January 22, 2012

From NEHJ: Bruins Top 10 Prospects

By Kirk Luedeke

With the kind of season Dougie Hamilton is having in the Ontario Hockey League — after the Boston Bruins made the skilled two-way defenseman the ninth overall selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft — it is no surprise that the 18-year-old tops New England Hockey Journal’s annual review of the team’s prospects.

Thanks to a couple of trades that sent veteran forwards Phil Kessel and Chuck Kobasew out of Boston in late 2009, the Bruins landed early first- and second-round selections in consecutive years.

The team got immediate help from 2010 second overall pick Tyler Seguin all the way to the Stanley Cup last spring, and he’s leading the Bruins in scoring in just his second NHL season. However, the Bruins also will look to Hamilton and forwards Jared Knight and Alexander Khokhlachev, both acquired in the second round, to add to the payoff in time.

“We got really lucky with that,” Bruins assistant GM Jim Benning told New England Hockey Journal recently, referencing the Kessel trade in particular. “The effect of drafting in the top 10 means that you can select impact players going forward.”

Hamilton appears to be an impact player. His 45 points led all OHL defenders and helped him earn a spot with Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championship.

Benning has been a significant contributor to the recent strengthening of the system through the draft and via trades. The former amateur scouting director’s eye for talent and fingerprints on Boston’s championship team can be seen not only in the young roster players acquired via the draft but also in the club’s improved pro scouting, which brought in key veterans Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley last February for the stretch run.

With the Bruins having raised the Cup last summer, the onus, Benning said, is on Boston’s hockey operations department to continue to make impact picks in the draft and further build depth and assets in what is a solid system in terms of scoring forwards, but is lacking in higher-end defensemen and goaltenders outside of Hamilton.

“We’re kind of at the mercy of how deep a draft class is,” Benning said. “Every year is different, so our scouts get paid to look closely at that class and tell us where the cutoff is in terms of where those impact players can be found.”

In 2012, the Bruins won’t have the benefit of another top-10 selection barring another Chiarelli deal, so Benning and his staff will have to be a little more creative in adding to a growing stable of prospects.

1. Dougie Hamilton

2010-11 NEHJ rank: NR

Position: Defenseman

Born: June 17, 1993, in Toronto, Ontario

Size: 6-4, 190 pounds

Shoots: Right

Acquired: Boston’s 1st choice, 9th overall in 2011 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Three-year entry-level contract starts with first pro season

2011-12 stats with Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL): 30 GP, 12 G, 33 A, 45 Pts., 26 PIM

Strengths: Ideal size but still growing and could play at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. A fine skater with a powerful stride and strong balance. One of the best power-play quarterbacks in all of junior hockey; has a cannon shot and is very good in puck distribution. High hockey IQ/on-ice vision and extremely bright in the classroom. Playing with confidence, poise and consistency.

Weaknesses: Light frame; has a lot of filling out to do. Uses his body as leverage, but not an overt physical player or big hitter for his size.

Projection: No. 1 or 2 NHL defender and elite power-play QB. “Dougie’s putting up points this year, but the thing we’ve been most impressed with is his two-way play. He’s got a long stick like Adam McQuaid for breaking up passes, and he’s finishing his checks defensively. He’s a real good skater, can handle the puck and jump up into the play offensively.” — Bruins assistant GM Jim Benning

2. Ryan Spooner

2010-11 NEHJ rank: 4

Position: Center

Born: Jan. 30, 1992, in Kanata, Ontario

Size: 5-10, 180

Shoots: Left

Acquired: Boston’s 3rd choice, 45th overall in 2010 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Three-year entry-level contract starts with first pro season

2011-12 stats with Kingston Frontenacs (OHL): 27 GP, 14 G, 18 A, 32 Pts., 8 PIM

Strengths: Outstanding skater with rapid acceleration, top-end speed and elusiveness. Excellent puck skills; dual threat who can score highlight-reel goals and make pretty passes. Versatile enough to play wing, but Bruins would be best served by taking advantage of his creativity at center. A deadly penalty killer whose seven shorthanded goals leads the OHL.

Weaknesses: Below average size means that Spooner always will walk a fine line of not putting on too much weight/mass so as to lose any of his terrific speed and quickness.

Projection: Scoring forward and high-end special teamer. A bout with mononucleosis felled him in December for a few weeks and prevented him from attending Canada World Jr. camp and participating in the prestigious tourney. “To Ryan’s credit, he’s worked hard in practice, and in the last month, month-and-a-half, he’s been real good. He’s using his speed well and setting up teammates for scoring chances. After a slow start, he’s grabbing the bull by the horns.” — Benning

3. Alexander Khokhlachev

2010-11 NEHJ rank: NR

Position: Center

Born: Sept. 9, 1993, in Moscow, Russia

Size: 5-10, 175

Shoots: Left

Acquired: Boston’s 2nd choice, 40th overall in 2011 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Unsigned

2011-12 stats with Windsor Spitfires (OHL): 34 GP, 17 G, 28 A, 45 Pts., 16 PIM

Strengths: Deft puckhandler who can dangle with the best. More slippery than fast, but backs defenses up with quick stick and ability to exploit seams in the offensive zone. Like Spooner, has excellent offensive hockey sense and playmaking ability. Plays with a surplus of passion, energy.

Weaknesses: Undersized and lacking in strength. Still working on rounding out his overall game. Needs another 2-3 years of development before he is ready to crack the NHL.

Projection: “Koko” projects as a top-six forward who could move to wing in the NHL. The way he wheels out of the corners with the puck reminiscent of a young Sergei Samsonov. “He is a tremendous player and person. He has a high skill level, takes the game seriously and puts his team first.” — Windsor assistant coach Bob Jones

4. Jared Knight

2010-11 NEHJ rank: 2

Position: Right winger

Born: Jan. 16, 1992, in Battle Creek, Mich.

Size: 5-11, 200

Shoots: Right

Acquired: Boston’s 2nd choice, 32nd overall in 2010 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Three-year entry-level contract starts with  first pro season

2011-12 stats with London Knights (OHL): 27 GP, 16 G, 15 A, 31 Pts., 22 PIM

Strengths: Rock-solid winger is skilled and plays a sandpaper game. Skating and explosive burst have improved since Bruins drafted him, and he aggressively attacks the net on every shift. One of the best conditioned of Boston’s prospects and a tremendous competitor who can shoot the lights out.

Weaknesses: Although skilled, does not possess the dynamic offensive tools Spooner and Khokhlachev have, so he will have to outwork everyone else and capitalize on his scoring chances.

Projection: Second- or third-line winger and power-play scorer. Knight is seeing an increased role on London’s power play. “His work ethic and competitiveness is never an issue. It’s not losing his focus or concentration that will lead him to the things he does well like skating and getting to the net.” — Benning

5. Jordan Caron

2010-11 NEHJ rank: 1

Position: Center

Born: Nov. 2, 1990, in Sayabec, Quebec

Size: 6-2, 205

Shoots: Left

Acquired: Boston’s 1st choice, 25th overall in 2009 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Signed through 2013

2011-12 stats with Boston Bruins (NHL): 13 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 Pts., 4 PIM

Strengths: Left-shooting winger on the right side has a big body and takes the puck to the net. Quick hands and stick with a lightning release. Good skater in a straight line with power in his stride. Does honest work along the walls and down low.

Weaknesses: Sluggish initial quickness hinders his ability to get jump on defenses. Not overly physical or gritty; could stand to keep his feet moving more in the offensive zone.

Projection: Unless his development hits rapid upward trajectory, Caron looks like a solid third-liner at best who could work his way into seeing regular time on the power play. “He’s a big, strong kid who is good along the wall and does a lot of little things for us like separating the ‘D’ from the puck on the forecheck. We’re excited about him.” — Benning

6. Brian Ferlin

2010-11 NEHJ rank: NR

Position: Right winger

Born: June 2, 1992, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Size: 6-1, 196

Shoots: Right

Acquired: Boston’s 4th choice, 121st overall in 2011 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Unsigned

2011-12 stats with Boston Bruins (NHL): 11 GP, 5 G, 7 A, 12 Pts., 4 PIM

Strengths: Fine skater with quick burst and ability to separate from defenders. Very good stick/puck skills with a heavy, accurate shot. Surprisingly refined offensive instincts given his Florida upbringing and training. An opportunistic scorer who could just be scratching the surface of his potential.

Weaknesses: Like Caron, tends to be more passive in the physical aspects of the game even though he does shield the puck well and is effective along the boards.

Projection: Could develop into a second-line power forward capable of 25-30 goals, but doesn’t have Milan Lucic-like snarl. “He’s a physically strong kid for his age and to get a player who has a lot of the attributes we look for like the ability to protect the puck on offense and taking the puck to the net was exciting for us.” — Benning

7. Steven Kampfer

2010-11 NEHJ rank: 5

Position: Defenseman

Born: Sept. 24, 1988, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Size: 5-11, 197

Shoots: Right

Acquired: Trade with Anaheim, March 2010

Signing status: Signed through 2013

2011-12 stats with Boston Bruins (NHL): 7 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 Pt., 4 PIM

Strengths: Excellent skater with the speed and footwork to advance the puck through the neutral zone and gain the offensive blue line. Lateral quickness allows him to force forwards outside. Effective passer with the on-ice vision and offensive awareness to add production from the blue line.

Weaknesses: Not very big and has battled injuries since he turned pro last season. As a healthy scratch in Boston as the No. 7 defenseman, hasn’t played much with only two AHL games to go with his limited NHL action.

Projection: No. 3/4 defender, but may have to initially establish himself as a specialist and role player barring any unforeseen injuries on the Boston blue line. “He’s a real competitive guy and is a good skater who can carry the puck up the ice and make plays in the offensive zone. He’s like Jordan (Caron) in that he’s been up with the big team and has been biding his time.” — Benning

8. Max Sauve

2010-11 NEHJ rank: 7

Position: Left winger

Born: Jan. 30, 1990, in Tours, France

Size: 6-2, 185

Shoots: Left

Acquired: Boston’s 2nd choice, 47th overall in 2008 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Signed through 2013

2011-12 stats with Providence Bruins (AHL): 20 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 Pts., 18 PIM

Strengths: Brings a lot of explosive speed and agility on the wing. One of the better prospects in terms of his puck skills and offensive upside, but has yet to put it all together. A versatile forward who has the potential to do what the Bruins require of him, but excels in a top-six role and on the power play.

Weaknesses: Injuries continue to be hindrance to his development, as he was out in mid-December with a concussion. Production is down significantly from the 20 goals he scored a year ago as an AHL rookie. Tall frame is still lean and filling out.

Projection: Second- or third-line scoring forward and special teamer if he can stay healthy. “Sauve has the ability to make plays on the rush. … He’s going to have to stay in the lineup, but he has the speed and skill and has gotten stronger, so as long as he can avoid the injuries, he’s continuing his development.” — Benning

9. Maxim Chudinov

2010-11 NEHJ rank: 14

Position: Defenseman

Born: March 20, 1990, in Cherepovets, U.S.S.R.

Size: 5-10, 181

Shoots: Right

Acquired: Boston’s 7th choice, 195th overall in 2010 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Unsigned

2011-12 stats with Severstal Cherepovets (KHL): 31 GP, 8 G, 15 A, 23 Pts., 32 PIM

Strengths: Superb skater with speed, agility and rapid change of direction. Fine passer and puck-mover who sees the ice well and can make the quick breakout passes or stretch defenses with long leads. Plays bigger than his size, relishing physical contact and playing an abrasive, hard-nosed style.    

Weaknesses: His lack of height and wingspan works against him. The B’s have not had much success with Russian players who develop in Europe since drafting Dmitri Kvartalnov in 1992.

Projection: No. 3 or 4 defender with interesting offensive NHL potential along the lines of Niklas Kronwall. Has the skill and moxie to be an effective two-way defender. “His skating is his best asset. He’s not a big guy, but he can move well laterally, play his angles and is very good with the puck in the offensive zone, where he’s able to get pucks on net.” — Benning

10. Zach Hamill

2010-11 NEHJ rank: 18

Position: Forward

Born: Sept. 23, 1988, in Vancouver, B.C.

Size: 5-11, 180

Shoots: Right

Acquired: Boston’s 1st choice, 8th overall in 2007 NHL Entry Draft

Signing status: Signed through 2012

2011-12 stats with Boston Bruins (NHL): 5 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 Pts., 2 PIM

Strengths: Excellent hockey sense and playmaking ability. Possesses superior on-ice vision and can thread the needle with passes. Shooting the puck more this season; on pace for best goal totals of four-year pro career. Classic case of a player needing more time than others to demonstrate effectiveness in NHL.

Weaknesses: Lacks ideal size and strength and is an average skater without top-end speed. Caught in the Bruins’ logjam at center and has not put up breakout numbers in the AHL.

Projection: Hamill showed flashes of his talent in a December recall. He projects as a third-line player in Boston but could see an increased role in a different organization. “(Hamill) comes to camp every year with a good attitude. He’s a smart, two-way forward having a good season in Providence and has put himself in position to get opportunities with the big team.” — Benning

The best of the rest

11. David Warsofsky, D, Providence (AHL)

12. Matt Bartkowski, D, Providence (AHL)

13. Lane MacDermid, LW, Providence (AHL)

14. Zach Trotman, D, Lake Superior State (CCHA)

15. Zane Gothberg, G, Fargo (USHL)

16. Rob O’Gara, D, Milton Academy (NEPSIHA)

17. Tommy Cross, D, Boston College (HE)

18. Jamie Arniel, C, Providence (AHL)

19. Carter Camper, RW, Providence (AHL)

20. Craig Cunningham, LW, Providence (AHL)

21. Colby Cohen, D, Providence (AHL)

22. Ryan Button, D, Reading (ECHL)

23. Mike Hutchinson, G, Providence (AHL)

24. Anthony Camara, LW, Saginaw (OHL)

25. Justin Florek, LW, Northern Michigan (CCHA)

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Kirk Luedeke can be reached at kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com