Forward Alexander Khokhlachev capped a blistering second half by leading the team in regular season scoring and pacing the squad in goals for the playoffs, with nine markers in just 12 contests. “Koko” is a fan favorite for his ability to push the offensive pace of a game with his slick stick and dynamic creativity. He demonstrated a consistency and game-breaking flair that made him a go-to guy for head coach Bruce Cassidy down the stretch.
Another successful off-season of conditioning may help Koko gain an advantage in vying for a spot with the big team next fall, as his offensive element is maturing rapidly. He did not look out of place in his one-game recall to gain his first taste of NHL action at season’s end, and he used the experience to jumpstart an outstanding postseason run. If the natural center can flourish on the wing, then Koko’s full-time NHL chance could come sooner rather than later.
Ryan Spooner overcame a tough middle part of the season, when he suffered from the effects of an illness that dropped his playing weight considerably and took him significant time to round back into form. However, in leading the club in postseason scoring, Spooner used his speed and hockey IQ to put defenses on their heels. He appeared in 23 NHL games at center for the Bruins while Chris Kelly was out with a lower-body injury in Dec. and Jan., but was unable to find the back of the net. Despite playing just 49 AHL games this season split between Boston and time on the IR, Spooner still finished fourth in Providence team scoring with 46 points.
Spooner was emblematic of an injury-ravaged Providence team that despite youth and key contributors out for big chunks of time, still managed to overcome numerous challenges. He’ll challenge for a spot in Boston next fall, but will need to keep improving his 200-foot game and willingness to play hard in the dirty areas of the ice.
Rookie Seth Griffith completed an impressive 20-goal AHL regular season, following up with an impactful playoffs. The former OHL scoring ace immediately asserted himself with consistency and poise, finishing second on the team in regular season scoring before adding 11 points in the postseason.
Although he was just a fifth-round selection largely because of size and speed concerns, Griffith reminds a bit of former NHLer Steve Thomas with the ways he pinballs his way through the offensive zone and can rip the puck past opposing goaltenders from just about any spot. With a natural feel for the flow of the game that cannot be taught, Griffith still needs to improve his all-around game, but could overcome the long odds to be an NHL scorer and top-six contributor some day.
Boston got good production from its young forwards and heading into the next season, there is the requisite talent and depth to maintain a strong organizational system.
JOE MORROW, D Providence (AHL)
A nice combination of size (6-foot-1, 206 pounds), skating/foot speed, offensive hockey sense and an NHL-caliber point shot made Joe Morrow a standout in his second full AHL campaign. The 21-year-old has a smooth, effortless stride that allows him to gather the puck in his own end and beat the initial forechecker with his feet. He skates with power and agility, keeping his head up to make the tape-to-tape outlet pass or carry it out on his own. Morrow excels on the man advantage, gaining the offensive zone and distributing the puck effectively with the added time and space, or loading up and blasting it from the point as triggerman. Keeps pucks low, on target, and finds teammates in front of the net for deflection goals. Not an overly physical player, Morrow closes quickly with opposing puck carriers, using his stick and body leverage to keep them to the outside. He is still working on more consistent gap control and making the right reads in his overall game. Morrow finished just three points behind David Warsofsky, the team’s scoring leader on defense (each played 56 games).
Pittsburgh’s top selection in 2011 (acquired from Dallas as part of the Tyler Seguin deal last summer) has top-three potential in the NHL if he continues his upward developmental trajectory. If nothing else, Morrow has the offensive tools to be an effective power play specialist and point producer at the highest level if paired with the right defense partner. He struggled in his first professional season, split between Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton and Cedar Park in 2012-13, but took a solid step forward in Providence, despite missing 20 games with various injuries. Morrow has his work cut out for him in 2014-15 to break into an established top-six rotation (at present) in Boston, but with continued effort and development in the AHL, watch for the big club to give him a chance should injuries to the blue line corps require a call-up or two.Kirk Luedeke covers the Boston Bruins and NHL prospects for the New England Hockey Journal and is a contributing editor and hockey scout for the Red Line Report. You can follow him on Twitter at: @kluedeke29