Although the Providence Bruins are currently languishing in last place in the AHL's Atlantic division, the Dunkin Donuts Center is not completely devoid of excitement. The Boston Bruins' minor-league affiliate continues to churn out young talent with plenty of upside.
The P-Bruins 4-6-1 record has thoroughly disappointed hockey starved fans seeking refuge in Rhode Island's black and gold club. However, upon closer inspection, several future Boston Bruins are sure to be found.
Although the Bruins lack superstar prospects, their current roster could be plugging holes in the Boston ship fairly soon. Here is a look at a few of the P-Bruins' top performers through 11 games:
Last May, the Boston Bruins traded former first round pick Zach Hamill to the Washington Capitals for Chris Bourque. The son of former Bruins captain and Hall-of-Famer Ray Bourque has torched the American Hockey League for several years now, but has failed to find steady work in the big leagues.
The 26-year-old Bourque was once considered a top prospect in the Capitals' system. He was drafted 33rd overall in 2004, before spending one impressive season at Boston University.
Though his freshman season was highlighted by a Beanpot-winning overtime goal at Boston's TD Garden, he opted to forego his final three years on Commonwealth Ave. His goal will now be to return to the arena where he made his name, this time as a Bruin rather than a Terrier.
In seven AHL seasons before coming to Providence, Bourque has compiled an impressive total of 431 points in just 422 games. Last season he led the league in points with 93, while playing with the Hershey Bears.
He is also a three-time Calder Cup champion with the Bears, claiming the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.
Bourque is off to a strong start in Providence, ranking second on the team in points through 11 games. He has been one of the P-Bruins' primary set-up men with six assists and has fired off a team-leading 32 shots.
Unfortunately for Bourque, he seems to lack his father's trademark accuracy. He only has one goal to show for all of those shots. He will need to raise his abysmal 3.1 shooting percentage before receiving an invite to Boston.
Bourque's slight dip in production is reasonable, considering the fact that Providence lacks the excellent supporting cast which he was afforded in Hershey. However, he has looked strong during the P-Bruins' slow start and should only get better as he settles in Rhode Island.
Maxime Sauve has made a strong start to his fourth AHL campaign. The French native has scored four goals in 11 games, which ties him for the team lead.
Sauve was drafted 47th overall in the 2008 NHL Draft, and has steadily established himself in the AHL. The winger has 38 goals and 34 assists in 117 games with Providence.
Over the past two seasons Sauve has posted .64 points-per-game. His six points so far in 2012 have made him arguably Providence's top forward.
Sauve made his NHL debut last March against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although he failed to make his mark on the scoresheet, his first NHL points may not be far away.
Hockey's Future had the following to say about him:
Sauve is a speedster with good hands, strong puck-handling skills and a surprising amount of grit and determination for this type of player. He sees the ice well and can set-up scoring chances for his linemates just as well as he can create them for himself through speed and clever one-on-one moves... In terms of NHL comparables, he’s reminiscent of Marco Sturm, though he has more elusiveness in his one-on-one game.
If Sauve continues to impress on the minor league circuit, he could make the leap to the NHL in the near future. He will undoubtedly see spot work with the big club if the lockout ever ends.
AHL rookie Ryan Spooner has been an instant hit in Providence. After four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, he is making a very strong impression with Bruce Cassidy's bunch.
Drafted 45th overall in 2010, Spooner currently leads the P-Bruins in points. Through 10 games he has collected two goals and six assists for a total of eight points.
The 5'10" center had 66 points in 57 games split between the Kingston Frontenacs and the Sarnia Sting in his final OHL season. His consistent production gave Hockey's Future reason to rank him third among Bruins prospects, behind only first round picks Dougie Hamilton and Malcolm Subban. They had the following to say about the 20-year-old:
Ryan Spooner is a slick, creative forward with dynamic speed and stick-handling abilities. He has an underrated shooting arsenal but does most of his damage in close with quick shifts and feints around goal. He is also a gifted playmaker, drawing defenders out of position and then deftly hitting the open man...Spooner's long-term upside is that of a top-six forward and powerplay ace. He has impressed in every one of his camp appearances and has an outside shot at making Boston's roster this fall.
If Spooner continues his string of excellent performances in Providence, he will be called upon by Claude Julien sooner rather than later.
2009 first round pick Jordan Caron has been tipped for a roster spot in Boston for the past few years. Unfortunately, Caron has failed to establish himself in the NHL.
Caron has played in 71 games with the big club over the past two seasons, but has mustered just 22 points.
However, Caron's loss is the P-Bruins gain, as he continues to be among their best players.
Back in Providence for a third season, Caron has scored four goals, tying him for the team lead. Caron's primary problem has always been offensive inconsistency. His flashes of brilliance are constantly divided by bouts of futility. This season has been much of the same.
Three of Caron's four goals came in a single game against the Manchester Monarchs in late October. He has only mustered a disappointing two points in 10 other games.
This season could make or break Caron's career. If he does not earn a long-term position in Boston soon, he could be passed over in favor of younger players like Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight.
Caron excels in the defensive zone, and can certainly contribute without scoring. However, his offensive game will need to show marked improvement before his NHL career really gets going.
Swedish goalie Niklas Svedberg has been Providence's most impressive player so far this season. Having signed with the Bruins last spring after leading Brynäs IF to the Swedish Elitserien Championship, Svedberg has quickly demolished Michael Hutchinson in the battle for the Providence net.
In seven games for his new team, Svedberg has earned a 4-2-1 record. He has been in net for all four of Providence's victories, and the team looks noticeably better playing in front of him.
Svedberg has currently upheld a 1.83 goals-against average while saving 93.3 percent of shots. Michael Hutchinson has been awful in comparison, allowing 3.52 goals-per-game.
Coach Bruce Cassidy said the following about his new goalie:
[Svedberg] is a winner. He won a championship in Sweden and he’s a battler. Other players notice that kind of stuff.
Svedberg offers his team confidence that allows them to make plays at the other end of the rink, and for now he clearly gives the P-Bruins the best chance to win on a nightly basis.
The 23-year-old prospect has quickly established himself as the Bruins' third-best goalie behind Boston netminders Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin.
If either of those players misses time due to injury, then Svedberg should get a crack in Boston's crease.