in traffic and in front of the net, even if he doesn’t project to be a scoring forward in the NHL (if he makes it).
Downside: A below–average skater who has improved his heavy feet since he was drafted by Minnesota in 2009, but may not ever get quick and agile enough to keep up with the play at the NHL level.
Outlook: Fallstrom is yet another solid, unspectacular forward who plays a Bruins-style of game. He’s got a big challenge ahead to try and crack an NHL roster that has a surplus of similar talent, but the former Shattuck St. Mary’s star has the natural size/strength and is smart/industrious enough to give it a shot.
23. Matthew Benning, D Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
Upside: The nephew of B’s GM Jim Benning has NHL bloodlines (both father Brian and Jim played in the big league) is a good skater and powerful hitter despite possessing just average height (6-foot) for the position. Bound for Northeastern University in the fall, the younger Benning is an intriguing prospect after 10 goals and 26 points in 57 USHL games coming out of the AJHL.
Downside: Will Benning’s lack of ideal size come back to haunt him at the higher levels? Given his propensity to bang bodies, that playing style could take a physical toll on him.
Outlook: On some other clubs, Benning might be a top-15 prospect and given his strong defensive game (positioning, gap control, active stick) and surprising offense. The B’s can and will afford to be patient with him going forward.
24. Matthew Lindblad, C Dartmouth College (ECAC)/Providence (AHL)
Upside: Undrafted free agent signed earlier this month flashed unanticipated AHL production with a goal and five points in Providence’s final four games. The 23-year-old is a heady, instinctive forward with soft hands and the vision to make plays.
Downside: Lacks size and strength; will likely need some time under John Whitesides to get his body properly acclimated for the rigors of the pro game and schedule.
Outlook: This productive (USHL, NCAA) but unheralded forward might be a diamond-in-the-rough find for the Boston scouts, who had the benefit of being close enough to Hanover, N.H. to see him more than others.
25. Chris Casto, D U. Minn,-Duluth (WCHA)/Providence (AHL)
Upside: Casto is a mobile defender with good size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) who was a high school and USHL standout before joining the UMD Bulldogs for two seasons. He has the strength to box out opponents and keep the front of his net clear.
Downside: Lack of vision and creativity capped the NHL ceiling of a once-promising Minnesota high school product. Given his tools, he looks every bit like a big league defender, but may not ever get there.
Outlook: Casto has the makings of a solid depth player and key AHL contributor in short order, but his NHL potential is not quite as projectable.
26. Colton Hargrove, RW Western Michigan University (CCHA)
Upside: Nasty, in-your-face Texas-bred forward who plays with snarl. Pretty good hands in close; jumps on loose pucks and has an underrated shot. Does the dirty work and pays a physical price to help his team win.
Downside: Just your typical north-south winger; has no exceptional attributes. Below average skater who will need to get quicker to have any shot at playing in the NHL.
Outlook: NHL long shot, but the kind of player who carries value in the minors as a tough-as-nails, punishing forward who is tough to play against and will pay the price to win.
27. Lars Volden, G Espoo Blues (Finland)
Upside: Surprisingly refined, technically sound game that belies his age, experience. The 6-foot-2 Norwegian plays the classic butterfly style and when at his best, makes every save look routine.
Outlook: 20-year-old 181st overall pick in 2011 established himself in the Finnish Elite League down the stretch. Underrated and has enough potential to be brought over at some point and put into the mix to see if he can have success in North America.
28. Maxim Chudinov, D St. Petersburg SKA (KHL)
Upside: Blazing fast skater with excellent puck-moving ability and an abrasiveness that compensates for his lack of natural size. Low center of gravity and hits like a truck/relishes contact.
Downside: Can be undisciplined; takes himself out of position to throw big checks and is mercurial in terms of his effort levels. Like Yury Alexandrov, seems more comfortable and content to remain in his native Russia and skate in the KHL rather than try his hand in the NHL.
Outlook: 23-year-old should be ranked higher on talent (potential top-4 in the NHL), but his position reflects the pessimism towards his chances of signing with the Bruins. Of course, if Soderberg’s status can change, anything is possible. For now, consider Chudinov still a Boston prospect, but long shot. The B’s signing of Torey Krug last year speaks volumes as to where they think Chudinov’s playing interests lie.
29. Tyler Randell, RW South Carolina (ECHL)/Providence (AHL)
Upside: Tough with a goal scorer’s touch in junior and will fight just about anyone.
Downside: Lacks the skating chops to be much more than a lower-end minor leaguer. Work ethic is said to be lacking; seems content in a limited enforcer ob.
Outlook: Twice a 20-goal scorer in the OHL with Belleville and Kitchener, Randell had the look of a promising NHL power forward once upon a time (that was a long time ago). He’s shown that ability in flashes (had a four-goal playoff game with the Rangers last spring), but too often, disappears for long stretches and does not bring enough energy to justify an expanded role.
30. Ben Sexton, C Clarkson University (ECAC)
Upside: Jack-of-all-Trades center who is smart, industrious and can skate very well.
Downside: Injury prone: has yet to make it through an entire NCAA season without some malady forcing him from the Golden Knights’ lineup.
Outlook: Will need a tremendous senior season at Clarkson to earn a contract. Solid two-way center in junior and the NCAA, but may simply not bring enough upside, durability to go into the system on an NHL deal for Boston.
Ryan Button, D
Colby Cohen, D
Rob Flick, F
Adam Morrison, G
25 and Over:
Chris Bourque, LW
Garnet Exelby, D
Christian Hanson, C
Kevan Miller, D
Jamie, Tardif, RW
Trent Whitfield, C