Rookie development camp is over, and it’s still a few months from training camp, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t already jobs on the line. The Bruins are happily stacked with talent below the NHL level, and they’ll be looking to a few of them to contribute to the team in 2011-12 — if not right away, then as the wear and tear of the season begins to chip away at the top layers of the club.
So, here’s a look at some of the prospects who could make a real impact during the Bruins’ title defense.
RW – 20 years old
The Bruins first-round pick in 2009, Caron has already been called upon by the big club, appearing in 23 games in the regular season, skating with the Black Aces during the Bruins’ Stanley Cup run, and even dressing in warm-ups as one of the Bruins’ 23 skaters after Nathan Horton was knocked out of the finals (he was scratched in all four of those games).
Caron missed a good chunk of his first professional season with an injury, but he made significant strides this season, getting time on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi to start the year, and picked up three goals and four assists. In Providence, he chipped in another 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 47 games, making huge strides after having much of his first pro season wiped out by injury a year ago.
The Bruins signed away Benoit Pouliot from Montreal, but given that he’s been a colossal disappointment at every step of his NHL career, it could be a golden opportunity for Caron to secure a spot in the top nine. Even if Pouliot does stick, there’s still room for Caron to make the team, one of the only natural wingers among the cream of their rookie crop.
If anyone is under the gun to prove his worth to the franchise this offseason, it’s Hamill. Hamill was called out on just this by new Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy, and the former first round pick needs to show some sort of progress. 2007 was a long time ago, and the kid with the spindly legs and quick stick needs to show he can stick in Boston. The fact that the Bruins left him off the Black Aces squad after the first round speaks volumes on their confidence in him.
The Bruins essentially have two openings up for grabs, with the departures of Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi. If Hamill is ever going to make his mark in Boston, now’s the time. Otherwise, he’s auditioning for another NHL club as a trade throw-in.
Another Black Ace, Arneil led the Providence Bruins in scoring (23-27-50) and showed the growth the parent club is looking for. He’s not the biggest ever (5’11”, 183 lbs), but he’s shown the creativity and if he needs inspiration, he need look no further than Marc Savard, who carved out an All-Star career without being the biggest or fastest center.
Arniel, like Hamill and Caron, will have a shot at cracking the Bruins lineup full-time in 2010-11. If he’s not the favorite to make it ahead of Caron, he’s certainly miles ahead of the underachieving Hamill.
The Boston University hero came over in the trade that sent Matt Hunwick to the Colorado Avalance, played 14 games in Providence and also saw time with the Black Aces. Cohen is a big, strong player (6’2″, 200 lbs) who was a plus player on a weak P-Bruins squad (+5). Cohen should be looking to make the next step and play in the NHL more often than not. Although the Bruins’ first seven spots are spoken for, that was the same situation Adam McQuaid and Steve Kampfer faced before spots opened up. Their play earned them time and consideration, and Cohen should look at this with the same attitude.
Bodnarchuck had a cup of coffee with the Bruins this season (5 games) but spent most of his time plying his craft in the AHL, running up a less-than-stellar 1-15-16 line and a -8 in 75 games. But, like Cohen, Bodnarchuk has had time in the system and is the right age to make the leap.
(As an aside, like Johnny Boychuk, I constantly add a “c” to the end of Andrew’s name before the K. How did the Bruins get both of these guys?)
Hutchinson had a solid season in Providence, getting into 28 games (splitting the time with Noalen Schaefer and current Bruins third goalie Anton Khudobin). His 3.22 GAA and .894 save percentage may not reflect as such, but the Ontario native made strides and showed good composure for a young goalie.
With Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask firmly entrenched in Boston, Hutchinson will split games with Khudobin in Providence and be allowed the time to mature. He won’t be rushed, so all he has to do is play his game and grow. He’ll only be in Boston in 2011-12 as the result of an injury, though.
Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner
Both second-round picks last season, Knight and Spooner made positive impressions in the recent rookie development camp, and both signed their first pro contracts with the Bruins this week. Both are expected to be returned to their prespective junior clubs in the OHL, but players have surprised Boston before — Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic stuck when they weren’t expected to. Even if they don’t hang full time, the Bruins might keep them on for the first month of the season before returning them to their clubs. Either way, they both have NHL talent and they seem to have the drive. If this season isn’t their opportunity, the next one may be.