By Kirk Luedeke
The Boston Bruins’ top-10 prospects list is a fluid one, which reflects the strong seasons each individual had.
There isn’t a great deal of separation within the top-five, as Spooner, Subban and Krug all bring skill to the mix, with Spooner getting the slight nod at the top because he led the AHL in rookie scoring and has been a consistent scorer since the Bruins drafted him in 2010. It speaks volumes that in rumored trade talks between Boston and Calgary for Jarome Iginla that the B’s refused to part with either player.
Alexander Khokhlachev has talent in spades, but he struggled to carve a niche for himself as a scoring presence in both KHL and AHL at the pro level. His physical maturation is still a work in progress and he’s not ready for prime time. Fans who were penciling him into the Boston lineup for the opening night of the 2013-14 season had best re-think that and understand that a year in Providence is a good thing for the high-end offensive player who is still rounding out his game.
Niklas Svedberg had a terrific regular season as an encore for leading his Swedish team to his country’s championship a year ago. The 23-year-old shattered several Providence club records and depending on what happens with Anton Khudobin, could be in Boston as the backup next season, even with the disappointing start to the AHL playoffs.
At 6-10, the Bruins have a nice mix of goal scoring ability, grit, and effective mobility from the blue line. Matt Bartkowski showed that he can play at the NHL level after injuries opened the door for him, and Rob O’Gara’s quiet but effective championship season at Yale confirmed what NEHJ has felt since he was a star defenseman at Milton Academy- he has all the tools and character to be a solid NHL defenseman for a long time. Jared Knight’s season was derailed by serious hamstring injuries, but he’ll be out to prove that he’s worth the investment, and with his character and work ethic, don’t count him out.
New England Hockey Journal will release the 2013-14 preseason prospect rankings in August, adding the new 2013 draft selections and reflecting any summer roster changes. Until then, the B’s and their fans have a good foundation to build from going forward, and don’t be surprised to see Spooner, Krug and Svedberg in Boston’s lineup on a more full-time basis next season.
1. Ryan Spooner, C Providence (AHL)/Boston Bruins (NHL)
Upside: The most skilled forward in Boston’s system earned his first NHL action by virtue of a consistently strong rookie year in the AHL. The 2010 second-rounder is an outstanding skater with great vision, a deft passing touch and the ability to finish. A creative and dynamic game-breaker at times, he scored a hat trick for Providence in the season’s final game. Ready for a regular NHL role next season if the Bruins make room for him.
Downside: Average size and strength; lack of physicality means he won’t ever be a great fit on the lower two lines for the B’s, so he’ll need to carve a niche in the top-six and on the power play. Does not possess high-end NHL upside, but could evolve into a consistent 70-80-point player in time.
Outlook: The 45th overall selection is ready for the big show. The speedy playmaker has put in the work to improve his defensive game and has the look of a solid No. 2 NHL centerman. He will play on the wing if it means he can make an impact in Boston sooner, but the B’s should try to find room for the talented 21-year-old.
2. Malcolm Subban, G Belleville Bulls (OHL)
Upside: The team’s first-round pick in 2012 (24th overall) had a dominant OHL regular season and carried it over in the playoffs. The younger brother of Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban is one of the most athletic players at any position in major junior hockey. By virtue of his December, 1993 birthday, he is eligible for the AHL next season.
Downside: Late to the position, he’s still refining his technique and learning from his experiences in net. Took heat for Canada’s loss against Team USA in the 2013 World Jr. Championship semi-final game; some question his mental toughness.
Outlook: More of a 1A prospect to Spooner’s 1 in Boston’s system. He and his Bulls came up short in Game 7 of the OHL semifinals vs. Barrie (and Anthony Camara), but he put in a very good run. They’re looking for him to one day be a star No. 1 in Boston.
3. Torey Krug, D Providence (AHL)/Boston Bruins (NHL)
Upside: Blazing wheels, Einstein-like hockey intellect, and the heart of a champion power this pint-sized package of prowess. A power play ace who excels in space, beating opponents 1-on-1 and using his high-end offensive creativity to generate scoring chances from the blue line. He’s a natural leader and winner who inspires teammates with his old-fashioned work ethic and attitude.
Downside: The former Michigan State captain and free agent has a tougher time when the game closes up on him, but the B’s can mitigate that by pairing him with a bigger, more defense-minded player.
Outlook: Krug may not ever rise above the second pairing in Boston, but with his speed, sense and effort levels- could be a key cog on both power play and penalty kill special teams.
4. Alexander Khokhlachev, C Spartak (KHL)/Windsor OHL)/Providence (AHL)
Upside: This superior puckhandler and scoring force in the OHL with Windsor can create offense in the blink of an eye. Has a killer instinct when the puck is on his stick and wows spectators with a bevy of brilliant moves. “Koko” has picked up a step since he was drafted and is a crowd pleaser for his ability to produce in key situations.
Downside: The 2011 second-round pick is undersized and has struggled to adapt to playing in the pro ranks against men, first in the KHL with Spartak Moscow and then at the end of the year with Providence. Needs to get stronger on the puck and play with more effort in the defensive zone.
Outlook: Has top-two line potential but is going to require some patience and developmental time in Providence. The B’s already traded him once (as part of the aborted Iginla transaction) so Khokhlachev’s name is bound to come up in deal discussions going forward.
5. Niklas Svedberg, G Providence Bruins (AHL)
Upside: The undrafted 23-year-old Swedish free agent made a seamless transition to North America, tying John Grahame’s club record for wins with 37 in 48 appearances. Tall and long-limbed with quickness and a battler’s mentality, Svedberg excels at making the big saves when the game is on the line. Keen focus and fine mental toughness are the keys to his consistency, avoidance of prolonged slumps in play.
Downside: Technique is still a work in progress. After playing so well during the regular season, Svedberg looked out of his element and downright mediocre (despite a lack of defensive support) in the opening round of the AHL playoffs, taking two losses at home.
Outlook: Svedberg’s emergence gives the Bruins excellent flexibility in terms of either promoting him to the NHL next season or, if the team wishes to keep Anton Khudobin, perhaps leveraging Svedberg as a legitimate trade chip for help at other positions. Boston Swedish scout Svenake Svensson deserves high marks for unearthing this gem of a player and convincing management to take a chance on him, even with the poor playoff performance.
6. Jared Knight, RW Providence AHL)/South Carolina (ECHL)
Upside: As an early second-round pick in 2010, the Michigan native has the talent and moxie to play in the NHL as a gritty, two-way winger in the mold of New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. Since returning from hamstring injuries that limited him to just 12 regular season games split between the AHL and ECHL, Knight has managed to become a fixture on Providence’s third line.
Downside: It has pretty much been a lost season for the 21-year-old, whose focus has been on staying in the lineup as opposed to bringing the scoring element he’s capable of.
Outlook: B’s fans clamoring for Knight to get a look with the big club may have to wait a while longer, as the team will want him to gain more pro experience before bringing him up. The team has no shortage of like players- edgy, character role player types- so depending on how the economics factor into the off-season process, best case may be for the former OHL standout to see a NHL call-up or two.
7. Anthony Camara, LW Barrie Colts (OHL)
Upside: The power forward and third-round pick in 2011 (acquired from Phoenix for Derek Morris) had a terrific OHL season with 36 goals in 50 games (after scoring a total of 30 in his previous three years). The Toronto native who has seen significant personal adversity is an above average skater with quick hands and the willingness to take the puck to the net. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder has the tools to play his rugged style at the highest level. Camara is a fearless fighter who will drop the gloves with anyone (though he’s not a heavyweight), and is one of the most effective hitters in the OHL.
Downside: Camara does not possess an abundance of creativity and hockey sense: he’s at his best when he simply drives to the slot with his stick on the ice. Personal discipline has officially become a concern: Camara received four separate suspensions- two in the regular season (abuse of officials, head shot- 8 games) and two in the playoffs (flipping puck into stands, head shot- 3 games). As the old adage goes, a player can’t help his team win hockey games if he’s sitting in the stands.
Outlook: B’s fans are excited about this player, but he’s had precisely one successful scoring season in the OHL, and an inability to control his emotions at a time when he emerged as a key scoring presence in Barrie are something to watch. Camara plays that patented Bruins style of hockey, but those expecting him to develop into a top-six NHL forward may be disappointed in the long run. In time, he’s got a chance to make an impact on the bottom-two lines.
8. Seth Griffith, RW London Knights (OHL)
Upside: Natural scorer has been one of the OHL’s deadliest snipers over the last two seasons and missed out on a chance at winning the league’s points crown after missing the last month with a broken hand. Former lacrosse star has excellent vision, creativity and an ability to effortlessly find the soft spots in defenses. The 20-year-old significantly improved his overall game this past season after being previously seen as a one-dimensional performer.
Downside: Lacks size at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds and doesn’t have the kind of ideal speed for his smallish frame.
Outlook: Despite being passed over in 2011 and falling to the fifth round a year later, Griffith has the kind of stick and intangibles to develop into an NHL scoring forward. He could also be a ‘tweener- one who succeeds in the AHL, but is unable to translate the production at the highest level. Time will tell, but Providence fans will find out what he brings to the table in 2013-14.
9. Matt Bartkowski, D Providence (AHL)/Boston Bruins (NHL)
Upside: Outstanding skater whose stride and overall mobility has only gotten better since the B’s acquired him from Florida with Dennis Seidenberg three years ago. B’s fans caught a glimpse of what could be when injuries saw him get an extended look in the season’s final month. Smart and rugged with underrated puck-moving skills, he may only be scratching the surface of what he could provide for the club going forward.
Downside: Pittsburgh native does not possess high-end talent and upside. Was dealt to Calgary along with Koko for Iginla…and then he wasn’t. Because he played well subsequent to the trade falling through, teams will likely push for ‘Bart’ in future deal discussions.
Outlook: The B’s may have re-learned the old lesson that sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make with Bartkowski. Signed for next year at just $650k, he’s a capable and inexpensive option to perhaps off-set salary cap challenges for the 2013-14 season. Don’t look for this swift-skating defender to develop into a No. 1 or 2 down the road, but he could become one of those solid middle-of-the-roster guys you win with.
10. Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC)
Upside: When the B’s drafted the Milton Academy captain with the final pick of the fifth round in 2011 (151st overall), they did so knowing that the fluid-skating 6-foot-4 defender was a long-term project. True to form, the Long Island native is coming off a championship season in New Haven with modest production (seven assists, 37 games), but impressed with his veteran poise and character, superb footwork, smarts, and excellent defensive game.
Downside: Still tall and lanky, O’Gara has a lot of filling out to do on his big frame. Not an overly physical player, fans will have to be OK with his positioning and effective angling as opposed to big, open-ice hits.
Outlook: Time is the biggest enemy for O’Gara, who will likely take a similar developmental path to Tommy Cross. Both he and the team will need to be patient, which is fine, because O’Gara would do well to open things up and play more of a two-way game at Yale going forward.
Photo credits: Dave Arnold Photography (O'Gara, Khokhlachev); Alan Sullivan (Svedberg); Getty Images (Spooner, Subban, Krug, Knight, Camara, Griffith, Bartkowski)