Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bruins Prospect Preview (or, the legend of the one-eyed Swede)

If you have made it all the way to this corner of the interweb, chances are you are already familiar with Hockey's Future, the best online resource available for researching prospects. Considering I rely pretty heavily on them for scouting notes on young players, I thought I ought to go ahead and give them a shameless promo up front.

But we're not here to talk about the possibility of my getting reimbursed for that comment. We're here to talk about new talent in the Bruins organization.

One of the most positive developments that the B's have pulled off in the Pete Chiarelli Era is the shift away from using veterans as key roster pieces (compare to the veteran-laden rebuilding effort in Toronto, which might go on for another 10 years) and the quick development of young talent to replace them. This season we should see a major shift forward as several youngsters are on the verge of losing the "prospect" label and becoming full-time contributors in the big league. In particular, Milan Lucic and David Krejci will be expected to take some of the ice time freed up by Glen Murray's departure.

Looking deeper in the organization, this is what's coming down the pipeline:

G Tuukka Rask - The Bruins have done the right thing with Rask, signing veterans Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez to keep the ship stable while Rask develops in the AHL. All indicators suggest that Rask will be the next elite goaltender to break into the NHL, and frankly we can afford to wait as long as necessary to be sure that he's truly ready when the time arrives. But there is no question that Rask is the heir-apparent to the starting spot in Boston, so if either of the Bruins' goalies go down with injury or are otherwise unserviceable, don't be suprised to see Chiarelli "cheat" a little in hopes of finding instant success.

RW Blake Wheeler - A steal from the Coyotes organization, Wheeler has the size and skills to be a long-term contributor in the NHL. There are persistent questions about his character, though, and that might be the biggest obstacle to his development. He'll likely start the season in Providence, but I expect he'll be playing regular minutes in Boston by the end of the season. Certainly the best winger prospect in the Bruins system right now.

D Matt Lashoff - Having done pretty much everything expected of him in the AHL, Lashoff should be ready to break through this season. Like Wheeler he'll probably start the season in Providence, but as soon as a defenseman is injured in Boston he's the obvious choice for a callup. At this point he would seem like a good third-pairing prospect, and might get some PK time given his defensive skill.

C Vladimir Sobotka - The list of centermen in Boston is a bit crowded, and Sobotka may end up being the odd man out. He played 48 games with the Big B's last season and scored only once... not much of a recommendation for a smallish forward with average speed. Winning only 48.6% of his faceoffs doesn't help. He'll get another shot this year, but consider him trade bait if he doesn't improve quickly. At best he might develop into a second-rate agitator.

C Zach Hamill - Another center most likely to spend the majority of the season in Providence. Hamill seems to have a little more upside than Sobotka and I don't get the sense that he's as vulnerable to being traded. Someone to keep an eye on in a couple of years.

C Carl Soderberg - The white elephant of the Bruins organization. Folks on the other side of the pond say he's got the skill to be a contributor at the NHL level, perhaps even a potential All-Star, but an eye injury and general lack of interest in playing in North America put a damper on that enthusiasm. Apparently he has agreed to play in the Bruins system this season, but teams have been known to wrongfully hitch their wagons to a moody European scorer in the past.

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