Breaking Down the Boston Bruins' Prospects at Forward
Boston Bruins rookies will report for training camp on Wednesday, officially beginning the battle for just a few vacant roster spots.
The Bruins' prospects will shake off their summer rust with a few practices at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass. before heading down to Florida for a four-team rookie tournament featuring the Panthers, Predators and Lightning.
The round-robin tournament will run from Friday, September 6, to Sunday, September 8, and it should provide a golden opportunity for some aspiring NHLers to grab some attention. The full schedule for the camp and the roster of attending players is available on the Bruins' website.
With camp about to open, lets take a look at how Boston's youth system stands at each of the forward positions:
The Bruins will take three centers of note to Florida, namely Ryan Spooner, Alexander Khokhlachev and Matt Lindblad.
Spooner should be the show-stealer. After leading all AHL rookies in points last season, he earned the top spot in B/R's recent Bruins prospect rankings. A highly skilled playmaker, the 21-year-old looks to be NHL-ready. Unfortunately, a logjam at center could force him to move to the wing in order to see big-league ice this season.
If he can show added strength in Florida, it could put him on track for a regular spot in Boston. However, a bit more development time should only help him reach his lofty potential down the road.
The Russian Khokhlachev should display his striking skill at rookie camp. An aggressive goal-scorer who nicely complemented Nail Yakupov at the 2013 World Junior Championships, "Koko" just needs to prove he can play against adults. He failed to match his elite junior production during stints in both the KHL and AHL last year. He'll almost certainly spend a year or two in Providence to mature, but he has top-six upside.
Unlike Khokhlachev and Spooner, who were both high second-round picks, Lindblad went undrafted. Called "a true, under the radar find" by New England Hockey Journal's Kirk Luedeke, the Dartmouth product can raise his profile in camp this fall. He posted five points in four games with Providence late last season, and he should be a reliable force down the middle for the P-Bruins this winter.
Absent from the tournament roster is 2013 draft pick Ryan Fitzgerald. The Massachusetts native will join the Boston College Eagles this fall, and he projects to be a star in Hockey East over the next few years. Selected in the fourth round, Fitzgerald could be a steal, making up for a lack of size with an abundance of skill and hockey sense.
Though not tremendously deep down the middle at the youth level, the Bruins have some quality options that could appear at the TD Garden in the coming years. Spooner is clearly the cream of the crop, but the B's won't be desperate for top-six center help in the near future with David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron locked up.
The spotlight in Florida will be on Jared Knight without a doubt. Drafted with one of the picks acquired in the Phil Kessel trade, Knight would likely be leading the race for Boston's wide-open third line wing spot if not for a torn hamstring that cost him most of the 2012-13 season.
A gritty winger that loves to crash the net, Knight will look to prove that he is ready for NHL action after playing just 16 games in his only AHL season. If he can showcase his talent at the rookie tournament, he could put himself back in contention for an NHL chance.
Knight's competition in Boston's full camp will include more experienced right wingers Jordan Caron and Reilly Smith in addition to left winger Matt Fraser and center Ryan Spooner.
The offensively challenged Caron could be headed for his final training camp as a Bruin. Though he makes life miserable for opponents in his own zone, the former first-round pick is on the brink of officially becoming a bust after years of failing to establish himself in Boston.
Smith on the other hand could be a solid alternative for the big club. The former Miami (Ohio) star spent most of last season in the NHL with the Dallas Stars, and he could develop into an offensive force. According to NHL.com's Corey Masisak, Smith will be on the ice for Boston's season opener October 2.
OHL star Seth Griffith will get a crack at professional hockey in the AHL this season, and he'll hope to demonstrate that his crafty hands and knack for goal-scoring can hold up at the next level. A prolific offensive force for the London Knights in recent years, Griffith has massive upside for a fifth-round pick.
He will be joined in Florida and later Providence by Harvard grad Alex Fallstrom. Hardly flashy, the Swedish 22-year-old is a solid two-way player who will hope to make an impression next weekend with his well-rounded game.
Despite Fallstrom's graduation, the Bruins will continue to be represented in the Ivy League by Cornell's Brian Ferlin. A sizable forward, Ferlin protects the puck well, and he's due for a breakout junior campaign for the Big Red.
Though none of Boston's right wing prospects can match Spooner or Khokhlachev's upside, the Bruins have a deep group of young talent on the right side of the ice. Knight should be the star of the group long term, projecting as a solid second-line winger. However, Griffith is one to watch. He'll have to overcome less than elite athleticism, but he has star-caliber offensive skill.
Anthony Camara headlines Boston's group of left wingers with his penchant for big hits and big goals. Camara looks something like Milan Lucic in style, but a big offensive leap forward with the OHL's Barrie Colts last season is threatening to make him overrated, according to New England Hockey Journal's Kirk Luedeke.
Camara will inevitably be a fan favorite as a spiritual heir to Shawn Thornton with the talent to play more minutes. However, it is still unclear whether he will top out as a third-liner or an elite power forward.
Matt Fraser deserves much more attention at this year's camp. The AHL's leading goal-scorer over the past two seasons could be a scoring machine in Boston. The undrafted winger isn't afraid to throw his body around, and he could be a breakout star if given an opportunity this season.
2013 second-rounder Peter Cehlarik is far less physical than Fraser and Camara, but he is significantly more skilled. At just 17 years old, Cehlarik posted six points in his first eight Swedish Hockey League games last season. The wunderkind is years away from the NHL, but he has an outside chance of becoming the next Hossa or Gaborik to come out of Slovakia.
2013 late-round picks Mitchell Dempsey and Anton Blidh round out the group of hit-or-miss left wingers as classic long shots.
Along the left side of their youth system, the Bruins are holding a handful of lottery tickets. There isn't a sure thing in the bunch, but Fraser, Cehlarik or Camara could pay out handsomely someday. Don't be surprised if one of these players becomes a perennial all-star. Then again, don't be too surprised if they fade away quietly either.