Mounting injuries just past the quarter mark of the 2013-14 NHL season have tested the Boston Bruins’ organizational depth, giving some of the young futures an opportunity to see time in the big show.
“We have good players in our organization who can be productive when the time presents,” B’s assistant GM Don Sweeney told New England Hockey Journal. “But not everyone can be on the same (NHL) timeline. I think our young players understand that and are willing to work harder over a longer period if they can be a part of a winning team eventually.”
Ryan Spooner and Matt Fraser are the latest Bruins to give Boston fans a glimpse of what could be, as the absences of Loui Eriksson and Chris Kelly brought the AHL linemates to the big club from Providence in early December.
“It makes the younger guys more comfortable and it’s easier to transition up,” Spooner said recently. “You feel like things are a little easier when more (Providence) players are around. The veterans know a lot of injuries have happened and the team doesn’t look the same that it did a couple of weeks ago, but (they) realize that they were in some of the same situations when they were younger.”
Spooner would already be an NHL regular in more than a few other organizations. Even with added playing time, he’ll find it a challenge to push Kelly from the lineup once the veteran pivot is cleared to return. For now, he’s playing a smaller role and learning.
“The most important thing is to get comfortable with the system and adjust to it,” he said. “If I focus on playing a responsible all-around game and not worry about the points and scoring right now, those things will eventually come.”
Malcolm Subban is in his rookie pro season with Providence and, after a rocky first couple of starts, is settling in well. The 20-year-old has pushed fellow goaltending prospect Niklas Svedberg for playing time, posting a .915 save percentage in 10 games.
On defense, Joe Morrow is a smooth-skating, two-way defender with size and offensive upside. After a challenging first AHL season spent in two organizations a year ago, the former Pittsburgh first-rounder is improving his all-around game by leaps and bounds, leading the Providence blue line in scoring through the first 26 games (18 points). Fraser, who has nearly 90 goals in just two-and-a-quarter AHL seasons including 16 in 21 games with Providence, might not be a great skater but has a true nose for the net and terrific hands.
Alexander Khokhlachev, whose natural offensive talents rival only Spooner in the Boston prospects pool, has more developing to do but rounds out the top five based on his pure long-term upside. The question is, will he find NHL success as a Bruin?