July 15, 2013

Summer rankings: Boston Bruins top 15 prospects

By Kirk Luedeke

The Boston Bruins’ top-15 summer prospects list is based on what players accomplished during the 2012-13 hockey season, feedback and input from NHL sources, and limited assessments of the 2013 development camp (for those in attendance).

Ryan Spooner and Malcolm Subban still occupy positions at the top of the organizational depth chart, but they are vying for positions of clear strength on the NHL roster. In Spooner’s case, he’ll need a great training camp to convince GM Peter Chiarelli to perhaps move someone else out to find a spot for the 21-year-old and his team-friendly $875,000 cap hit. Subban has a long developmental path ahead of him as he enters his first professional season ticketed for the AHL, but with Tuukka Rask’s new long-term deal in place, he’ll have to be patient and bide his time as Boston works him into the mix.

Not featured in the summer top-15 are Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, and Jordan Caron, who all saw time with the big club. It can be argued that all are still prospects in the system, but were left off the list given familiarity with their skill sets. Some or all may appear on the more comprehensive top-to-bottom New England Hockey Journal Bruins prospects review that will be published just before opening night in Oct.

Joe Morrow, Matt Fraser, and Reilly Smith all slot into the B’s top-10 for now given their natural upside and productivity at the AHL level for Fraser and Smith. 2013 third-round selection Peter Cehlarik opened eyes at development camp for his quick stick and offensive presence, though his skating needs a lot of work. The Slovak left winger’s potential lands him at ninth overall, ahead of second-rounder Linus Arnesson, who is more of a safe, steady defenseman than one who has the top-end talent and productive two-way game to put him into the top-10.

Yale sophomore Rob O’Gara holds his spot at 10 because of the impressive progression of his game and continued development after being the 151st overall selection in 2011. His size, intelligence, and mobility make him a natural shutdown player in the NHL eventually, but he has underrated offensive potential, and could evolve as more of a two-way threat in New Haven over the next couple of seasons.

Brian Ferlin had a strong Bruins development camp and could emerge as a Hobey Baker candidate in his junior season. Anthony Camara has NHL tools, but is raw and must prove to the Bruins that he can rein in his emotions and play a more disciplined game in the minors.

The B’s have a deep group of prospects, but there aren’t many NHL jobs to be had for 2013-14, so barring a rash of injuries, the youngsters may have to wait a little longer for a chance.

NEHJ 2013 Boston Bruins top-15 summer prospect rankings

1.  Ryan Spooner, C Providence (AHL)/Boston Bruins (NHL)

Upside: Fast, creative, and slick with dynamic offensive ability. Led all AHL rookies in scoring and has improved his overall game significantly from the time he was drafted.

Downside: The Ottawa-area native plays the center position, and faces a real logjam there in Boston. Slight 5-fot-11 frame and build means that he’ll be challenged more in the tighter-checking, more physical contests.

Outlook: Spooner needs to come to Bruins training camp in prime shape and a do-or-die attitude to convince the team he’s worth giving a shot on the third line to. Anything less will make a coaching decision to send him back to the AHL that much easier, but he has the pure skill to be a starting center on a lesser NHL club.

2. Malcolm Subban, G Belleville Bulls (OHL)

Upside: Athletic, talented and dedicated with an impressive ceiling. Was a workhorse in Belleville and now gets to play the entire season in the AHL, where he can share starts with Niklas Svedberg.

Downside: Still raw and working on improving his technique. Rask’s eight-year extension means Subban is on the long road to the Boston crease and will have to bide his time.

Outlook: The sky is the limit for this toolsy prospect ready to take that first professional step and could follow a similar developmental path that Rask did.

3. 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. Effortless offensive player has excellent hockey sense.

Downside: ‘Koko’ needs to get stronger on the puck. Watched the AHL playoffs from the stands; has a lot of developing to do before he’s ready to challenge for a Boston job. He’s already been nearly traded twice, so it would not surprise to see him moved at some point if the right deal to upgrade Boston for another playoff run comes up.

Outlook: Still one of Boston’s most skilled offensive futures, 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.

4.  Joe Morrow, D Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins/Texas Stars (AHL)

Upside: Has all the tools to be a top-4 NHL defenseman: good size, excellent skater, smooth hands and a big shot. Morrow is a smart, effective power play QB who likes to rush the puck and kick-start the attack with his feet and pinpoint passes.

Downside: His defense is pretty average, and lacks the functional strength to be a more effective physical presence on the back end.

Outlook: Morrow is probably at least a full year away from making the case for a roster spot inside Boston’s defensive rotation. Unless something gives in the form of a trade on the back end, watch for the 23rd overall pick in 2011 to assume Torey Krug’s role as power play ace and top scoring ‘D’ in Providence.

5.  Niklas Svedberg, G Providence Bruins (AHL)

Upside: Tied Providence club record 37 wins a year ago with a rapid adjustment  from Sweden to the AHL. Athletic puck stopper digs in and comes through with key saves at crunch time.

Downside: Mediocre playoff performance raises concerns about NHL readiness and may be better off with more seasoning in the minors. Questionable focus leads to soft goals at inopportune moments.

Outlook: Svedberg did not help himself a great deal in the AHL playoffs, and his cap hit is higher than that of free agent acquisition Chad Johnson. With only 48 AHL regular season games under his belt, going back to Providence is far from a bad thing, and he’ll likely get a chance to backup Rask if Johnson falters along the way.

6. Matt Fraser, LW Texas Stars (AHL)

Upside: Pure scorer with size and a wicked release brings a Bruins-type lunch pail mentality to the rink every day. Instinctive, offensive winger who exploits seams in defenses and finds ways to produce. Versatile; can play either the left or right side.

Downside: Average skater; has not elevated his offense in the NHL when he has less time, space to work with.  Has a sluggish first few steps and not all that effective in his own end.

Outlook: Has second-line, 25-30 goal upside at the NHL level at his peak, but has to prove that he can find the back of the net when defenders close on him so much faster in the big show than in the minors. Will likely compete with Jordan Caron and Reilly Smith for the third-line RW spot at B’s camp.

7. Reilly Smith, RW Dallas Stars (NHL)/Texas Stars (AHL)

Upside: Speedy, opportunistic scorer saw action in 37 of 48 NHL games in first full rookie pro season. Versatile winger has the hands and vision to provide some offensive pop on the B’s third line.

Downside: One-dimensional player does not possess much of a physical element. Former Dallas third-rounder in 2009 may not have enough of a complete game to fit Boston’s system.

Outlook: Kind of the forgotten man in the trade that sent Seguin to Big D, Smith has more NHL games than Fraser and could give Caron the biggest challenge to a roster spot because of his speed, puck skills, offensive instincts.

8.  Jared Knight, RW Providence Bruins (AHL)/South Carolina (ECHL)

Upside: Gritty, determined up-and-down winger plays a throwback style and takes the puck hard to the net. Hard-working, character player fits the precise mold of what the Bruins covet and is looking for a bounce-back year.

Downside: A torn hamstring cost Knight much of his rookie pro season. Although he scored 36 goals in his draft year, he did not elevate his production to the level that makes him a candidate to establish himself inside Boston’s top-six forwards.

Outlook: Knight could certainly be ranked lower, but gets the benefit of the doubt because of the lost season. He is at a crossroads: must stay healthy and prove to the organization that he can be a gritty and durable AHL contributor before he’ll get an NHL chance.  A new approach to training and preparing for 2013-14 might help him stay healthy and keep a productive Knight in the Providence lineup this year.

9. 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. Many scouts felt that nabbing the Slovak winger playing in Sweden at 90 was a nice draft value pick for the B’s.

Downside: Heavy boots 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.

10.  Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC)

Upside: At 6-foot-3, the Yale sophomore is a smart, effective defensive presence with impressive speed and fluid, effortless footwork. Exhibits fine gap control and employs an active stick; makes effective outlets and shows interesting upside.

Downside: Lanky and still maturing physically. Even though he’s come a long way from where he was when the B’s drafted him in 2011, O’Gara is till pretty raw. Expect him to stay in school for at least two more years, where he can continue to refine his skills and experience after helping the Bulldogs to the 2013 NCAA title.

Outlook: The Long Island native’s impressive development curve makes him a player to watch. He didn’t find the back of the net as an Ivy League freshman a year ago, but if his collegiate game develops like his Milton Academy career, watch for the offense start to blossom.

11. Brian Ferlin, RW Cornell University (ECAC)

Upside: 6-foot-2, 205-poundFloridian has added strength and mass to his frame, and is poised for a breakout offensive campaign as a Cornell junior. Has surprising explosive burst and at his best when he lowers his shoulder and drives to the net.

Downside: Not all that physical a player for his size; Ferlin does honest work along the boards and establishes position in the slot, but won’t ever be much for banging bodies.

Outlook: If a slow offensive start in his sophomore season was a disappointment for Ferlin, the rest of his game showed progress. Of the big, talented forwards Boston has amassed over the past several drafts (and via trade) Ferlin has some of the more intriguing potential, though he needs to put up bigger numbers with the Big Red going forward.

12. Linus Arnesson, D Djurgarden (SWE- 2)

Upside: Possesses good size (6-foot-2, 187 pounds) and skating ability, plus defensive smarts and a solid work ethic. Makes a strong first pass and has benefited from playing against men in Sweden’s second pro division.

Downside: He does not look like much of a point producer at the highest level and projects more as a lower-end, two-way role player than a dual threat and focal point from the blue line.

Outlook: The size and skating are above average, but Arnesson has the look and feel of a solid middle-pairing, defense-first d-man, which drops him in the rankings a bit. At the same time, if he developed into a similar contributor to Dennis Seidenberg at some point, that would be considered a big win, but the 18-year-old did not take anticipated steps forward in his offensive growth this season.

13. Anthony Camara, LW Barrie Colts (OHL)

Upside: Grinding, agitating winger has impressive skating skills and NHL-caliber shot. Camara plays a Bruins-style of game as a heavy-hitting middleweight who can provide offense.

Downside: Lack of personal discipline on the ice has gotten him into trouble in the OHL. Needs time to develop as an effective pro; should not be rushed to the NHL before he’s ready. Even with the one big junior scoring season on a good team, may not ever be more than a solid third-liner at the NHL level.

Outlook: As much as he’s the nom du jour among Bruins faithful, he has a lot of professional growing to do yet. Boston is a veteran roster with not a lot of room for the player Camara is right now in his development. Expect him to spend the entire season in the AHL figuring out the system and how to get the most from his abilities.

14.  Seth Griffith, RW London Knights (OHL)

Upside: Elite vision and a sniper’s touch make the London Knights product a wild card to develop into a top-six NHL winger some day. Thinks the game at a high level and has a real nose for the net.

Downside: May be a classic ‘tweener: prolific junior scorer, but lacks some key element to his game that allows him to be an effective top-six scoring winger at the NHL level. A below-average defensive player with uneven intensity levels at present, Griffith does not look like a great fit on the bottom-two lines, so he’ll have to address that in Providence.

Outlook: The road to the NHL is paved with the bodies of high-end junior scorers who could not translate their big amateur numbers at the highest level. Griffith is an intriguing prospect, but far from a slam-dunk to find big league success. He’ll have to prove himself in the AHL by rounding out his game first.

15. Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.), D Boston University Terriers (HEA)

Upside: With a playing style akin to Torey Krug-lite, the former Belmont Hill star loves to rush the puck and needed no adjustment time to the Hockey East. A tremendous worker who is driven to succeed beyond his modest size, he’s a strong bet to make the 2014 U.S. World Jr. squad after being the final cut a year ago.

Downside: Beyond the obvious physical limitations, Grzelcyk is a long way off from competing for an NHL job with the Bruins.

Outlook: It’s growing increasingly difficult to be a prospect in Boston’s system these days, but with plenty of time to stay at BU and improve his core strength, gain experience- this Townie could one day make a splash with the team he dreamed of skating for.

Honorable Mention

Ryan Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.), C Valley Jr. Warriors (EJHL)

Upside: Intelligent, crafty pivot has a natural feel for the game that few others among his peers possess. Can do a little bit of everything and will likely be a star player that Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.) can use in all situations at Boston College.

Downside: Lacks size, strength, and blazing speed even with the shifty elusiveness he uses to slip checks and make plays.

Outlook: You hear about draft steals every year, but getting Fitzgerald at the end of the fourth round means that there is no pressure on him to develop in his hometown team’s system. He has top-two line upside and solid NHL potential, but is a long-term project who could spend all four years at BC and see time in the minors, too.

Not profiled in the summer top-15

Matt Bartkowski, D

Jordan Caron, RW

Dougie Hamilton, D

Torey Krug, D

25 and Over

Christian Hanson, C

Chris Bourque (Topsfield, Mass.), LW

Kevan Miller, D

Jamie, Tardif, RW

Nick Johnson, RW

Mike Moore, D

Bobby Robins, LW

Twitter: @kluedeke29
Email: kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com