By Kirk Luedeke
The New England Hockey Journal’s Boston Bruins top-10 prospects list reflects strong organizational depth and promise, even if there are not many NHL job openings for the youth movement.
Ryan Spooner generated some separation as the NEHJ’s top-rated prospect with a strong performance at main training camp and the B’s rookie tournament in Coral Springs, Fla. The dynamic 21-year-old center has an abundance of speed and sense, but improved his strength and conditioning in the offseason and played a more complete game, appearing in six out of seven preseason games (one goal, five points) and being one of the last cuts.
Malcolm Subban is a close second in the organization, and may rise to the top of the prospect depth chart given his elite physical tools and long-term potential. As a rookie in the AHL this season, Subban’s top challenge will be to create consistency in his game and make sure he’s making the routine saves along with the highlight reel stops he’s been known for. Fellow goalie Niklas Svedberg was better than veteran Chad Johnson in camp and preseason, but at 23 still needs to be playing regularly as opposed to sitting most nights behind the workhorse Tuukka Rask. If Svedberg plays well in Providence for a second straight season, he could see some time in Boston at some point.
Offensive defenseman Joe Morrow, acquired as part of the Tyler Seguin trade, looks like a good candidate to bounce back and have a more productive second AHL season after struggling to make the adjustment from major junior a year ago. Pittsburgh’s first-rounder in 2011 has been traded twice in just a few months, but is still young at 21, and has the skating and puck skills to be an impact performer in the NHL one day. Jared Knight rounds out the top-five, also looking to rebound after missing the majority of the 2012-13 AHL season with lower body injuries. He’s in prime shape and poised to play a key role in Providence’s top-two lines and power play this season.
The team also has a pair of quality young defensemen in Zach Trotman and Linus Arnesson coming up through the ranks. Trotman had an outstanding camp and could be knocking on the door to full-time NHL duty next season as a big, mobile two-way defender. Arnesson is not as dangerous offensively, but is a safer bet to establish himself in the big league for years because of his all-around game and smarts.
Alexander Khokhlachev is immensely talented, but has yet to demonstrate that he can put all of the impressive tools together and play to expectations. This is an important season for him and his future with the Bruins.
Boston's system is deep, but the veteran makeup on the big club means that open spots for the youngsters will be fewer and far between. At the same time, GM Peter Chiarelli has the flexibility to tweak his NHL roster from within and by making deals involving quality assets.
NEHJ 2013 Boston Bruins preseason prospect rankings 1-10
Rank/Name/Position, 2012-13 Club
1. Ryan Spooner, C, Providence (AHL)/Boston Bruins (NHL)
Upside: The 45th overall selection in 2010 always had the offensive tools and speed to be a game-breaker, but the 2012-13 AHL leading scorer amongst rookies has dramatically improved his overall game. Dynamic and creative, Spooner runs the offense with flair and confidence, especially when he has time and space to work with on the power play. Showing more willingness to finish his checks and go into the greasy areas of the ice.
Downside: The Kanata, Ontario native is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he’s still working on his defensive zone awareness and play. He can theoretically skate the wing position for the big club, but is much more confident and productive up the middle. The plan appears for him to remain there rather than forcing him to play elsewhere and risk losing his effectiveness.
Outlook: Spooner was not going to beat David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron on Boston’s top lines, and he gets no reprieve from the bottom two units with Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell firmly entrenched. While that might mean another year in Providence, he’s only 21, and is on the shortlist of call-ups when inevitable injuries happen and Boston needs reinforcements.
2. Malcolm Subban, G, Belleville Bulls (OHL)
Upside: Elite quickness with top physical abilities and raw tools; works hard and is extremely conscientious about improving his game. Explosive, dynamic crease movements and quick pads make him tough to beat, especially one-on-one in shootout/breakaway situations. Has the size and talent to be a top flight NHL goaltender eventually with the key word being ‘eventually’.
Downside: A major work in progress as evidenced by rookie tournament and preseason performances. Has holes (rebound control, economy of motion) in his game that will need time, patience and dedication to correct.
Outlook: Has shown top-level potential in flashes, but will balance out his body of work with a good attitude and experience down on the farm. The B’s have absolutely no need to rush their 2012 first-rounder, so watch for them to take their time with Subban as they did with Tuukka Rask when he was first acquired in 2006.
3. Niklas Svedberg, G, Providence Bruins (AHL)
Upside: His mediocre playoffs last spring aside, Svedberg is a winner. He brings good size, athletic ability but most importantly a poised, big game mentality to the table. After adjusting to the North American rinks quickly last year, watch for the undrafted free agent to add to his impressive body of work which includes a Swedish Elite League championship.
Downside: Svedberg is still refining his game given his limited AHL experience and keeping his fiery temper in check. If he backs up Rask, he’ll rarely play and could face the pressures of having must-win situations when he does start.
Outlook: Even though Svedberg outplayed Chad Johnson in the preseason, he went back down to Providence. He carries a slightly higher cap hit than Johnson, but the larger issue for the Bruins is ensuring that Svedberg continues his development. That’s not something that may not happen if he’s stuck behind the workhorse Rask.
4. Joe Morrow, D, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins/Texas Stars (AHL)
Upside: Superb skater with myriad offensive skills and the ability to move the puck at will. Possesses a cannon shot and distributes the puck well in the offensive zone. Has the natural hockey sense to be a point-producer and top PP specialist at the highest level.
Downside: Not likely to develop into a defensive stalwart and admitted that he was not mentally or physically prepared for the AHL when he debuted as a pro a year ago. Not overly physical and is more of a finesse, puck-moving d-man than an effective two-way presence.
Outlook: The plan all along was to keep Pittsburgh’s 2011 first-rounder in Providence for the full 2013-14 campaign and allow him to develop his game within Torey Krug’s role last season, so his early relegation to the AHL at camp was not a surprise. Morrow has top-four NHL potential, but will have to show quick progression and the character attributes the B’s prize in their players.
5. Jared Knight, RW, Providence Bruins (AHL)/South Carolina (ECHL)
Upside: Dropped 20 pounds in the offseason to be quicker, more explosive and protect his lower body from recurring ankle and hamstring injuries that hampered his progression in the previous two years. A prototypical Bruins-style player, Knight goes to the net hard, pays the price in the greasy areas of the ice and hits everything in sight.
Downside: Lack of pro experience due to missing all but 10 games and change a year ago has put him behind the power curve, but by staying healthy, Knight can make a big statement this season. He may not possess the elite offensive skills of a top-six NHL forward, but he’s versatile and gritty.
Outlook: Knight is a rugged, straight-line winger who plays bigger than his size and put in the work to reinvent himself over the summer. As one of the few right-shooting wings in the organization, the 2010 early second-rounder was disappointed about going back to Providence so early in the camp process, but he has the opportunity to play a key offensive role in the AHL. If anyone can earn his way back up with a power game and willingness to do the little things, it’s him.
6. Zach Trotman, Providence Bruins (AHL)
Upside: With his near 6-foot-5 frame and fluid mobility for such a big man, Trotman has taken enormous leaps in his development since the B’s made him the final pick in the 2010 NHL draft. With a rocket of a shot and underrated vision/passing skills, the former Lake Superior State star can run the power play and chip in offensively. but the Indiana native will initiate contact and has an active stick with good gap control. Several of his teammates commented on his upper body strength, as he’s able to put up 10 reps in excess of 350 pounds on the bench.
Downside: Multiple (three) concussions derailed a promising rookie season last year, and Trotman will have to guard against having his head down when fighting for loose pucks along the boards. He’s not a lower-the-boom type of hitter in the Johnny Boychuk mold, but he is effective in moving opponents away from the front of his own net.
Outlook: A New England Hockey Journal sleeper and favorite since his first Bruins development camp in 2010, Trotman is on the verge of establishing himself as a legitimate NHL player. With his size and quickness, he can at the very least be an effective shutdown, bottom-pairing guy, but his vision and shot give him the chance to be something more.
7. Reilly Smith, RW, Dallas Stars (NHL)/Texas Stars (AHL)
Upside: This third-round pick in 2009 was a star with the Miami Redhawks and Hobey Baker finalist. He brings the kind of speed and offensive potential you want from a third line player. Shifty and creative, the puck tends to follow Smith around the ice and he has a knack for finishing in close, even if his NHL numbers with Dallas did not reflect that last season.
Downside: We don’t see the kind of grit Smith was getting credit for during the exhibition season, but improving his defensive play would go a long way for him. A streaky scorer who can go stretches where the offense dries up for him.
Outlook: There is no denying the intrigue of this Hobey Baker finalist who was rumored to be on Boston’s radar for the ’09 draft before Dallas snatched him up. Whether he can keep his spot on the B’s third line remains to be seen, but with his hockey IQ and slick hands, he just might be what the doctor ordered for a little scoring pop.
8. Linus Arnesson, D, Djurgarden (SWE- 2)
Upside: This smart, poised defender with size (6-foot-2, 187 pounds) and skating ability plays a steady game in all zones. An underrated puck mover who sees the ice well, Arnesson also employs an active stick and is a quiet leader who is as consistent as they come.
Downside: There isn’t a lot of offensive upside with Arnesson; he does not particularly impress on the power play. He is not all that strong or physical, employing more of a finesse style than a hard-nosed, gritty presence.
Outlook: The size and skating are above average, but Arnesson has the look and feel of a solid middle-pairing, defense-player, which holds him out of the top-10. Like Dennis Seidenberg, Arnesson could prove his NHL worth well beyond some of his flashier peers, but for now, he’ll need time to develop his body and experience.
9. Alexander Khokhlachev, C Spartak (KHL)/Windsor OHL)/Providence (AHL)
Upside: A high-end stickhandler and scorer who can effortlessly put the puck in the net. Has improved his skating in the past two seasons and aggressively attacks defenses with his offensive skills and sense.
Downside: ‘Koko’ needs to get stronger on the puck. He watched the AHL playoffs from the stands and has a lot of developing to do before he’s ready to challenge for a Boston job.
Outlook: Still one of Boston’s most skilled offensive players, watch for Khokhlachev to have a more impactful first full AHL season after showing flashes of brilliance in a limited spring stint. Top-six NHL forward potential, but nowhere near ready to compete for a spot with the big club. Some have questioned whether he has the kind of character and desire that the B’s value that would see him eventually flourish, but the team will keep working with him in hopes that he can take the next step.
10. Peter Cehlarik, LW, Lulea (SWE- Jr.)/Lulea (SEL)
Upside: With his 6-foot-2 frame and more room to fill out, the 2013 third-rounder has the soft hands and hockey sense to be a top-six NHL forward one day. His quick release and an opportunistic streak when it comes to scoring means the young Slovak should evolve into one of the organization’s more appealing prospects.
Downside: Slow initial burst and lack of top gear mean that Cehlarik will need to improve his quickness to maximize his natural offensive talents. Although big, does not play much of a power game; needs to be stronger on the puck.
Outlook: The Bruins and their scouts are excited about this player and rightfully so. He has a knack for scoring and really took his game up a notch in the final half of the season and Under-18 championship tourney. Cehlarik was loaned to Asploven of the Swedish Allsvenskan or second division earlier this season after not making Lulea’s senior team out of camp.
25 and Over
Kevan Miller, D
Chad Johnson, G
Nick Johnson, RW
Mike Moore, D
Bobby Robins, LW
Carl Soderberg, LW
Matt Bartkowski, D
Jordan Caron, RW
Dougie Hamilton, D
Torey Krug, D