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Bruins Prospect Outlook: 4/9

by Kirk Luedeke / Boston Bruins -- April brings forth the NCAA hockey tournament, and one rite of spring is the seemingly annual presence of the Boston College Eagles in the Frozen Four (11 appearances since 1998). The 2013-14 BC squad boasts one young contributor who has played well for Jerry York’s club all season: freshman and Bruins prospect Ryan Fitzgerald.

The fourth-round selection in the 2013 NHL draft leads all first-year BC players in scoring and demonstrated unusual maturity and poise from the very beginning of the year. The gifted offensive forward is primarily a center but has moved around on wing. Fitzgerald is underrated defensively, using his vision and quick stick to make an impact with smart decisions as a responsible three-zone player.

Although lacking ideal size (5-foot-9, 167 pounds) and blazing straightaway speed, the former Malden Catholic star is elusive and agile, with an impressive short-area burst that he uses to close on the puck and beat defenders 1-on-1. With the added experience of a run to the 2014 Frozen Four in Philadelphia, watch for Fitzgerald to develop into a dangerous scoring presence for the Eagles in the coming seasons. The 19-year-old has few peers with the same kind of ability to thread the needle with slick passes and creative, heady offensive play.

Also in the Frozen Four is 21-year-old goaltender Zane Gothberg, who keyed upsets over Wisconsin and Ferris State in the regional round with his rock solid play between the pipes and now faces the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers from his home state. A 20-game winner for the first time in his NCAA career, the North Dakota sophomore brings a determination and focus that has allowed him to rise into the upper echelon of collegiate goaltenders this season.

Although the Clarkson Golden Knights did not make the NCAA tournament, senior captain Ben Sexton parlayed four consistent years into an entry-level contract with the Bruins. The son of former NHL GM and St. Lawrence University defenseman Randy Sexton is a jack-of-all-trades center who skates well and plays an effective two-way game up the middle. The younger Sexton, a seventh-round pick in 2009, has dealt with injury issues at various times during his junior and collegiate careers, but will have a chance to play a key role in Providence as he gains experience and maturity. In an interesting tie to Bruins history, Sexton’s Jr. A coach for the Nepean Raiders in his draft season was none other than former Boston defenseman Garry Galley.

These impact players at the NCAA level are only scratching the surface in terms of the current system-wide depth that the B’s enjoy. With opportunities to excel as the collegiate season wraps up, plus AHL reinforcements coming from the NCAA ranks, the organization’s kids are alright.

Bruins Prospect Snapshot:

Zane Gothberg, G University of North Dakota (NCHC)

Scouting report: More of an instinctive and reflexive puck stopper than a pure technician, the sixth-round selection from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft continues to develop as one more of Boston’s impressive long-term project players. With good height at about 6-foot-1 and a lean, long-limbed build, the Thief River Falls, Minn., native plays a hybrid style focused on making saves with any part of his body as opposed to a standard butterfly approach of squaring up to the shooter and dropping to the ice for most shots.

His playing style requires tremendous focus, concentration and positional awareness to cut down on the angles and deny shooters the ability to hit the net cleanly. When Gothberg is on top of his game, he keeps his feet when necessary, but can rapidly take away the lower portion of the net with a compact butterfly. He does tend to get scrambly when under pressure, and needs to continue to work on rebound control and directing pucks out of danger areas and into the corners. He is mentally tough; has the ability to take on the role of starter or backup and has been productive in both at the USHL and NCAA levels.

A fierce work ethic/competitive drive is masked by a laid-back, easygoing off-ice demeanor.

Outlook: Gothberg projects as an NHL netminder, albeit one who is on a longer-than-average developmental path. The winner of the annual Frank Brimsek Award as Minnesota’s top high school goaltender four years ago, Gothberg spent two years in junior with the USHL’s Fargo Force, also copping top goalie honors for that league in 2012.

After spending his freshman campaign at North Dakota backing up Clarke Saunders, Gothberg established himself as the Sioux’s starter this year, posting outstanding numbers and playing superb hockey in the process. Since being drafted by Boston, Gothberg has looked to former Bruin Tim Thomas for inspiration as a somewhat unorthodox goaltender who had to prove doubters and critics of his style wrong repeatedly before being given a chance to start in the NHL at age 31. Like Thomas, Gothberg has some holes in his technique, but his reputation as a battler who does not quit on any play makes him a difficult opponent to beat most nights. How soon before Gothberg will turn pro (he turns 22 in August) is still up for debate, but with established options in net for Boston and Providence, the B’s can afford to be patient with him.

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