August 30, 2013

Kirk's Call: Breaking down the Bruins' rookie camp roster

By Kirk Luedeke


Center Ryan Spooner appeared in four games for Boston in 2013. (Getty Images)
 

The Boston Bruins officially announced the team’s schedule and roster for rookie camp, which opens in Wilmington, Mass., on Wednesday, Sept. 4, and involves travel to Coral Springs, Fla., where the futures will take on other youthful squads from the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators.

Although much of the excitement will take place in the Sunshine State, practices on Sep. 4-5 and then on the 10th at Ristuccia Memorial Arena are open to the public before the B’s main training camp opens on Sept. 11.

Although Boston prospects like defenseman Joe Morrow and new acquisitions Matt Fraser and Reilly Smith won’t be part of the rookie festivities, B’s fans will have plenty of future hopefuls to take stock of over the next week to 10 days. The rookie camp schedule and roster is currently posted on the Boston Bruins official website.

Here is a quick rundown on each of the camp participants and scouting reports where applicable.

FORWARDS

Anthony Camara, LW - Rugged, physical player enters first pro season after posting a career-best 36 goals in the OHL last year with Barrie. A good skater with smooth hands, hockey sense and discipline are the question marks with a player who brings an otherwise prototypical Bruins-style game to the mix.

Outlook: Camara (pictured right) is one of the more over-hyped prospects in Boston’s system because of the one excellent scoring year coupled with his physicality and willingness to drop the gloves. Camara has NHL potential, but fan excitement and expectations ought to be tempered as he is almost assuredly bound for Providence this season.

Mitchell Dempsey, LW - The penultimate pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft doesn’t have the numbers to justify the selection because of injuries and sickness, but the one-time OHL first-round pick has some interesting upside.  Big and powerful with underrated hands and a nasty edge, Dempsey could follow in former Bruins prospect Cody Payne’s (traded to Dallas in Jaromir Jagr deal) footsteps with a breakout season in Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL if he stays healthy.

Outlook: Dempsey is a long way off, but if the offensive dimension starts to emerge more, his big frame and willingness to defend teammates will serve him well in the Bruins organization.

Campbell Elynuik, LW - The Maryland-born son of former NHL 30-goal man Pat Elynuik does not resemble his father’s playing style much as more of an intimidating, aggressive presence without much production to speak of. A bit player and enforcer in the WHL before going to the USHL a year ago with Muskegon (7 goals in 37 games with 105 PIMs) one NHL scout described the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder as “one of the meanest, toughest fighters I have ever seen in the USHL.”

Outlook: A rangy winger, Elynuik looks like roster filler, but could do enough to earn perhaps a ECHL deal with Boston’s South Carolina Stingrays affiliate with the chance to move up to Providence at some point.

Alex Fallstrom, RW - The two-way forward and Harvard grad came to Boston as part of the Chuck Kobasew trade to Minnesota in 2009 and was solid in a late-season 10-game AHL stint, scoring four goals for Providence. This season, the Stockholm native will have a chance to spread his wings again. He possesses fine size at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, but heavy boots are his biggest shortcoming.

Outlook: With quick hands and a natural feel for the game, he should see ample ice in all situations for Bruce Cassidy this season. Alas, he’s a similar player to a lot of what Boston already has on the big club’s roster, so barring a rash of injuries, Fallstrom does not have much of a chance to see NHL time this year.

Justin Florek, LW - The big and strong power winger his teammates call “Giraffe” is a meat-and-potatoes, north-south winger who captained Northern Michigan University before turning pro. The Michigander has a bomb of a shot and showed some impressive goal scoring chops in flashes in his first full AHL season.

Outlook: Like Fallstrom, Florek (pictured right) has his hands full cracking a Bruins roster that already has a lot of what he brings to the table. Not a snarly, physical power forward but more of a grinding, puck-possession type who goes into the greasy areas, he could top 20 goals on the farm this season.

Seth Griffith, RW - The OHL sniper with the two-time champion London Knights is one forward the hardcore draftniks and prospect fans are waiting for in Boston. Skipped in 2011, Griffith went to the B’s in the fifth round a year later and would have scored 40+ goals for the second straight year if not for a serious injury late in the 2012-13 campaign.  A natural scorer with slick hands, shot and offensive hockey sense, Griffith is an average skater whose three-zone game has been questioned in the past. He’ll have to prove himself at the pro level before anyone is ready to talk about a spot in Boston.

Outlook: Griffith could be every bit the player his junior stats say he will be in the NHL one day, or he might be the classic ‘tweener who lit it up as an amateur and minor pro, but was unable to break through and stick at the highest level. The Bruins have nothing to lose by plugging him into their system and seeing what he does for them.

Jayden Hart, C - A solid and gritty two-way pivot with unspectacular numbers, Hart had some nagging injuries in his season split between Medicine Hat and Prince Albert of the WHL, and never really got untracked offensively as the season went on.

Not likely to get any kind of contract offer, the B’s will at least look at what Hart has to offer and depending on the kind of year he has in 2013-14, you might see him pop up somewhere in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

Alexander Khokhlachev, C - A fan favorite since the B’s grabbed him with Minnesota’s second-round pick in 2011 at 40th overall, the slick and skilled Russian took a step back in 2012-13. Although he once again lit up the OHL when he returned to Windsor after the World Jr. Championship last winter, he clearly struggled at the pro level in stints with the KHL and AHL. His hands and head (offensive hockey IQ) are his best assets, while his skating has improved. However, ‘Koko’ was lacking in functional strength and allegedly sulked when he found himself watching AHL playoff games. He needs to regain the fire we’ve seen on display in the OHL and against top international competition.

Outlook: A true enigma. The Bruins had not one, but two aborted trades with him last season, but that alone does not signal his end in Boston. The real story is whether he possess the “Bruins character” that is so important to the team’s leadership. He’ll get one more chance to live up to his pure talent’s promise and potential.

Jared Knight, RW - It was a lost season for the 2010 second-rounder (and final piece of the Phil Kessel deal who has not reached the NHL), as a torn hamstring cost him all but 10 regular season games and some playoff action for Providence.  A skilled wing who plays an up-and-down style, but crashes the net and does anything his team asks of him. After switching trainers and adding yoga to his regimen, Knight is down to 198 pounds and a new outlook having dropped 20 pounds of muscle that may have contributed to his lower body injuries.

Outlook: One of the few right-shooting natural right wingers in the system, an energized Knight (pictured right) could make it tough for the Boston coaches to send him down. He has the chance to make a major impression on the brass in Florida before big camp kicks off.

Matt Lindblad, C- A true, under-the-radar find by the Bruins last spring out of Dartmouth University, the undrafted free agent made an immediate and positive impact late in the AHL. There is nothing very dynamic or flashy about Lindblad but the Illinois native just finds ways to score and set up plays.

Outlook: Watch for an expanded role for Lindblad in Providence this season, and while he’s not likely to go out and lead the league in scoring, he could be one of the Baby B’s most consistent and productive players, much like Marty St. Pierre was a few years back.

Wayne Simpson (Boxborough, Mass.), RW - Union College grad is a solid two-way forward without a NHL deal and not much in the way of flash and dash. Simpson skated at Bruins development camp in 2012 after being a key component in Union’s run to the Frozen Four. Sturdily built with a powerful skating stride, he goes hard to the net and does not possess any real standout skill or tool, but could play his way onto Boston’s radar (and a spot in the ECHL or AHL) with a strong performance in Coral Springs.

Ryan Spooner, C - Still the top prospect on New England Hockey Journal’s Bruins organizational rankings for his pure skill, speed and creativity, the Kanata, Ontario native needs to carry the play or the Boston rookies. After leading all AHL rookies in scoring a year ago with 57 points, Spooner can send a message to the Bruins brass that he is ready for primetime minutes at the highest level by breaking through and producing against his peers wearing other team sweaters.

Outlook: Spooner is in a tough spot as a center vying for a job in Boston.  While he may not win in head-to-head projections on paper, a terrific rookie tourney could propel him to bigger things at Boston main camp and eventually force the GM to trade someone else to make room for the skilled and dynamic 2010 second-rounder.

Maxime Villemaire, C - Big, hard-nosed center had his 2012-13 season at Saint John derailed by injuries (as has been the case for much of his QMJHL career). He did score the final goal of the season for the Sea Dogs, breaking up Zac Fucale’s chance at a shutout in Halifax’s 6-1 drubbing in Game 4 to sweep the 1st-round series last spring (2 goals in four games). At 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, Villemaire might be a more talked about prospect if not on IR so much. He is an effective fighter who had three bouts in 15 games with the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators last spring.



DEFENSE

Mickael Beauregard - Tall and lanky (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) defender keeps things simple with a long reach and good range. Offense is virtually non-existent for the Gatineau Olympique who was passed over in his first NHL draft (Oct. 1994) birthdate. He’s raw and not much of a prospect at this stage, but the Bruins will see what he brings to the table in Coral Springs.

Chris Casto: University of Minnesota-Duluth sophomore turned pro early to sign with the Bruins last spring after being undrafted.  With good size and mobility, the anticipated offensive dimension to his game that was emerging in high school and in the USHL with Lincoln did not come to fruition, but he looks like a solid shutdown defender project. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, he can do a little bit of everything and his overall game will improve with pro experience. He has a big shot and is a better passer than he gets credit for.

Outlook: An interesting signing, Casto has the earmarks of one of those players who attracts little attention until getting into the pro ranks, but who then blossoms as a prospect. The skill and tools are there for him to be something more than he was in college, but whether he can reach his once-promising ceiling remains to be seen.

Alex Cord - The 21-year-old Mississauga (OHL ) defender with size and mobility, he plays a similar style to former Boston prospect Marc Cantin as a defense-first with limited offensive upside but the toughness to box forwards out and keep the front of his net clear. OHL prospects expert Dominic Tiano described Cord this way: “Stay-at-home d-man with decent size. Can make a big hit and doesn’t go out of his way looking for it. Average skater…superb shot blocker. Reads plays to defend effectively and has a good stick.” Tiano added that he believed Cord is a previous two-time camp invite by other NHL teams.

Tommy Cross (Simsbury, Conn.) - Former Boston College captain and two-time NCAA champion began last season in the ECHL with South Carolina but moved up to Providence after putting up nice numbers for the Stingrays.  The 2007 second-rounder had an up-and-down year in the AHL, and while he’s mobile, there isn’t a lot there offensively. Still, he plays a sound defensive game, has a big point shot and is one of the top character players in Boston’s system.

Outlook: Expectations that come with being a high pick (35th) are not likely to be fulfilled, especially with the right knee issues Cross (pictured right) has battled since 2007. The Bruins have remained patient with him, but even at his best, he may not be much more than a bottom-pairing shutdown player, and he may not get that chance to prove himself in Boston.

Jesse Lees - With a September 14, 1995 birthdate, Lees was one of the youngest players eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft, but went unselected. Possessing just average size at around 6-feet and 180 pounds, Lees is a very good defensive player with a cannon shot and underrated puck skills. The Calgarian doesn’t have the physicality to match up with power forwards, but he plays a smart, simple game.

Outlook: The 86th-ranked player in Red Line Report’s 2013 Draft Guide just might be worth signing to a contract if he plays well at rookie camp, as several scouts believe he was lost in the shuffle on a very good Kelowna Rockets blue line. If the Bruins don’t sign Lees, he will go back into the draft and if the breakout season comes as projected, will cost some team a much higher pick than if they had spent a late flyer on him in Newark.

Steve Spinell - Four goals in four years at Miami University  (one each season) won’t attract you much notice, but after watching Spinell as an invited player to Boston’s 2011 development camp, he’s a solid add to the rookie camp roster. Providence Journal’s Mark Divver reported that although not yet announced officially, Spinell signed an AHL deal to play for Providence this season. The Illinois native is mobile and smart, and was Enrico Blasi’s captain for the 2012-13 Redhawks.

Outlook: Like Kevan Miller, Spinell is just a solid, rugged, effective defender who helps his teams win. There’s nothing exciting here, but don’t be surprised if he inks himself a NHL contract with Boston in the not-too-distant future.

Zach Trotman - Concussions derailed a promising rookie AHL season for the Indiana native and final pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Big, fluid and offensively underrated, Trotman has developed nicely since he was selected 210th by the Bruins out of Lake Superior State. He reads the play well, is not afraid to jump up into the rush, and runs the power play effectively and effortlessly.

Outlook: The head hits are a concern, as Trotman played in only 48 games, not getting much of a chance to show off his strengths over the long haul. He’ll have to re-set and the rookie tourney will be a good place for him to start his path back towards the goal of playing a full and healthy season in Providence’s top-three.

GOALTENDERS

Adam Morrison - The one-time Philadelphia Flyers draft pick who signed with Boston as a free agent did not do much in his first pro season, first failing to secure a spot in South Carolina of the ECHL before seeing limited time for the Utah Grizzlies (same league) as a backup. A tall (6-foot-3) and fluid netminder, his breakout final junior season in Vancouver showed that he has the talent to be a NHL prospect, but he is still putting everything together.

Outlook: Morrison needs to earn a starting job in the ECHL first, before being an AHL netminder is even an option for him. Big year ahead for the British Columbia native.

Malcolm Subban - Boston’s first-round pick in 2012 gets to play in the AHL full-time this season by virtue of his Dec. 1993 birthdate, where he is likely to be broken in slowly behind Niklas Svedberg (or possibly Chad Johnson depending on how camp goes).  With good size at 6-foot-2 and elite athletic ability, Subban (pictured right) has game-stealing talent and is coming off the most consistent and successful season of his OHL career. Very difficult to beat down low because of his explosive telescoping and lightning-fast leg pads, Subban is improving his glove hand as well. If he continues to progress in the pros as he did in major junior, Tuukka Rask might have an established young backup sooner than many think.

Outlook: Hyperbole aside, Subban is still just 19 and needs considerable developmental time in the minor pro ranks. He’ll get a chance to build his confidence against fellow rookies in Coral Springs, where he’ll likely get the bulk of the work. Subban has the makings of a future NHL No. 1, but with Rask signing an eight-year extension, it’s probably going to be quite a wait.

Photos: Dave Arnold Photography (Knight); Alan Sullivan (Cross); Getty Images (Subban, Florek, Camara, Spooner)

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