August 8, 2012

Bruins 2012-13 preseason prospect rankings: 10-1

By Kirk Luedeke

The top-10 prospects for the Boston Bruins in New England Hockey Journal’s pre-season rankings are unveiled!

For the second year in a row, Dougie Hamilton tops the list to the surprise of no one. His first year after being drafted ninth overall by Boston in 2011 was a remarkable campaign, as he dominated the OHL from wire-to-wire, earning top defenseman honors not only in that league, but the CHL overall. There is not much left for him to prove in junior.

Ryan Spooner, Jared Knight and Alexander Khokhlachev round out the top four, but if there was justice in life, they would be 2a, 2b and 2c. All complement one another and bring something different to the table. Spooner and Koko are clearly the more talented players of the trio with plenty of skill to be had, but Knight is that tough-as-nails forward who doesn’t get enough credit for his own ability to score. All three deserve their spot near the top of the Boston depth chart.

Malcolm Subban debuts on the list at No. 5 after being the 24th overall pick in last June’s draft. We’ve been over the wisdom of whether drafting another goaltender, especially one in the first round, was the right move for the Bruins. Whether you agree or not that highly athletic and grounded Subban, who idolizes reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist was the right pick,  he does have legitimate NHL potential and certainly makes things interesting in Boston given his family background.

As a final note, the hockey season is just a short month and a half or so away in most cases, longer in others, but the real test of where these players stand in the organization will be decided then. With the 2011-12 season now a part of history, these individuals will have to clear the slate and start over again.

10. Zane Gothberg, G— Minnesota native’s presence in the top-10 ahead of other goalies like Hutchinson and Svedberg might raise eyebrows, but for the USHL Goaltender of the Year, it’s all about long-term upside. The 2010 sixth-round selection is focused and driven, and has been a model of consistency in two USHL seasons with the Fargo Force. He’s coming off a franchise-record season that saw him recognized as a co-winner of that league’s trophy for best goalie. Now, the former Frank Brimsek Award winner as the top puck-stopper in Minnesota high school will take his impressive and evolving game to the University of North Dakota. Gothberg is the stereotypical quirky goalie, but he’s also a respected teammate who puts in the work and keeps himself and the rest of the club grounded.

Projection: Solid NHL starter, quality backup

9. Zach Trotman, D—The 6-foot-4 rearguard continues to develop at an intriguing pace two years after the B’s made him the final selection of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Lured out of Lake Superior State University a year early by Boston, Trotman is one of the organization’s more underrated prospects given his size and skill package. He is fluid and mobile, with the vision and instincts to jump up into the play and assert himself as an effective power play presence and trigger man.

Although he’d likely need a full season in Providence before he’s ready to compete for a primetime slot on Boston’s blue line, Trotman is going into camp with a commitment to try and break into the top-six.  Although the B’s veteran situation is pretty well established on defense, a strong camp and start in Providence (he scored a goal in his AHL debut) could see him among the first to be called up. The native of the Hoosier State may have been the last pick of the draft, but his accomplishments in the NCAA since have the look of a top-60—don’t be surprised to see him make an impact in the Boston organization even if he is one or more years off.

Projection:  No.  3 or 4 two-way middle-pairing D-man and PP point man.

Brian Ferlin had 21 points in 26 games during his first season at Cornell. (Getty Images)

8. Brian Ferlin, RW— The 2011 fourth-rounder is coming off a strong first NCAA campaign at Cornell as the ECAC Freshman of the Year. After getting off to a hot start, the native Floridian cooled off considerably, limping across the finish line with a series of injuries that reduced his effectiveness down the stretch. As a sophomore, Ferlin will try to improve on his solid numbers. A basic, north-south winger who keeps it simple and gets a lot of his production from driving hard to the net or throwing pucks on net for rebounds.

Not a particularly physical player, Ferlin nonetheless protects the puck well and boxes out defenders as he gains position in front of the net. His father was an NCAA baseball player, so he does possess natural athletic bloodlines, even if he comes from a nontraditional hockey background in the Sunshine State.

Projection: Third line power winger with offensive upside.

7. Torey Krug, D— The Bruins were rumored to be hot on trying to draft Krug late in the 2011 lottery, but were unable to do so. They paid a premium to entice the Michigan State captain to turn pro after his junior season and even agreed to let him burn a year off his ELC for just two NHL games of action at the end of the season and a few weeks with the big club. Krug is a skilled puck-mover and point producer who can really motor and brings everything the modern NHL club craves except for size.

A leader and winner, Krug may find himself on the bubble with Boston this season because he has an AHL option and the B’s could find his situation more beneficial if he gets more playing time. If his physical stature were as large as his oversized heart and character, Krug would be challenging Hamilton at the top of the B’s prospect list. Some can feel that the Bruins don’t need the stable of sub-6-foot defenders that they have amassed, but Andrew Ference has certainly proven that players like him bring an important element to any championship-caliber club. Krug could be Ference’s heir-apparent in Boston.

Projection: No. 3 or 4 offensive defenseman and PP/PK specialist

6. Maxim Chudinov, D— Another undersized d-man with skill, Chudinov compares to Krug in terms of his speed and offensive skills. The 22-year-old Russian and seventh-round pick from 2010 also plays with an edge despite his modest 5-foot-11, 187-pound frame. Blessed with outstanding vision, poise and hockey sense, Chudinov has been one of the best scoring defensemen in the KHL over the past two seasons. He recently inked a two-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg, and appears content to remain in his home country for now, with the idea that he could make a run for a spot in Boston when his current contract is up.

Right now, there isn’t much room for Chudinov on the B’s blue line, and he may not ever cross the Atlantic to try, but from a hockey standpoint, he brings skill, grit and offensive potential to the mix and could meet with better success than Yury Alexandrov. Chudinov gets the nod over Krug because his success has come against men, but the difference between the two is minimal, and Chudinov may not ever even come over to Boston when all is said and done. He’s a player who bears watching.

Projection: No. 2 or 3 two-way defenseman who can play in any situation.

5. Malcolm Subban, G— Boston’s first-round pick was a surprise and a swing for the fences-type selection given Subban’s natural talent and upside. The native of Rexdale, Ontario is also a gamble for the B’s, who do not have a great track record of drafting and developing NHL goalies, especially those taken in the first round (Evgeni Ryabchikov, Hannu Toivonen). On a positive note, the middle Subban brother (with Jordan eligible for 2013 NHL draft) is one of the most athletic prospects at any position and if he can refine his style and keep developing his promising body of work, he has star potential down the road. With his solid 6-foot-1 height, his lower net coverage is remarkable, with extreme flexibility and explosive lateral movements in his favor.

Unfortunately, Subban’s mechanics are going to require some significant work, and he’s going to take a strong dose of time and patience before he’s ready for primetime.  Subban is a top-five prospect for the B’s because he becomes the first potential high-end goalie in Boston’s developmental system since Tuukka Rask joined the organization in 2006. However, the 18-year-old is no slam-dunk and his risk factor is higher than any other player on board.

Projection: Top-echelon NHL starter or bust

Alex Khokhlachev will play in the KHL in 2012-13. (Getty Images)

4. Alexander Khokhlachev, C/W— Skilled pivot is leaving North America for a season in the KHL with Spartak Moscow, where his father is the GM. More elusive than fast, the 40th overall pick in 2011 has tremendous hands and high-level offensive instincts that allow him to compensate for his slight 5-foot-10 frame. A lacerated kidney ended his second OHL season prematurely, and he’s still working his way back from that painful injury. Although seemingly a fluke in nature, the long time on the shelf underscores the danger that smaller players like Khokhlachev face in the ever-bigger NHL. He signed a three-year entry-level contract with Boston this summer, but will play one season (that does not count against his NHL ELC) at home where he said himself that he can benefit from playing against men.

“Koko” will also attend Bruins camp in September, and although he is almost certainly guaranteed to be ticketed for the KHL, the youngster has been open in his desire to be an NHL player one day. His departure comes to the chagrin of the Windsor Spitfires and their supporters, but he’ll benefit from playing at a level similar to the AHL next year.  He’ll need to get stronger, but Koko is challenging Spooner as Boston’s most skilled and dangerous scoring prospect.

Projection: Second-line winger, third-line center and special teamer.

3.  Jared Knight, RW— Built like a wrecking ball, Knight plays a blue collar game that may or may not have high-end offense and production in the cards but he will contribute because of his intensity and heady two-way ability. The second selection of the 2010 draft’s second round after firing home 36 goals for London of the OHL, Knight has managed the demands of his hockey career with type 1 Diabetes. He told New England Hockey Journal recently that his shot has “improved a lot” from where it was when the team drafted him. He’s put time into adding accuracy and velocity to his drive.

A hard-nosed player who is taking boxing classes in the off-season, Knight appears to be ready for the challenge of being a full-time pro this year. At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, he has an NHL body and is versatile enough to play a bottom-six role if the team asks him to. Otherwise, he should form a popular duo with his friend and fellow 2010 second-rounder Ryan Spooner. Koko is the more skilled player and has a higher offensive ceiling than Knight does, but the Michigander is a safer bet to make an impact and stick because of his strength and versatility. The margin between the two is razor thin, but Knight gets the nod for now.

Projection:  Third-line, two-way forward with scoring ability, jam and character.

2. Ryan Spooner, C— Diminutive center has explosive speed, elite puckhandling ability and high-end offensive hockey sense and vision. Can control the tempo of a game and impose his will in the scoring areas of the ice. Slick hands for making plays and a wicked shot mean that Spooner has a chance to see top-line duty in Boston one day. His defensive game was lacking when the B’s made him the 45th overall selection in 2010 as a player who had always relied on his scoring output to carry him through, but Spooner has markedly improved in all zones since.

Dougie Hamilton will head into the season as the top prospect in the B's pipeline. (Getty Images)

While he won’t ever be a Patrice Bergeron-type defensive forward, the Ottawa-area native is making strides.  Talk of moving him to wing is feasible, but the team should capitalize on his creativity and skill set up the middle. One of the more consistent scorers in the OHL during his tenure, he was felled by a bout with mono, costing him a third 30-goal campaign in four years. He may require some seasoning on the farm, but Spooner is clearly Boston’s top forward prospect and has 30+ goal, 80-point NHL potential. 

Projection: Second-line center and PP ace.

1. Dougie Hamilton, D— Boston’s best prospect on defense in decades has it all: size, skating ability, a big shot, good hockey sense and the will to compete. The Niagara Ice Dogs product had a tremendous third year in the OHL, breaking his own franchise record for points by a d-man with 72, and he would have pushed 90 more points had he played in all his team’s games. Hamilton is at his best when moving up into the offensive zone and distributing the puck from the back end. The 19-year-old shows remarkable poise and patience on the point when running the power play. He also possesses a big drive that he can get off pretty quickly. As he gains strength and mass, that rifle shot will become more of a cannon as it gets heavier and more powerful.

Hamilton shows a penchant for sneaking in from the point to finish off scoring chances, a holdover from his days as a forward before he converted to defense in minor midget. He’s still learning the nuances of play and positioning in his own end. Although nearly topping 6-foot-6, Hamilton is not a ferocious open-ice hitter, but does use his natural size to rub guys out along the boards and is tough to beat 1-on-1 with his reach and active stick.  All in all, Hamilton has all the physical tools to be an NHL star one day, and if there isn’t a lockout this fall, it would make sense to keep him in Boston where the team can control his development. Not eligible for the AHL because of his age, Hamilton is in a similar position to Tyler Seguin two years ago in that he can be eased in slowly while gaining the benefit of being around the good veteran influences on the B’s.

Projection: No. 1 or 2 NHL defenseman and cornerstone D. We hesitate to use the “franchise” word with him just yet, but Hamilton has the look of a guy who is only now coming into his own and establishing a strong defensive game to go with an advanced offensive dimension.

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