By Kirk Luedeke
The Boston Bruins are gearing up for the 2011-12 hockey season, with veterans slated to officially report for work at the middle of the month, but the team’s youth movement is up first.
Bruins rookie camp will kick off Friday, Sep. 9, with not a lot of time before the youngsters will play a pair of prospect games against the New York Islanders on Long Island on the September 12 and 13. The B’s rookies will then return to Boston for a few more days of practice before the veterans report on Sep. 16.
Boston has a deep organization, with a growing prospect pool that infused some real excitement in the Hub of Hockey a year ago when rookie Tyler Seguin and his mates took a pair of rookie games against the Islanders futures in Boston. This time around, Seguin won’t be present, and after a few days in Willmington, the future B’s will travel to the Empire State for a rematch against the Isles at Nassau Coliseum.
Here’s a quick look at some of the key players in the system and the six prospects who will be in town for the rookie camp portion with Boston:
Mike Hutchinson- Boston’s top player at July development camp is poised to take a good step forward in his development this season as Anton Khudobin’s expected backup at Providence. He’s got size, athleticism and underrated competitiveness. “Hutch” is technically sound and one of the most experienced of the young goalies in Boston’s system, having been a third-round pick in 2008.
Jared DeMichiel- Until he stunned Denver University and UNH in backstopping R.I.T.’s Cinderella run to the 2010 Frozen Four, the Avon, Connecticut native’s main claim to fame was that he was NHL star Jonathan Quick’s (Hamden, Conn.) backup at prep champion Avon Old Farms School. Although older at 26, DeMichiel just finished a solid first pro season spent mostly in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays. He’s with the B’s rookies on an invitational basis.
Dougie Hamilton- The ninth overall selection (pictured above) in June’s draft is Boston’s top prospect and brings considerable two-way potential and upside as a mobile 6-foot-4 defender. Quick on his skates for someone so big, Hamilton also moves the puck effectively and can produce, having established his junior team’s franchise mark for points in a single season with 58. The Niagara Ice Dogs star is still pretty rough around the edges, but has a high NHL ceiling and is a player the Bruins have high hopes for in the next few years.
Ryan Button- This smooth skater has some offensive upside, but will likely begin his development in the AHL as more of a shutdown/stay-at-home type. Although only average-sized for the position, Button is in excellent shape and brings good smarts, awareness and underrated puck-moving ability. He looked solid with Providence in a late-season ATO after his Seattle Thunderbirds failed to make the WHL playoffs and should be one of Boston’s standout players on D at the rookie camp given his experience and ability.
Marc Cantin- The undrafted free agent signed last March is compared by B’s assistant GM Don Sweeney to former Boston veteran Mark Stuart in terms of his style and substance, Cantin may not possess a high offensive ceiling at the NHL level, but he has decent size, mobility and the acumen to play an effective shutdown game. Cantin also brings an edge to the ice and in time, could develop into a solid bottom-pairing guy.
David Warsofsky- The Marshfield, Mass. native grew up on the South Shore rooting for the Bruins and saw a dream come true when the B’s captured the 2011 Stanley Cup. Now, the former Boston University standout and St. Louis Blues draft pick will try to accomplish another dream by making it to the NHL with his favorite team. Although small, Warsofsky is a fine skater who sees the ice well and can advance the puck effectively. He brings an element of grit that reminds of current B’s blue liner Andrew Ference.
Zach McKelvie- Former West Point star hasn’t played competitive hockey since 2009, but gets a chance to start his pro career after two years in the U.S. Army. An outstanding skater who signed with Boston as a free agent, the Minnesotan has had several shoulder surgeries, but hopes to avoid the injury bug as he pursues his pro hockey dream.
Charlie Dodero- The Illinois native plays for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL and is in rookie camp this week on an invitational basis. He doesn’t have great size (6-feet) but is a very good skater and steady defender who will round out the rookie rotation. The numbers don’t indicate a lot of upside, but Dodero could be a late-bloomer who is worth a look if he plays well this week and next.
Ryan Spooner, C- One of the most eagerly anticipated forwards among B’s fans who follow the prospect pipeline, Spooner is coming off a career-best season in the OHL. The smallish, but highly-skilled and creative scoring forward can back up defenses at will and both set up and finish off the play. Flashy and dynamic, Spooner is the most talented of Boston’s forward prospects. It will be interesting to see how things play out for him at camp this month and, assuming he returns to the OHL, on a rebuilding Kingston squad. If he goes back to junior, it’s a strong bet that GM Doug Gilmour will trade Spooner to a contender at some point to get back a package of picks/young players.
Jared Knight, RW- A prototypical Bruin: Knight isn’t tall, but has a thick build and has dropped excess weight from his frame to pick up an extra step. He will report to camp at about 196 pounds this week, and brings a hard-nosed, opportunistic scoring style with him as a player who doesn’t have Spooner’s high-end skills, but goes hard to the net and gives you every ounce of his talent. A strong camp could see Knight win a spot in Boston at least to start the season (the team could return him to junior before he plays 10 NHL contests).
Alexander Khokhlachev, C/W- The B’s love “Koko’s” pure talent and potential, but the diminutive offensive dynamo will need time to develop and mature. Turning 18 on the day he reports to Boston’s rookie camp Sep. 9, Koko will likely return to the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, where he is primed for a breakout offensive season after tallying 34 goals as a 17-year-old. Although not blazing fast, Khokhlachev is quick, elusive and has superb hands. He draws comparisons to a young Sergei Samsonov in terms of the way he goes into the corners and wheels out with the puck.
Anthony Camara, LW- Considered by some to be a reach in the third round of the June draft, Camara stood out at the July Boston development camp with his skating and scoring. He’s a tough son-of-a-gun despite not having ideal size to take on some of the bigger fighters in the OHL ranks. The B’s picked Camara early (81st overall) because they saw something more than the banger he’s been in his two major junior seasons to date.
Carter Camper, C- The NCAA undrafted free agent out of Miami University was one of the most consistent scorers in four years as a Redhawk. Although not very big or blazing fast, Camper has tremendous hands and feel for the game. He’s recovering from off-season hip surgery, but is a player to watch for his intriguing offensive potential. Watch for him to be an impact AHL player for Providence this season if he can stay healthy- he looked impressive in a brief end-of-season stint after signing with Boston last spring.
Craig Cunningham, LW- The 2010 fourth-round selection was Milan Lucic’s Memorial Cup-winning teammate with the Vancouver Giants in 2007. Although undersized, Cunningham is a sparkplug who is quick and shifty. He captained the Giants last season until a late-December trade to Portland. Productive with consecutive 90- and 80-point seasons in the WHL, watch for “Cunner” to begin his pro career as a grinder. Mature and with an excellent work ethic, it’s not a stretch to say he could earn a job on Boston’s fourth line in the not-too-distant future.
Jordan Caron, RW- We’re not quite sure if Caron will be a part of the rookie camp festivities because of his 23-game NHL audition with Boston a year ago. The 25th overall selection by the Bruins in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft is a fledgling power forward who isn’t overly physical, but plays an honest game long the walls and in front of the net. He showed flashes of offensive potential with Boston last season and is a favorite to earn an NHL job out of camp this year, just as he did last fall.
Max Sauve, LW- Like Caron, Sauve is not a confirmed attendee at rookie camp, but given the amount of action he’s missed over the past two seasons due to injury, watch for the second-round pick in 2008 to be there. This speedy skater has a real knack for the net and is one of Boston’s more underrated prospects. He’s still trying to get stronger and add mass to his lean frame, but he scored 21 goals last year as a rookie pro and is up there with Spooner and Khokhlachev in terms of having the most pure offensive talent of any player in the system.
Tyler Randell, RW- Hard-nosed winger and sixth-round pick in 2009 out of the Kitchener Rangers earned a contract with Boston largely on a bounce-back 20-goal season and elevated play when captain Gabriel Landeskog went down with a mid-season high ankle sprain. Randell isn’t all that great a skater, but he has a hard, heavy shot and quick release; if he gets into the slot, he can find the back of the net. Randell relishes contact and is a willing/able fighter in the mold of fellow Boston prospect Lane MacDermid.
Conor Stokes, LW- Lansing, N.Y. native is Spooner’s teammate on the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. The 1991-born left winger (he plays the off-wing as a right-handed shot) is returning to the OHL for an overage season, but gets a chance to come to Boston’s rookie camp and provide some extra toughness should the Islanders exhibition games require it. Stokes is a north-south meat-and-potatoes forward who racked up 157 penalty minutes last season.
Dylan Hood, C/W- Western Canadian hails from Osoyoos, the same British Columbia city that produced former Bruin Chuck Kobasew. Hood comes to Boston rookie camp after a 33-goal, 83-point overage season with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. Small, but agile and quick, Hood plays with some grit and and brings some energy to the mix with him.
Kyle MacKinnon, C-Average-sized California native spent four years at Providence College as a solid two-way forward. After a 14-goal performance as a senior with the Friars, he joined Providence on an ATO and pumped in a goal and three points in a five-game AHL audition. Solid skater with good hockey sense, but not much NHL upside.
Adam Presizniuk, C/W- From Calgary, this heady center just graduated from Union College after three years in the BCHL with the Powell River Kings. A two-time team MVP for the Dutchmen as a freshman and sophomore, Presizniuk scored at least 25 points in each of his four NCAA seasons.
Prospects expected to get a rookie camp bye: Caron; Steve Kampfer, D; Colby Cohen, D; Jamie Arniel, C; Matt Bartkowski, D; Anton Khudobin, G; Zach Hamill, C; Lane MacDermid, LW; Andrew Bodnarchuk, D; Stefan Chaput, C; Yannick Riendeau, LW; Adam Courchaine, G
In Europe: Yury Alexandrov, D; Maxim Chudinov, D; Lars Volden, G; Carl Soderberg, C
In NCAA or prep (not eligible to attend): Tommy Cross, D (Boston College); Brian Ferlin, RW (Cornell); Zach Trotman, D (Lake Superior St.); Justin Florek, LW (Northern Michigan U.); Alexander Fallstrom, RW (Harvard); Rob O’Gara, D (Milton Academy); Ben Sexton, C (Clarkson U.); Nick Tremblay, C (Clarkson U.)