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Amateur Preview: Bruins Keep Close Tabs on Prospects

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins - As every new season begins for the Black & Gold, there are also a slew of young prospects trying to work their way through the system with the hopes of one day suiting up in the spoked-B.

Before turning pro and reaching the NHL level with Boston or the American Hockey League with the Providence Bruins, the journey begins at varying levels, whether in college, junior hockey or overseas in the European leagues.

The B’s summer development camp certainly helps gauge a prospect, and early Fall’s rookie camp provides more evaluation, but as they head into their respective seasons, the Bruins’ hockey operations and scouting staff will be keeping close tabs on the up-and-comers.

“Our advice to all of our prospects is that we want to see progress and development in their on-ice game and with their off-ice strength programs,” said Bruins Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney. “They need to develop a balance between their studies, nutritional habits and of course, their own play on the ice for their respective coaches.”

“Development camp is a resource and a baseline for all of the players and we let each of them know that the Bruins organization is here to support them in their pursuit to be a professional player. These are young men and nowhere near fully-developed professional players, and we recognize that each player’s development trajectory is different.”

At the collegiate level, defenseman Matt Benning is in his freshman season with Northeastern University after earning the Clark Cup Championship in the United States Hockey League with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2012-13. The B’s sixth round draft pick from 2012 had a memorable start to his college debut, notching a goal and two assists in his first two games as a Huskie.

Power forward Brian Ferlin is entering his junior year at Cornell, where he has recorded 18 goals and 27 assists in 60 games and earned ECAC Rookie honors. A physical, hard-nosed player, the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Ferlin admires (not surprisingly) the toughness and hard play of Milan Lucic. Drafted 121st overall in the fourth round in 2011, the winger will be looking to keep building his strength, especially amidst the NCAA season, with about half as many games as the players in juniors.

Most recent draft pick, 2013 fourth rounder Ryan Fitzgerald, started his college career with a bang, notching his first NCAA goal for Boston College in a 7-2 season opening win over RPI. While his family connections run deep in hockey - his uncle Scott is on the B’s scouting staff and his father Tom retired as a Bruin and serves as an Assistant GM for Pittsburgh - the North Reading, MA native is looking to blaze his own path.

A drive down Comm. Ave., Fitzgerald’s good friend, Charlestown native Matt Grzelcyk, is entering his sophomore season as a defenseman with Boston University. What the 5-foot-9, 174-pound blueliner lacks in size, he picks up in hockey IQ, so it’s no surprise that he watched Torey Krug closely during the the B’s postseason stretch. Look for his offensive confidence to have a spike for the Terriers this season.

Rugged winger Colton Hargrove is in his sophomore season with Western Michigan, coming off a freshman year that saw him have a rocky start after making the jump from juniors with the Fargo Force in the United States Hockey League. With a demanding coach in Andy Murray, Hargrove will keep honing the details, including physicality and speed that make up the “power forward” game, as he builds on his 10-point rookie season.

2011 fifth-round draft pick Rob O’Gara is starting to “come into his own” as he enters his sophomore season with Yale. The 6-foot-4, a208-pound blueliner progressed from a wide-aeyed “Bambi-like” prospect at his first Development Camp in the summer of 2011, to a quiet yet confident leader who helped lead the Bulldogs to its first-ever national championship. As any young D-man, O’Gara’s focus is on becoming stronger, quicker and more explosive.

Center Ben Sexton is in his senior season with Clarkson University and his second as team captain. He wore the ‘A’ his sophomore year. The 6’0” 203-pound forward started his swan song NCAA season with a goal and three assists in four games. The B’s chose Sexton as their final pick in the seventh round of the 2009 draft.

Wiley Sherman earned the “Bambi” status at Development Camp in July, taking over for O’Gara, after being drafted by the B’s 150th overall in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Still with one year of prep hockey left at Hotchkiss School in Connecticut before joining Harvard in 2014-15, the 6-foot-6, 196-pound defenseman has plenty of learning - and growing - still on the way, as he looks to build out his frame and grow stronger prior to the NCAA game.

Goaltender Zane Gothberg is in his sophomore season with North Dakota after two years of junior hockey with the Fargo Force in the USHL. In UND’s opener, Gothberg was called upon after his team was in a 3-1 deficit. He stopped all 17 shots he faced in the 34 minutes he played, leading North Dakota to a 5-3 win. A veteran Development Camp attendee, Gothberg is the prototypical “teammate,” especially with his off-ice personality. Considering his opening weekend, we’ll watch for him to push for the starting role.

Switching to juniors, the B’s only have one prospect, Mitchell Dempsey, in the Ontario Hockey League with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, with players like Anthony Camara, Malcolm Subban and Seth Griffith all making the jump to the P-Bruins this year. A seventh-round draft pick in 2013, Dempsey had an injury-marred season in 2012-13 with a high ankle sprain and pneumonia, putting up five points (1-4) in 36 games but the Bruins see him as a strong winger who is poised for a bounce-back season.

Overseas, the B’s will be keeping tabs on 2013 draft picks two-way defenseman Linus Arensson, aggressive forward Anton Blidh and two-way Peter Cehlarik’s soft hands in the Swedish leagues.

Arnesson is in his third season with Djurgardens IF Stockholm, and working on developing his offensive game to continue his solid two-way nature. Meanwhile, Anton Blidh (Frolunda HC) is a strong skater who looks to have the projection for a gritty Bruins’ style bottom six role. Cehlarik had a standout development camp for the Bruins in July, showing the player that worked his way up to the Swedish Elite League (now Swedish Hockey League) with Lulea. “A little bit of hands and a little bit of Handzus,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli labeled him at the draft. “He can dish, good vision, good size. Two-way player.”

“Our philosophy as far as tracking and monitoring each players progress is multi-dimensional,” said Sweeney, to the approach throughout the season. “Our entire staff has the latitude to reach out to any player whenever they see them play in person and we all communicate regularly as to what we saw in their play and/or reports and conversations from their coaches.”

Sweeney and staff take a pro-active approach, but also understand the need to give a player and their team the necessary space.

The approach includes texting when they are in town to see a prospect play, and when in-person isn’t available, they watch games and sometimes cuts clips to show them areas to focus on, with support from their respective coaches. Phone calls to the players are also always in the mix on a regular basis, as well as talks with their coaches.

“Developing players remains the lifeline to providing depth and sustaining a year over year competitive balance within your organization,” said Sweeney. “Drafting and finding players that fit our style of play and that we can develop into Boston Bruin ‘type’ players supports our philosophical approach, as well as, our plan to continue to be team that can compete for the Cup.”

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