September 14, 2011

Boston Bruins rookie games recap & analysis

By Kirk Luedeke

The second of two rookie exhibition games between the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders is in the books, with the Isles winning for the first time in four tries since the clubs began the two-game mini-tourney in Boston a year ago.

Bruins defense prospect David
Warsofsky in action against NY
Islanders rookies (Bruce Bennett
via Getty Images)

The B’s won both home games in 2010 with the newly-drafted Tyler Seguin on board, along with several other notable prospects such as Steve Kampfer, Jordan Caron and Max Sauve. None of those four were in the lineup when the venue shifted to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island this year, but the B’s tooth first game by an 8-5 score, but were thrashed the next night, 7-2.

Here is a quick look at which Boston prospects may have helped themselves, those who might have taken some luster off their shine and those who are treading water based on the two-game snapshot.

Before proceeding, here are a few caveats:

1. It was only two games, so none of the analysis or conclusions being drawn are binding or set in stone. However, given that the rookie contests are the only opportunity to see the majority of the Boston prospects pool in action against peers with another crest on their sweater, there isn’t much else to go on.

2. The Islanders lineup had a significant number of players with AHL and European pro experience, while it does factor into the overall evaluation of the B’s prospects as a collective, one must be careful to use that as an excuse. Skilled and highly competitive players tend to elevate their performance in the face of superior competition.

3. A letdown was expected given that Boston’s young roster was playing on consecutive nights and on the road. The Islanders rookies got a boost from their fans in attendance and had the edge from the outset.

Bruins who helped themselves

 

Ryan Spooner, C- His 4-point game 1 performance had everyone buzzing including members of the Boston front office who witnessed it. He came into the tourney as Boston’s top offensively-skilled player and demonstrated it. He was held off the scoresheet in Game 2, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He was stoned several times by Isles goalie Anders Nilsson. The overall game is still a work in progress, but the talent is clearly there. Given his expectations coming in, it’s hard to put Spooner in this category, but there’s really no other alternative given his pure ability and performance.

Craig Cunningham, C- Not fancy, but this tenacious, intelligent forward can do a little bit of everything. Although not tall, he’s thick and very strong for his size, allowing him to win battles for loose pucks along the walls and gain position in front of the net. He doesn’t project as a top-six NHL forward because he is a bit limited skill-wise, but given his hockey IQ, work ethic and grit, he has a future on the third- or fourth-lines after some time in the AHL.

David Warsofsky, D- Undersized but pugnacious defender and former BU standout can skate and bring some offense. He showed off his solid two-way ability on Long Island and even wore the ‘C’ for the second game. The pride of Marshfield, Mass. probably lacks the elite skill set to be a top-four defender given his lack of size, but a spot on the lower pairing and in a specialist role is not a stretch so long as he continues to develop his game. Not ready for primetime, expect him to see big minutes in Providence under Bruce Cassidy.

Carter Camper, C- He’s listed at 5-foot-9, but that’s a tad generous- the Rocky River, Ohio native would be lucky to stand that tall in skates. However, he is shifty and extremely adept at setting up the play with excellent hands and superb vision/offensive instincts. His skating is only average given his lack of size, so there will be some developmental time before he’s ready to compete for an NHL job. However, for an undrafted free agent, Camper looked every bit the prolific NCAA scorer, All-American and Hobey Baker finalist he was at Miami University.

Anthony Camara, LW- A pitbull on skates– the Saginaw Spirit forward was seen as a bit of a reach/surprise in the third round of this year’s draft, but there is some offensive talent to go with the physical, nastiness he’s brought in his first two OHL seasons. A good skater who relishes making first contact, he also dropped the gloves with legitimate pugilist Brett Gallant, he of two full pro seasons with 395 total penalty minutes between the ECHL and AHL. Although Camara lost the decision, it was a spirited fight and he did bang home a Cunningham rebound at the end of the game for Boston’s second goal. Camara doesn’t have the size or hockey sense to be a top-line presence, but he could develop into an agitating third-liner with some offensive upside in time.

Dylan Hood, C/W- Undrafted camp invite led the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors in scoring last season with 83 points and had a productive game one with a goal and an assist. He didn’t do as much in the second game, but is a good skater with a quick stick and some offensive hockey sense. Because Boston is up against its 50-contract limit, Hood may not have done enough to get an NHL deal offered up, but he just may have secured an AHL contract from Providence with a chance for more.

Bruins who hurt themselves

 

Alexander Khokhlachev, C/W- Boston’s second-round pick in 2011 has a world of talent, and he demonstrated his slick offensive movements in the first game, but was knocked off the puck pretty easily. The second game for Koko was worse, as he showed little chemistry with linemate Jared Knight, didn’t show much intensity or burst and played a soft, outside game. Let’s face it- much more was expected of “Koko” in this setting and he simply didn’t deliver. His time in Boston will be a short one if he doesn’t show a little more sense of urgency and make better decisions with and without the puck.

Michael Hutchinson, G- Arguably the best player overall at Boston’s July development camp, he was ineffective in both games on Long Island, giving up some soft goals. His body language made him appear disinterested at times, and he gave his team no chance at winning in the second game- giving up six goals in 40 minutes. “Hutch” is capable of more, and being one of the older guys in terms of this being his fourth rookie tourney may have played into a bit of perceived malaise. Regardless, given his goalie competition in Boston, he could have sent a message to management with a stronger performance. He’ll need to dial it up a notch this week when the veterans show up, or he’ll be in Providence very quickly.

Yannick Riendeau, RW- When he was signed as a free agent a little over two years ago, it wasn’t a bad gamble to take for Boston, who saw the undersized but prolific scorer lead the QMJHL in production while leading his Drummondville club to the Memorial Cup tournament. Unfortunately, his lack of skating and a bad shoulder and wrist which forced him to miss a lot of time in his first pro season set him back. He did little to stand out in the rookie games, though he did score a power play goal in the first game. He does make some crafty plays, but his lack of speed and size isn’t enough to overcome those sizable hurdles to be an NHL player.

Ryan Button, D- The third-round pick in 2009 didn’t play poorly, but given the fact he was competing against fellow rookies and prospects more was expected from him. Button has very good wheels and the ability to open things up and carry the offense a bit more, but he played a conservative two games and did little to stand out. While that can be a good thing as far as defensemen are concerned, he could have made a definitive statement to Boston brass that he is capable of being more than simply a mobile shutdown defender. He was simply too passive a player in the neutral zone given his talent level and upside as a player who can be effective in transition.

Treading water- these guys neither helped nor hurt their cause

 

Jared Knight, RW- Came alive in the third period of the first game with an NHL-caliber snipe on Mikko Koskinen and empty-netter, but had trouble getting going in the second game. He was in position on a couple of scoring chances but couldn’t bury them. He has an outside shot at making the big club because his body/strength is NHL-ready and Knight is versatile enough can play on the bottom two lines if need be (even if for a 10-game NHL tryout). However, he’ll need to outwork everybody else to have a chance at sticking and cash in on his offensive opportunities. In his favor, the Bruins lost some offense from the right side with the departures of Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder, but because he must return to junior if he doesn’t win a spot in Boston, the B’s may send him back to London so he can play on the top line for a re-loaded Knights club.

Dougie Hamilton, D- Boston’s top prospect (arguably) rebounded from a so-so first game with a strong second, showing a lot of folks why he was a top-10 selection with his mobility and heady play. Hamilton made several impressive rushes and backdoor passes that his teammates couldn’t convert, but you could see his offensive potential on display. With his natural height and reach, he’s tough to beat on the outside. He did pass up several wide-open shooting opportunities and struggled with making decisions under pressure in several instances. Overall, he was fine, but given his expectations, didn’t do enough to earn the nod as “helping” himself at the tourney. Hamilton nonetheless has boundless potential and an impressive ceiling if he continues to develop.

Marc Cantin, D- He is what he is: a safe, steady defender who keeps things simple, makes good decisions and plays with a physical edge. Cantin is not a guy you get excited about, but he has a very good chance to establishing himself as a solid 5th/6th defenseman at the NHL level because his defensive game is so polished already. There isn’t much offensive upside with Cantin, but given that he came via the free agency route, he looks like a real diamond-in-the-rough for Boston. Like Warsofsky, watch for Cantin to have a bigger role than one would expect for a rookie pro in the AHL this season.

Tyler Randell, RW- Meat-and-potatoes winger had a nice fight with Gallant to start the second game and has the look of a decent NHL fourth-liner in the distant future. His skating is sluggish, but he has nice hands and the ability to finish off scoring chances in close. Make no mistake: Randell is a banger with a modicum of skill who isn’t going to be another Milan Lucic, but as a 6th-round pick, should provide toughness and grit for Providence for the next few seasons.

Zach McKelvie, D- McKelvie is an outstanding skater who gets a pass for the mistakes and poor decisions/penalties in the games because he hasn’t played hockey at a high level since a West Point cadet more than two years ago. Because of his wheels, he can compensate for the rust in his game and he does seem to have the vision and a natural head for the game. He’s an NHL longshot, but consider it a win for him if he manages to spend the entire season in the AHL without seeing ECHL time with Reading.

Calle Riddewall, LW- Couldn’t parlay a strong showing at the rookie practices this week into anything really attention-grabbing, but you could see the skating and intelligence on display in flashes against the Isles. He will help Providence with his two-way game, but did not show off any kind of standout tool to indicate that he has much of an NHL future.

Connor Stokes, Kevan Miller, Kyle MacKinnon, Charlie Dodero, Adam Presizniuk, Jared DeMichiel:None looked out of place and extra credit to Stokes and Miller for dropping the gloves and both giving good showings against Benn Olson, a big, strapping player with three full seasons of AHL/ECHL experience. They did what they could with limited ice time, but it was pretty clear that Boston was using the exhibition games to develop their primary prospects. They can all use the experience as a positive springboard to their hockey futures, and possibly a shot in Providence or Reading, but don’t expect many (if at all) to get an invite to Boston’s main camp.