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Bruins aim to keep young talent flowing

Thursday, 07.24.2008 / 9:00 AM / Prospects

By John McGourty - NHL.com Staff Writer


Milan Lucic had eight goals and 19 assists in 77 games for Boston last season.
Watch Milan Lucic highlight video
The Boston Bruins were one of the most improved teams in the NHL during the 2007-08 season, thanks to an aggressive forecheck and a hungry attitude implemented by coach Claude Julien.

Despite season-long injuries suffered by forward Patrice Bergeron and goaltender Manny Fernandez, the Bruins, who finished 13th in the Eastern Conference in 2006-07 with 76 points, won six more games and had 18 more points to finish eighth in the conference and third in the Northeast Division, behind Montreal and Ottawa.

The Bruins used eight rookies -- led by right wing Milan Lucic, who had eight goals and 19 assists in 77 games. Center David Krejci had six goals and 21 assists in 56 games. Centers Petteri Nokelainen (57 games) and Vladimir Sobotka (48 games) made an impact, while young defensemen Matt Lashoff (18 games) and Matt Hunwick (13 games) gained some NHL experience and will compete for NHL jobs this fall. Goalie-of-the-future Tuukka Rask saw action in four Bruins' games, winning two.

Lucic and Krejci both had 27 points, tied for 13th among NHL rookies.

It's unlikely any of the Bruins' 2008 Draft picks will wear an NHL uniform this year, as Lucic did a year ago. General Manager Peter Chiarelli oversaw an interesting selection pattern at the Draft in Ottawa last month, picking five centers and a goalie. The Bruins used their first pick to take Junior B center Joe Colborne, who will attend the University of Denver. Second-round pick Maxime Sauve is likely headed back to the Val d'Or Foreurs of the Quebec League. Goalie Michael Hutchinson is bound for the Barrie Colts of the OHL again. Jamie Arniel goes back to the Sarnia Sting while the last two picks are college-bound. Nick Tremblay is going to Clarkson and Mark Goggin is headed to Dartmouth.

The Bruins have some very interesting prospects. College center Blake Wheeler, the No. 5 pick in the 2004 Entry Draft, declined an offer from the Phoenix Coyotes and signed with the Bruins as a free agent on July 1. He'll be moved to right wing and come under the tutelage of Bruins executive and Hall of Famer Cam Neely.

Hunwick and Lashoff are close to playing full NHL seasons, as is Rask. Center Carl Soderberg, who suffered permanent eye damage a couple of years ago, has adjusted and is coming over from Sweden with the intention of making the NHL roster. Martins Karsums had a big season in Providence, but his chances of playing in Boston declined with the free-agent signings of Michael Ryder and Wheeler.

Here's a look at the Bruins' top prospects:

CENTERS

Zach Hamill -- Hamill was Boston's first-round pick a year ago, No. 8 overall, after leading the WHL in scoring with 32 goals and 93 points. He slipped to 26 goals and 49 assists on a weaker team this season. Providence brought him up for seven regular-season games and nine Calder Cup playoff games. He'll be asked to play an important role in Providence this season.

"Zach is another guy who will benefit from a summer strength program," Director of Hockey Operations and Player Development Don Sweeney said. "He came up last spring with the intention of proving something. He played a few regular-season games and then stepped right into a playoff environment and did well. He will admit, however, that the players were bigger, stronger and faster and now he has to step up his training program to be able to handle that.

"He proved in juniors that he could put up points in the regular season and the playoffs. He played for Kevin Constantine, so he understands how to play in all three zones. We have talked to him about the expectations of our centermen. Zach has excellent hockey sense, outstanding actually. He has very good vision and hands. We like what we've seen of Zach."

Carl Soderberg -- Soderberg was one of the best players in Swedish juniors when St. Louis took him in the second round with the No. 49 pick in 2004. He was excellent at the 2005 World Juniors and played on one of the best lines in the Swedish Elite League in 2005-06. But he suffered a serious eye injury in 2006-07 season and rebounded last year with 15 goals and 44 points in 32 games for Malmo.

Carl Soderberg, was acquired from St. Louis last summer for goaltender Hannu Toivonen, and is coming to camp with the intention of making the team.
Soderberg, acquired from St. Louis last summer for goaltender Hannu Toivonen, is coming to camp with the intention of making the parent club.

"Carl played this whole year and all indications are that he has gotten back to where he was previous to the injury," Sweeney said. "He is still adjusting, physically and mentally, to the eye injury. He is expected to be in our training camp in September, whether that is to play in Boston or Providence. His team in Sweden, Malmo, didn't move up to the Elite League and he doesn't want to play again at the lower level.

"Our general manager, Peter Chiarelli, has been very patient with Carl, allowing him to heal and get comfortable again. For Carl, this isn't just a physical problem, it's a mental hurdle to get past, as well. He's a talented kid with great size and he has the versatility to play center or wing. Now, it's just a case of coming to North America and applying himself."

Brad Marchand -- Win. Win. Win. All this little, dynamic center from the Halifax suburbs does is win. City championship. Provincial championship. Two World Junior Championships. A Quebec league championship and a run at the Memorial Cup with Moncton. Leading playoff scorer for Val D'Or. A trip to the QMJHL semifinals with Halifax.

In the title game against Sweden in the 2008 World Juniors, Marchand scored just over a minute into the game and then assisted on Claude Giroux's second goal. Canada won 3-2  in overtime.

Marchand, selected by Boston in the third round (No. 71) in 2006, grew up with Providence defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk. He also played with Martins Karsums on that winning Moncton team, along with 6-foot-2, 222-pound defenseman Matt Marquardt, acquired in May from Columbus for defenseman Jonathan Sigalet.

"Marchand is a competitive kid," Sweeney said. "He's not the biggest guy in the world and nobody can tell him anything but what he believes. He's feisty, he competes and he puts up numbers everywhere he has gone.

"Brad bounced around between teams and played an awful lot of hockey last year. He was in the Canada-Russia series and the World Juniors and he got traded from Val d'Or to Halifax. I think he will benefit from a stable environment in Providence with Scott Gordon and Rob Murray. He just needs to continue the maturation process. I think hearing the same voice all year will be a grounding thing for him.”

Levi Nelson -- "I'd add one more name to your list," Sweeney said. "We just signed Levi Nelson, a center from the Swift Current Broncos that we drafted in the sixth round in 2006. He's been to our camp twice and played one regular-season game and four playoff games with the Providence Bruins. We like what we've seen so far."

Nelson, a 6-foot, 184-pounder, had career highs last season with 25 goals, 36 assists, 61 points and 152 penalty minutes in 67 games, before adding 15 points, including seven goals, in 12 postseason contests.

WINGS

"Blake is a big guy who is getting bigger and stronger. He said he wants to develop into the player he knows he can become and we will help him do that. We're planning to move him to the wing as a professional. He played center last year in college. We want him to use his size and strength along the wall." - Don Sweeney
Blake Wheeler -- The Coyotes drafted Wheeler with the No. 5 pick in 2004. He played three years at the University of Minnesota, then chose not to sign with Phoenix and informed Minnesota he wouldn't be returning. He signed a free-agent contract with Boston on July and will attend both development camp and training camp.

There may be a very good reason why Wheeler wanted to play with the Bruins. He was Phil Kessel's linemate at Minnesota in 2005-06, when he had nine goals and 14 assists in 39 games. Wheeler had 42 goals and 54 assists for 96 points in 127 games with the Golden Gophers in his three seasons. He led the team in scoring last season with 15 goals and 20 assists for 35 points in 44 games and was named to All-WCHA third All-Star team. Wheeler also won the team's playoff MVP award.

Wheeler had two goals in seven games for the United States at the 2008 World Junior Championship.

"We felt very fortunate to be in the mix of teams that got to talk to Wheeler," Sweeney said. "That was a unique situation that put him in place to declare unrestricted free agency. He made an independent decision. We had a great, positive meeting with him and he showed a lot of character. He was seeking a team where he felt comfortable. Those were his words.

"Blake is a big guy who is getting bigger and stronger. He said he wants to develop into the player he knows he can become and we will help him do that. We're planning to move him to the wing as a professional. He played center last year in college. We want him to use his size and strength along the wall."

"He was very honest in his self-evaluation, saying he needs more time. But we don't discount any player's chances of coming in and doing the job."

DEFENSEMEN

Adam McQuaid -- McQuaid played four years with defense partner Marc Staal (now with the New York Rangers) on the OHL's Sudbury Wolves and was taken in the second round with the No. 55 pick in 2005 by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He never signed with them, and Columbus sent him to Boston in May 2007 for a fifth-round pick this year.

McQuaid is 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds and growing. He makes big hits and plays the defensive-defenseman role. He had a good rookie season in Providence last year, getting a goal and eight assists in 68 games, with 73 penalty minutes.

"Adam played a similar role to his role in juniors for us this past season in Providence," Sweeney said. "He made great strides from where he was in development camp last summer. There were stretches in Providence where he proved to be a very stabilizing influence. He reads the play well and he's an effective puck mover. He takes pride in his own end.

"Adam has a bit of a bite to his game and he will stick up for himself and his teammates. He's getting stronger and he can be a physical influence.

"Adam hit something of a wall late in what was his first pro season," Sweeney continued. "But he got back in stride in the playoffs. We are pleased with where Adam is at. He has a little way to go yet. He's a solid, steady-Eddie type. Those guys are often undervalued and underappreciated."

Matt Hunwick -- Hunwick had an outstanding college career at Michigan, being named to the CCHA All-Rookie Team in 2004 and the First All-Star Team in 2007. He was paired with Jack Johnson for two seasons and served as captain his senior year, when he was plus-24. Hunwick is an excellent skater and puckhandler, but is a little light at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds.

The Bruins' seventh-round pick (No. 224) in 2004 turned pro in 2007-08 and had two goals and 21 assists in 55 games for Providence, then added five assists in 10 Calder Cup Playoff games. He played 13 games for Boston in the first half of the season, notching one assist.

Sweeney was told the description of prospect Hunwick sounds very much like the description, 20 years ago, of prospect Don Sweeney -- a hard-working, slightly undersized, puck-moving, collegiate defenseman. Sweeney sounds like he envies Hunwick.

"Yeah, but Hunwick will benefit from the new rules in hockey and Don Sweeney didn't!" Sweeney said. "Hunwick's skating level is outstanding. At his size, strength won't be an issue. He takes care of himself off the ice. His maturity level, coming out of college at age 23, is excellent. That gave him a leg up in making the transition to the professional game and it's why he got into 13 NHL games.

"He has some rough patches and he's still sorting out when to provide offensive punch and when to get into the offensive flow. He's also had to learn the defensive side in a new system. He just needs experience and to continue on the right path."

Yuri Alexandrov -- One of the most precocious members of his generation in Russia, Alexandrov captained the national Under-18 team and was drafted in the second round (No. 37) in 2006. He is a light, smooth-skating, puck-handling defenseman who uses his body effectively in checking. He has few weak spots in his game and plays with confidence. Alexandrov is an excellent power-play quarterback.

Alexandrov has played in the Russian Super League since he was 17, which is unheard of for teenage defensemen. He has played in the past two World Junior tournaments, winning silver and bronze.

"It's unlikely Yuri will be in North America this year," Sweeney said of the 20-year-old. "I saw him play. He was captain of the Russian team at the World Juniors and I thought well of him. He's played in the Elite League over there as a young player and continues to progress. He has to get bigger and stronger.

"Right now, there's no deal between the NHL and the Russian federation, and that throws a twist into things. Yuri has shown interest in coming over here but not this year. We are still tracking him and still happy about his progress."

"He's going to be a freshman at Boston College this fall and they run a great program under coach Jerry York, the reigning national champions. Tommy needs to work off-ice to get stronger. He has a good frame on him. No one is a finished product at that age. He needs to continue to train and play against stronger players." - Don Sweeney
Tommy Cross -- Cross, the Bruins' second-round pick (No. 35) a year ago, was determined to stay home and play at Westminster School in his native Simsbury, Conn.

Despite warnings that it could retard his development, Cross said he believed that he'll be fine in the long run. The 6-foot-3, 198-pound defenseman had five goals and 16 assists in 19 games before joining the Columbus Junior Blue Jackets. He had four assists in nine USHL games. Cross is slated to play for Boston College this year. He has great hockey sense, moves the puck well and has very good lower-body strength.

"It's not a right or wrong decision," Sweeney said. "If you look at it from the perspective of what's the fastest way to get to the NHL, then it's not a good decision. I played prep school and it's not the fastest way to the pros. We understood where he was coming from and respected the family's decision. I talked to him about it and there were no disparaging comments against prep players. Tommy felt being with family and friends as he finished high school was important and we supported it.

"He's going to be a freshman at Boston College this fall and they run a great program under coach Jerry York, the reigning national champions. Tommy needs to work off-ice to get stronger. He has a good frame on him. No one is a finished product at that age. He needs to continue to train and play against stronger players."

Andrew Bodnarchuk -- Bodnarchuk moved to Halifax from Winnipeg and played minor hockey with Bruins' prospect Brad Marchand. After winning the provincial midget title, he attended St. Paul's Prep in New Hampshire to retain his NCAA eligibility. But he returned to Halifax to play three seasons for the Mooseheads. He was the Bruins' fifth-round pick (No. 128) in 2006 after making the QMJHL All-Rookie Team. Bodnarchuk had 16 goals and 57 points the next season and slipped to 10 goals and 43 points on a weaker team in 2007-08.

"I saw him a couple of years ago at St. Paul's, where I went for a year before Harvard," Sweeney said. "His coach called me and asked me to look him. Andrew was thinking about going back to Canada to play juniors, which he did. He's a small defenseman, really competitive and he has good agility. He's going to need strength, as all smaller players do. 

"He came to training camp two years ago and played a little with Providence, prior to signing. Andrew was disappointed this past season because the Halifax Mooseheads had a pretty good team and didn't get the job done in the Memorial Cup run. He's ready to move on and challenge himself to progress. He's looking forward to the AHL challenge this season and continuing on his path to the NHL."

GOALIES

Tuukka Rask is considered one of the world's best young goalies.
Tuukka Rask -- Toronto used the No. 21 pick in 2005 to select Rask, then traded him to Boston on June 24, 2006, for goalie Andrew Raycroft, who was bought out earlier this summer and is now with Colorado.

Rask is considered one of the world's best young goalies. Toronto took him after he won the Finnish junior championship. He became the starter for Ilves in the Finnish Elite League the next season. After a second strong season with Ilves, he signed to play last season in Providence, where he went 27-13-2 with a 2.18 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. He had the fifth-best GAA in the Calder Cup Playoffs, second-best among rookies.

Chiarelli has said Tim Thomas and Fernandez will play in Boston this season, giving Rask a second year of AHL experience.

"We're extremely excited to have Tuukka as part of our goaltending mix," Sweeney said. "He has a bright, bright future. Tuukka had to get used to the style of play here, especially the traffic around his net. We have him on an off-season program to get stronger and more prepared for traffic, certainly more than he saw in Finland.

"He has to get used to the size of the players over here. They are bigger and stronger and he has to get bigger and stronger. Overall, we are very happy with his play and he got to see some NHL action last season. We got to see him at that level and he didn't look out of place."

Kevin Regan -- The 2008 Hockey East player of the year and Hobey Baker Award finalist posted a 2.21 GAA and .930 save percentage in leading the University of New Hampshire to the NCAA Tournament. He is the Wildcats' all-time leader with 70 wins and the only UNH goalie to have consecutive 20-win seasons. Regan, selected in the ninth round (No. 277) by Boston in 2003, also won the team's all-academic award and earned degrees in finance and economics.
 
"Kevin goes about his business quietly," Sweeney said. "He just wins and that's the bottom line. He was the same way at St. Sebastian's Prep before that. He got New Hampshire to the Frozen Four every year.

"What I like most about Regan is that he's a calming influence. We look forward to getting him into the development camp and working with him. Providence coach Scott Gordon is a former goaltender and he's really excited about having Kevin on board."


Quote of the Day

When we started our journey we made a commitment to our fans to be relevant and to see the Chicago Blackhawks become the best professional hockey organization. There are not two finer symbols of that than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago.

— Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz on signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to contract extensions