April 29, 2012

2011-12 Boston Bruins prospects roundup

By Kirk Luedeke

The Boston Bruins are encouraged by the performance of the team’s prospects during the 2011-12 season. 

After a strong showing at the Bruins' development camp last summer, Dougie Hamilton dominated the competition in the OHL. (Dave Arnold Photography)

The OHL-heavy group of futures still has two of the best players still competing, with defenseman Dougie Hamilton and winger Jared Knight set to go head-to-head in the OHL championship series this week, with one of the two headed to the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, Quebec.

The B’s also got strong showings from prospects in Europe (Maxim Chudinov, Lars Volden), the NCAA (Torey Krug, Brian Ferlin, Tommy Cross, Alex Fallstrom, Nic Tremblay, Ben Sexton) and other junior leagues like the USHL (Zane Gothberg) and even prep (high school) ranks (Rob O’Gara).

The story in the AHL was a little less encouraging, as Providence missed the playoffs for the third straight season. The team had a tough time generating offense, but players like Carter Camper, Kevan Miller, Michael Hutchinson and Craig Cunningham showed promise throughout the year. Late adds Zach Trotman, Justin Florek and Ryan Spooner allowed the team to finish with a flourish. If not for a deadly slump in February, Providence would have broken the non-playoff string.

On the downside, Zach Hamill was unable to stick in the NHL with Boston and had trouble generating consistent offense in Providence. His time in the organization could be at an end. Defenseman Matt Bartkowski battled injuries all season, limiting his effectiveness, but he may find it a challenge to break into Boston’s back six, especially with what appears to be the imminent arrival of Hamilton to the mix. Max Sauve is arguably Boston’s most able prospect on the wing, but for the third straight year, he suffered a major injury (concussion) causing him to miss significant action. He did make his NHL debut, but his durability remains a major question mark

With the 2012 NHL Entry Draft about seven weeks away, the B’s have a chance to add to their impressive organizational depth. Although conventional thought is that Boston’s needs run to high-end defensemen, the reality is that the B’s could stand to bolster depth at every position. For this reason, expect the team to go after the best available player on their board in Pittsburgh.

In the meantime, here is the current New England Hockey Journal top-15 on the Bruins’ prospect depth chart (drafted or signed to NHL contracts under age 25), along with end-of-season awards for specific players. You can follow me on Twitter at: @kluedeke29 and shoot me questions about the prospects and NHL draft at any time.

NEHJ Boston Bruins End of Season top-15

1. Dougie Hamilton, D Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL) 6-4, 193

2011-12 stats:         GP 50  G: 17   A: 55   PTS: 72           PIM: 37

Boston’s top dog on D shattered his own previous club mark of points by a rearguard and still missed 17 games between the two-week hiatus at the World Jr. Championship and 10-game suspension.  A fine skater for his size who is a power play weapon, Hamilton is still learning to play effective defense. Not overly physical, he will not ever be a nasty shutdown kind of player, but has learned to use his body and leverage to rub opponents out along the boards.  With four goals and 19 points in 15 playoff games,  Hamilton’s 91 points in both regular and postseason prove that he is a two-way force.

Outlook: Like Tyler Seguin two years ago, expect to see Hamilton in Boston next year because he is not eligible to play in the AHL. Whether he is ready for the NHL is debateable, but the Bruins control his development if they bring him up as opposed to whatever situation he ends up in back in the OHL for a fourth season. Even with reduced playing time as a 6 or 7 in Boston, Hamilton would undoubtedly benefit from being around the team and players like Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and the rest of the roster and coaching staff.

2. Ryan Spooner, C  Kingston/Sarnia (OHL) 5-9, 175

2011-12 stats:         GP 57  G: 29   A: 37   PTS: 66           PIM: 66

This small and dynamic centerman is arguably Boston’s most skilled offensive talent.  His trip to Calgary for the 2012 World Jr. Championship was derailed by a bout of mononucleosis, which also affected his regular season. Dealt to Sarnia at the OHL trade deadline, Spooner was unable to get that club past the first round, but impressed for the second straight spring with an end-of-season stint in Providence (1-3-4 totals in 5 AHL games).  A creative playmaker with speed to burn and the ability to finish, Spooner led the OHL in shorthanded goals and played the best two-way hockey of his junior career.

Outlook: Although Spooner could challenge for an open spot on Boston’s NHL roster in the fall, the more realistic scenario would see him begin the 2012-13 season in Providence. Don’t be surprised if the Ottawa-area native leads the AHL club in scoring, either.  In 8 AHL games split over the last two years, he has three goals and seven points.

3. Jared Knight, RW London Knights (OHL) 5-11, 205

2011-12 stats:         GP: 52 G: 26   A: 26   PTS: 52           PIM:28

No forward in Boston’s system is a more complete package of talent, two-way skill and hard-nosed play than the 32nd overall selection in 2010.   Statistics don’t tell the entire story with the compact yet powerful Michigander. He is a throwback north-south winger who drives hard to the net and has a wicked shot. Although explosive, Knight’s top-end speed is average, but he uses his strength and lower centre of gravity to power through checks and generate scoring chances. A character player who leads by example, he has the most advanced physical conditioning of any of Boston’s prospects at forward. Plays a gritty game despite low penalty minute totals, which speaks well to Knight’s personal discipline.

Outlook: Although Knight’s upside is not seen as high as it was in his draft year when he scored a career-best 36 goals, he’s still a valuable prospect because of his  versatility. Knight is also one of the best playoff scorers of any of Boston’s prospects, averaging .5 goals-per-game in his four OHL seasons. Whether he’ll be in the AHL or NHL next season remains to be seen, but Knight is one player who could handle a bottom-six role in Boston without taking a hit to his development. He is driven and can play any role the team asks of him.

4. Alexander Khokhlachev, C/LW Windsor Spitfires (OHL) 5-10, 172

2011-12 stats:         GP: 56 G: 25   A: 44   PTS: 69           PIM: 32

Spooner’s biggest competition for the status of most skilled offensive prospect in the Boston organization had a nice second OHL campaign and playoff appearance ended by a freak collision that resulted in a lacerated kidney.  Although not a blazer, the player most affectionately known as “KoKo” is quick, agile and elusive. He’s a wicked stickhandler with a rapid release and the vision and creativity to set the table.  An affable, likeable player, his English is markedly improving. KoKo also plays the game with a lot of energy and exuberance. Physically, he’s still behind the power curve in terms of size and adding strength to his smallish frame.

Outlook: Not eligible for the AHL because of his age (will not turn 20 until Sep. 2013), barring a crazy-good training camp in the fall, expect the dynamic little Muscovite to return to Windsor for a third-straight season. He has become one of the Rychel-Boughner team’s go-to guys and if Khokhlachev plays on a line with Windsor top pick Josh Ho-Sang, the production could come fast and furious for both.

5. Maxim Chudinov, D Cherepovets Severstal (KHL) 5-10, 195

2011-12 stats:         GP: 52 G: 9     A: 26   PTS: 35           PIM:62

Small but highly skilled Russian d-man looks like a steal where Boston got him in the seventh round two years ago.  In his third full season in the KHL, he posted career highs in every category. Built like a bowling ball, Chudinov is a fast, agile skater who can move the puck effectively and has a big point shot despite his lack of physical stature. Nasty little competitor who plays a borderline dirty game.  Chudinov does everything well, but will be limited in the NHL because of his lack of size. At the same time, similar players like Niklas Kronwall have enjoyed successful careers in the right system.

Outloook: B’s fans could see Chudinov at July development camp, but he was just transferred from Cherepovets to the rebuilding Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (whose team was wiped out in a tragic plane crash last Sep.). It appears that given Boston’s veteran situation on defense, the plan may be to keep Chudinov in the KHL for a few more years before bringing the 22-year-old over.

6. Max Sauve, LW Providence Bruins (AHL) 6-2, 185

2011-12 stats:         GP: 39 G: 11   A: 15   PTS: 26           PIM: 40

Sauve has size, speed and offensive talent but can’t stay on the ice long enough to establish himself as a high-end prospect. In the last three years, the former second-round pick in ’08 has suffered serious ankle, wrist and head injuries that have limited him to about half the games he was eligible to play in.  When healthy and on his game, Sauve is an excellent skater who backs defenses up, goes to the net and has underrated playmaking skills. Physically, Sauve has not put on much weight since turning pro and even if his injuries are unrelated to that, he still needs to get stronger.

Outlook: Sauve made his NHL debut and then (surprise) was injured after only one or two shifts. On paper, the former Quebec league standout is one of the Boston system’s most skilled forwards, but the inability to finish a whole season since 2009. Has top-six forward NHL talent, but his development has clearly suffered from the lack of playing time.

7. Brian Ferlin, RW Cornell University (ECAC) 6-2, 206

2011-12 stats:         GP: 26 G: 8     A: 13   PTS: 21           PIM: 30

Former USHL scoring star and last pick of the fourth round in 2011 got off to a blistering offensive start before hitting the rookie wall late in the season.  A power forward who skates surprisingly well for his size and has a natural knack for offense, Ferlin isn’t the most physically dominant of players but uses his size effectively to generate offense. With strong vision, soft hands and athletic ability rare for a big man, the Florida native has some intriguing long-term potential after being named 2012 ECAC Freshman of the Year.

Outlook: Ferlin missed the end of the season with injuries, and could spend another two years with the Big Red before he turns pro. Even if his timetable is moved up a season (and he signs with Boston next spring), expect Ferlin to need some additional seasoning in the AHL with Providence. He is still relatively raw, but has some of the most natural upside of any of Boston’s prospects.

8. Torey Krug, D Michigan State (CCHA), Boston (NHL) 5-9, 185

2011-12 stats:         GP: 38 G: 12   A: 22   PTS: 34           PIM:51

                                    GP: 2   G: 0     A: 1     PTS: 1             PIM: 0

One could argue the 21-year-old from Livonia, Michigan is an American version of Maxim Chudinov. The Bruins went above and beyond to get the Michigan State junior captain to choose Boston over a significant amount of other NHL suitors in free agency. Fast, elusive, smart and dynamic, Krug has produced at every level, leading the USHL’s  Indiana Ice to the 2009 Clark Cup championship before producing 20 or more points in each of his three seasons as a Spartan.

Outlook: Although the team burned a year of Krug’s entry-level contract to sign him, the defender did not look out of place in two late-season NHL games with the B’s. That said, he may need to play most of the 2012-13 season in Providence depending on what happens with the big club’s defense corps.  Anyone who watched the diminutive yet plucky rearguard skating in the Black and Gold could see the previous stylistic comparisons made between Krug and former NHLer Brian Rafalski. One member of the Boston front office told New England Hockey Journal recently that Krug “still has some developing to do” but he seems to have all the tools to be an NHL player save for the size.

9. Zane Gothberg, G Fargo Force (USHL) 6-1, 190

2011-12 stats:         GP: 46 Min: 2758 W: 26 L: 16  T: 4 GAA: 2.22 SPCT: .921  SO: 7

The sixth-round pick in 2010 has earned his spot in the top-10 of the latest prospect rankings. The former Frank Brimsek Award winner as the top Minnesota H.S. goaltender had a franchise-best season with Fargo and should use his success as a springboard to a big year at the University of North Dakota in 2012-13.  Gothberg has size, talent and a battler’s mentality—much like Tim Thomas he never gives up on the play and has been improving his technique in net. With a sterling character and work ethic, he is arguably Boston’s top goaltending prospect not named Anton Khudobin.

Outlook: This future stud has proven he can be an ideal backup or workhorse. Having been tested at the international level, there is a lot of upside with the Thief River Falls native.  Coaches and teammates rave about his dedication and even-keeled personality. Although clearly a long-term option for Boston, he is a player who could one day overcome a lack of collective success by Minnesota goalies in the NHL.

10. Carter Camper, C Providence Bruins (AHL) 5-9, 180

2011-12 stats:         GP: 69 G: 18   A: 30   PTS: 48           PIM: 18

Prolific scorer at every level despite a lack of size and elite speed did it again by making an immediate impact and leading Providence in scoring as an AHL rookie. The Cleveland-area native was one of the most productive players in the NCAA before signing with Boston as a free agent a year ago, and earned a three-game callup to the big club, scoring his first NHL goal in the process. The concern with him is the physical aspects, but there is no denying that he has elite vision, hockey sense and hands when it comes to generating offense. Camper is one of those underdogs with a winner’s mentality who is impossible to keep down for long. Even if he does not establish himself in the NHL, he has the look of a top-line AHL player.

Outlook: NEHJ was guilty of underrating the former Hobey Baker finalist with Miami University when the January prospects review came out, but no longer. He has NHL potential, but will have to demonstrate that he can handle the physical grind to stick in the big league. Watch for Camper to boost his offensive point totals in the AHL next season. After opening eyes in his first NHL stint, he has an outside chance of seeing more playing time in Boston soon.

11. Mike Hutchinson, G Providence Bruins (AHL)  6-3, 195

2011-12 stats: GP: 29 Min: 1680 W: 13 L: 14  T: 1 GAA: 2.36 SPCT: .927  SO:3

Finished the season as well as any player in Boston’s system, but still must prove himself as starter at the AHL level.

12. Zach Trotman, D Lake Superior (CCHA), Providence (AHL)  6-4, 205

2011-12 stats:         GP: 40 G: 11   A: 10   PTS: 21           PIM: 12

Indiana native left school a year early to turn pro with the Bruins and made an immediate impact in nine Providence games. Big, fast and smart—could work his way to Boston as a Dougie Hamilton-lite kind of player for the B’s.

13. Tommy Cross, D Boston College (HEA), Providence (AHL)  6-3, 215

2011-12 stats:         GP: 44 G: 5     A: 19   PTS: 24           PIM: 66

Senior captain and Simsbury, Conn. native finished his NCAA career in style with a championship before joining Providence. Mobile shutdown defender with size has terrific intangibles and leadership abilities. Don’t expect a lot of upside but in time, could reach NHL as a serviceable 4/5/6 depth defenseman.

14. Craig Cunningham, LW Providence Bruins (AHL)  5-9, 185

2011-12 stats:         GP: 76 G: 20   A: 16   PTS: 36           PIM: 20

AHL rookie led Providence in goals with 20 after overcoming limited duty on Baby B’s fourth line. Character winger and leader skates well and plays a smart two-way game. Doesn’t have top-six NHL potential, but could be very good role player in time.

15. Kevan Miller, D Providence Bruins (AHL)  6-2, 200

2011-12 stats:         GP: 65 G: 3     A: 21   PTS: 24           PIM: 98

Former University of Vermont captain and Californian had an unheralded yet outstanding rookie season as one of Providence’s most effective defenders. Big, smart, strong and willing to fight when necessary, he has the look and swagger of a legitimate NHL defender one day.

Graduated:

Jordan Caron, RW

Just missed:

Dave Warsofsky, D  Providence (AHL) (Marshfield, Mass)

Lane MacDermid, LW Providence (AHL), Boston (NHL)

Matt Bartkowski, D Providence (AHL), Boston (NHL)

Rob O’Gara, D, Milton Academy (HS- MA)

Justin Florek, LW, Northern Michigan (CCHA), Providence (AHL)

Tyler Randell, RW, Providence (AHL), Kitchener (OHL)

Anthony Camara, LW Saginaw/Barrie (OHL)

Prospects not considered because of age:

Josh Henessy, C

Zach McKelvie, D

Carl Soderberg, C

Jamie Tardif, RW

Anton Khudobin, G

Kirk MacDonald, F

NEHJ 2012 Bruins Prospect Awards

Top Player

Dougie Hamilton-- The outcome was not in doubt, as Hamilton dominated the OHL wire-to-wire. He is a shoo-in for the league’s top defenseman award and is almost universally hailed one of the best Boston prospects in decades.

Biggest Upside

Dougie Hamilton—Again, when it comes to pure potential, nobody else in the system is close. Unfortunately, expectations for Hamilton are immense, so the youngster will soon discover the downside of the modern internet-fueled hype machine.

Most Exciting

Alexander Khokhlachev—With his quick stick and passion for the game, he may not be as fast as Spooner or physical as Knight, but he can weave in and out of traffic like no other. When KoKo swoops into the corners, he usually comes out with the puck and can make dazzling moves to beat defenders 1-on-1. He’s already a fan favorite who reminds of a young , pre-wrist injury Sergei Samsonov.

Best Forward

Ryan Spooner—It was a close call with Jared Knight and KoKo, but Spooner is the winner for his added dimension of pure speed and dynamic game-breaking ability. In all honesty, though—this trio of players each brings different skill sets to the mix. Instead of playing one versus another, fans should embrace the idea that all three are currently in the B’s system.

Most Versatile Forward

Jared Knight—He’s not fancy, just tough.  Gritty winger can do it all and could make the big club sooner rather than later because of his two-way ability.

Best Offensive Defenseman

Dougie Hamilton—Boston’s prospect MVP and player with the biggest NHL potential after finishing as the OHL’s top-scoring defender, Maxim Chudinov challenged Hamilton as runner-up.

Best Defensive Defenseman

Kevan Miller—Highly impressive in his own end while displaying the kind of poise and intelligence rare for a guy in just his first professional season.

Best Goaltender

Zane Gothberg—NEHJ is probably the only publication to have him in their prospect top-10, but he’s going to validate that. Had an amazing USHL season and will challenge Aaron Dell in Grand Forks for playing time right off the bat.

Biggest Surprise

Carter Camper—He shouldn’t have been based on his USHL and NCAA numbers, yet raise your hand if you saw him leading his AHL team in scoring before the season began? (Hey, Carter- put your hand down, please.)

Biggest Disappointment

Zach Hamill—We hate to pile on here, but the opportunities for the one-time eighth overall pick have been legion. It’s probably time for a change of scenery for the former WHL scoring champ.

Unsung Hero

Kevan Miller—So good at rookie camp and the exhibition games that Boston went out and signed the undrafted free agent brought in as a late-season add (ATO) to Providence in 2011.

Prospect to Watch- 2013

Zach Trotman—The last pick of 2010 looks like a genius move by the Boston scouting staff. A full season in Providence with Dave Warsofsky could make that power play consistently dangerous.

Kirk Luedeke can be reached at kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kluedeke29.