January 28, 2013

From NEHJ: Bruins Top 10 Prospects

By Kirk Luedeke

The Boston Bruins took a longer view in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but a few months into the 2012-13 hockey season, the team’s system is the deepest in memory. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and his staff continue to stockpile quality talent in the organization, though NHL jobs won’t be easy to come by in Boston for those prospects in the fold.

The ongoing lockout means top prospect Dougie Hamilton is back in the OHL instead of seeing prime-time action in Boston. He’s refining his defensive game and working on the little things, but his offensive prowess continues to evolve with Niagara. Given Boston’s apparent success at identifying and drafting talent in Ontario since 2010, it is easy to think that the team is fixated on the OHL. However, that would be a narrow view going forward, as the team is committed to finding top talent no matter the location.

“I’m not going to speak for Peter, but I believe he would say, ‘You just determine who the best players are,’ ” Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney told New England Hockey Journal. “We have an organizational philosophy that we want players to be able to fit in and help in areas of need and best player. But I hope that we’re combing everywhere to make that happen.”

In the meantime, Hamilton, along with 2012 top pick Malcolm Subban, are top performers in the OHL and represented Canada at the latest World Juniors tournament. Seth Griffith (top three in OHL scoring), Anthony Camara (also named to Team Canada) and Cody Payne (already established career highs with Plymouth) are making an impact. A sixth prospect selected out of the OHL, Alexander Khokhlachev, is skating for his father’s Spartak Moscow club in Russia.

The Bruins also have gotten some mileage from a couple of undrafted free agents signed last spring in former Michigan State defenseman Torey Krug and Swedish goalie and league champion Niklas Svedberg. Third-round pick and Boston University freshman Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.) has excelled in his first NCAA season as well.

“We’ve done a decent job in terms of knowing the OHL to the degree we do and recognizing the ability to scratch below the surface on some of these kids,” said Sweeney. “That’s a testament to our (scouts). Each and every organization, obviously the guys have a very difficult task — scouting, seeing it in itself, plus the travel. It’s a good thing for our guys to have that success.”

Between Hamilton, Subban and Providence center Ryan Spooner, the B’s have a solid nucleus of a future young core they can continue to build around.

Here’s a detailed look at NEHJ’s top-10 ranking of the Boston Bruins prospects for 2013.

1. Dougie Hamilton

2011-12 NEHJ Rank: 1

Born: June 17, 1993, in Toronto, Ont.
Size: 6-foot-5, 205 pounds Shoots: Right

Acquired: Boston’s first choice, 9th overall in 2011 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Signed; 3-year ELC does not go into effect until first pro season

Strengths: Has gotten taller since Boston drafted him and is filling out his huge frame. Smooth skater with fluid footwork and quick directional change ability. Has big shot and is an outstanding passer. Works the point of the power play like a maestro; keeps his head up and uses terrific vision to distribute the puck effectively or rifle shots on net.

Weaknesses: Not an overly physical player despite his excellent size. At times, has looked disinterested this season. His scoring pace is a little off from what it was a year ago, but Hamilton is still the top-scoring defender in the OHL and a lock to be on Boston’s roster when NHL play resumes.

Projection: No. 1 or 2 d-man and high-end power-play QB. There will be a transition period for Hamilton to the NHL, but there hasn’t been a Boston prospect on defense with his potential since Ray Bourque in 1979. “His two-way game has continued to evolve. He can play both a shutdown role and contribute offensively (with his) decision making and being able to move the puck at his size. The way he skates, he’s real attractive.” — Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney

2. Ryan Spooner

2011-12 NEHJ Rank: 2

Born: Jan. 30, 1992, in Kanata, Ont.
Size: 5-11, 187     Shoots: Left

Acquired: Boston’s third choice, 45th overall in 2010 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Signed through 2015

Strengths: Legitimate blazer can back defenses up with his quickness and shifty moves. Outstanding puckhandler has an effortless stride and makes plays at top speed. Creative and dynamic, he’s a dual-threat scorer who can finish the play effectively. Sets up linemates with pinpoint passes and is a relentless presence in the offensive zone. The puck seems to follow him around the ice.

Weaknesses: Continues to refine his play in the defensive end, but there are no glaring flaws in Spooner’s game.

Projection: Second-line NHL center and high-end special teamer. Spooner has the skill to play in the NHL right now and after a strong AHL showing might make the cut right away. “Spooner’s best assets are his speed and vision and taking shots off the wing, getting to the net. He’s not a guy that we’re going to expect to be like (Jamie) Tardif — camp out in front of the net — but you have to go to the front of the net, get into those areas. Get in, get out, make your plays.” — Providence Bruins head coach Bruce “Butch” Cassidy

3. Malcolm Subban

2011-12 NEHJ Rank: NR

Born: Dec. 21, 1993, in Rexdale, Ont.
Size: 6-2, 201       Catches: Left

Acquired: Boston’s first choice, 24th overall in 2012 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Signed; 3-year ELC does not go into effect until first pro season

Strengths: Elite athlete with impressive core and lower leg power. Displays some of the quickest leg pads and crease explosion of any goaltending prospect. Recovers quickly and able to make the second and third save.

Weaknesses: Rebound control; kicks shots into danger areas in front of the net. Technique needs refinement.

Projection: Subban has No. 1 NHL upside, but he is not without risk. Coming off an appearance in the 2013 WJC in Russia, poised for a superb second half in the OHL and springboard to Providence for the 2013-14 season. “His athleticism stands out first and foremost. (Bruins goalie coach) Bob Essensa’s been working with him on a couple of things: his depth in goal, recovery and such. Again, (we are) trying to set him up for the next level where some of the shooters are going to take advantage of some of those things.” — Sweeney

4. Alexander Khokhlachev

2011-12 NEHJ Rank: 3

Born: Sept. 9, 1993, in Moscow, Russia
Size: 5-10, 180     Shoots: Left

Acquired: Boston’s second choice, 40th overall in 2011 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Signed; 3-year ELC does not go into effect until first pro season in North America

Strengths: Superb hockey sense and creativity. Has top-level puck skills with a wicked release and the ability to score goals from just about anywhere on the ice. “Koko” is a game-breaker who brings fans out of their seats with highlight-reel flair. Determined player who performs with passion and enthusiasm.

Weaknesses: Undersized and easily knocked off the puck; needs to improve upper-body strength. Does not possess high-end speed. Still learning to play effectively in all three zones.

Projection: Top-six NHL scoring forward with 30-plus goal upside who can play center or wing. “You’re seeing him have the confidence to carry that over from the Subway Series over to his team in the KHL so he’s been able to carry that forward and into the World Juniors, and I think that will probably set him up to have a real productive second half of the year.” — Sweeney

5. Jared Knight

2011-12 NEHJ Rank: 4

Born: Jan. 16, 1992, in Battle Creek, Mich.
Size: 5-11, 205     Shoots: Right

Acquired: Boston’s second choice, 32nd overall in 2010 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Signed through 2015

Strengths: Epitomizes all the traits the Boston Bruins value in players: strength, speed, physicality, skill and exuberance. Versatile two-way winger who plays an aggressive, north-south style. Crashes the net and scores many of his goals by outworking opponents in close.

Weaknesses: Nagging ankle, groin and hamstring injuries have limited him to just a handful of games in the early going of his first AHL campaign, hampering his development.

Projection: Second- or third-line winger and power-play scorer. “He’s got a great shot, he’s been a good forechecking force for us. He’s starting to develop that personality.” — Cassidy

6. Torey Krug

2011-12 NEHJ Rank: NR

Born: April 12, 1991, in Livonia, Mich.
Size: 5-9, 180       Shoots: Left

Acquired: Signed as free agent April 2012

Signing status: Signed through 2014

Strengths: Speedy defenseman is a terrific skater with rapid acceleration and four-way mobility. Sees the ice well and is an excellent passer with the ability to make crisp outlets and longer leads through the neutral zone.

Weaknesses: The lack of size and strength poses a challenge against the stronger forwards who drive the net and set up shop in front. He was nursing an ankle sprain in December.

Projection: No. 4 defender and special teams star. With Krug’s speed and attitude he’s a classic “more than the sum of his parts” player. “Torey’s been a real good first-pass guy. Usually once a game, he’s up the ice, supporting the rush, getting a chance. He’s good on the power play as the only defenseman in that one group, so a lot of positives. For him, it’s fighting through a lower body injury. ... I think he’s been good, but until he gets 100 percent healthy sometimes it’s not even fair to judge how mobile he can be.” — Cassidy

7. Niklas Svedberg

2011-12 NEHJ Rank: NR

Born: Sept. 4, 1989, in Sollentuna, Sweden
Size: 6-1, 180       Catches: Left

Acquired: Signed as free agent May 2012

Signing status: Signed through 2014

Strengths: Good size and quickness. Moves well laterally in crease and plays an aggressive, challenging style. Finds a way to make the big stops when the game is on the line. Never quits on the shot; brings a similar battler’s mentality to that of Tim Thomas. Effective when leaving his net to play the puck.

Weaknesses: Average glove. Plays with an exaggerated crouch that makes him susceptible to getting beaten on top-shelf shots. Fiery disposition that sometimes gets the better of him.

Projection: Led Brynas to the 2012 Swedish Elite League championship. Has NHL starter potential on a middle-tier club. “Nik is a guy who at the end of the day, when he has a lead, he’s a closer. He might give up a few when we have a lead that he can stop or would want back if he self-analyzed, would say, ‘That’s one I should’ve had,’ but when it’s crunch time, he’s pretty darn solid at making the saves. When he smells victory, he digs in. It’s the sign of a great goaltender.” — Cassidy

8. Seth Griffith

2011-12 NEHJ Rank: NR

Born: Jan. 4, 1993, in Wallaceburg, Ont.
Size: 5-11, 185     Shoots: Right

Acquired: Boston’s third choice, 131st overall, in 2012 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Unsigned

Strengths: Elite offensive hockey sense and nose for the net to create scoring chances. Strong puckhandler with a lightning release on a hard, accurate shot. Eligible for full-time AHL duty in 2013-14.

Weaknesses: Average skater for his size; lacks a separation gear and quick initial burst. Not very physical and doesn’t always bring his best on every shift, disappearing for stretches.

Projection: Second-line wing with 35-goal upside or bust. Griffith’s style resembles a young Mark Recchi, but he doesn’t have the future Hall of Famer’s nonstop motor. Because he doesn’t have a lot of size, speed and grit, he’s not a great fit for third- or fourth-line NHL duty. “One of the things we talked about that we really liked about him was that ‘dog-on-a-bone’ mentality — being able to play in all situations, whether penalty killing, late in games scoring a big goal. I think he’s taken that to heart and is trying to be more of a complete player.” — Sweeney

9. Anthony Camara

2011-12 NEHJ Rank: 24

Born: Sept. 4, 1993, in Toronto, Ont.
Size: 6-0, 200       Shoots: Left

Acquired: Boston’s third choice, 81st overall in 2011 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Unsigned

Strengths: Strong skater with quick jump, balance and speed/agility. Soft hands for receiving passes and can find the back of the net with his heavy shot. One of the best open-ice hitters in the OHL.

Weaknesses: Not a very instinctive or creative player; relies on talented linemates to boost his offensive production. Can be undisciplined and get into penalty trouble. 

Projection: Third- or fourth-line checking wing: a fan favorite who will pop in some goals and fight. “(Barrie coach) Dale Hawerchuk has been a really, really good fit for Anthony, as is playing with Mark Scheifele. Give Anthony credit because he’s taken advantage of that situation. He’s done the things prior that got him the attention — being hard to play against, having the ability to drop the gloves when needed. But now you’re seeing the ability to score goals, and he’s put in situations that he can take advantage of.” — Sweeney

10 Matt Grzelcyk

2011-12 NEHJ Rank: NR

Born: Jan. 5, 1994 in Charlestown, Mass.

Size: 5-9, 180       Shoots: Left

Acquired: Boston’s second choice, 85th overall in 2012 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Unsigned

Strengths: Sublime skater with instant burst, extra gear and smooth east-west lateral agility. Thinks the game at a high level; reads the play instinctively, activates smartly and avoids hits with excellent anticipation/vision. Soft hands for giving and receiving passes. Has sterling character and a work ethic that is second to none.

Weaknesses: Does not have the size to play a physical style or match up well against power forwards driving the net. Could stand to add power to his accurate shot.

Projection: Instant impact player who appears destined for Hockey East All-Rookie honors. Has everything you want in a player except the size; projects as bottom-pairing D and specialty teams stalwart in NHL. “There are very few guys who can step in especially if you’re a little undersized at the college level and have the success right away that he does. His hockey sense, his skating set him apart in those areas.” — Sweeney

The Best of the Rest

11

Zach Trotman, D, Providence (AHL)

12

Max Sauve, LW, Providence (AHL)

13

Carter Camper, C, Providence (AHL)

14

Tommy Cross, D (Simsbury, Conn.), S. C (ECHL)/Providence (AHL)

15

Rob O’Gara, D, Yale University (ECAC)

16

Matt Bartkowski, D, Providence (AHL)

17

Brian Ferlin, RW, Cornell University (ECAC)

18

David Warsofsky, D (Marshfield, Mass.), Providence (AHL)

19

Cody Payne, RW, Plymouth (OHL)

20

Lane MacDermid, LW (Hartford, Conn.), Providence (AHL)

21

Zane Gothberg, G, North Dakota (WCHA)

22

Maxim Chudinov, D, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)

23

Craig Cunningham, RW, Providence (AHL)

24

Alexander Fallstrom, RW, Harvard (ECAC)

25

Mike Hutchinson, G, Providence (AHL)


Photo credits: Alan Sullivan (Svedberg); Dave Arnold Photography (Spooner, Knight); Getty Images (others)

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @kluedeke29
Email: kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com