NHL Notes: A look at young B's forwards pushing for jobs

NHL Notes: A look at young B's forwards pushing for jobs
July 13, 2014, 12:15 pm
Share This Post
(USA Today Sports Images)

WILMINGTON – The Bruins organization has proven in the past they’re capable of developing goaltenders, and last season they graduated a crop of defensemen that will be Boston’s next generation of blueliners.

Now it’s the forwards' turn this season, and there could be up to four NHL roster spots up for grabs on Boston’s NHL roster if the Bruins decide to carry 14 forwards into the regular season. There should be at least a couple in the everyday lineup with Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton departing via free agency, and perhaps two more if the Bruins find another NHL spot for Jordan Caron heading into the season.

The names of the forward hopefuls are pretty familiar to anybody that’s a moderate to heavy Bruins fan, and a number of them have now logged at least one game in Boston: Ryan Spooner, Alex Khokhlachev, Justin Florek, Matt Fraser, Craig Cunningham, Seth Griffith and Matthew Lindblad.

Here are some thoughts from Providence Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy on a large number of those players, whom Cassidy has watched grow and improve under his watchful eye over the last couple of years.


22-year-old Ryan Spooner (11 goals and 35 assists in 49 games for P-Bruins, 11 assists in 23 games for Boston and six goals and nine assists in 12 AHL playoff games): “He should challenge for a spot, there’s no doubt. Whether he gets [a spot] or not, some of it depends on the competition around him, and if the Bruins fill up the roster a little more, etc. But he should be a guy that is one of the last cuts, if he’s a cut at all.

"He’s played two years, and there’s been growth from this year to last year, especially in the playoffs. He was the leading scorer in the playoffs when we got knocked out. Last year, he did not play well in the playoffs, and he admitted himself that it was a long year and he didn’t have the endurance to get through it. This year he was much better. You hear talk about ‘oh would they move him to the wing’ because after [Carl] Soderberg’s performance in the playoffs as centerman – so all those factors go into it. Like I said, those decisions are way beyond me. He’s got to come to camp believing it’s his time, it’s his spot to lose, and come with that attitude.

"I think it would benefit him to be around an NHL locker room, NHL players and learn from them. But he’s got to do it himself, he’s got to push through the mental aspect of the game because everything else is in place. I think he likes to have the puck too much between the blue lines and the open ice [to play the wing], personally. He might have played five shifts for us in two years on the wing. I don’t want to rule that out, you don’t know things until you try, a lot of times. I just think, naturally, he’s at his best when he’s getting the puck and attacking the D, and backing them off. Usually through the middle of the ice is the best place to have that unless you’re a shooter down the wing. That’s not his game, where you’ll come flying down the wing and you know, back a D off there and beat him one-on-one. He’s more of the middle of the ice, draw people to him, drive wide and then find the open man.”

 

20-year-old Alex Khokhlachev (21 goals and 57 points in 65 games, and nine goals and 14 points in 12 playoff games for Providence): “I think he’s close. The question with him that comes up is, can he separate on the ice? Does he have the foot speed to separate? He’s got to develop more physically but he gets all his goals going to the net. If he had 21 last year, and then a bundle -- I want to say nine in the playoffs- so if that’s 30, I’d bet around 25 of them were around the blue paint and the crease. So you think, sometimes, of a European player, well it’s more of the flash and the skill, this guy is – he gets to the net. Gets in, gets out and survives. So obviously that will be a challenge at the [NHL] level, getting to the net against the [Zdeno] Chara’s and [Dennis] Seidenberg’s of the world as opposed to the guys in the American League, a little more of a challenge. But he’s got the competitive drive to do it, and the nose, and the instincts.

"Then it comes down to, well can he play the wing? We tried him there so those are all questions that have to sort themselves out, but I think he’s close. I think generally the Bruins have had a pattern. They let their guys, you know, when they’re ready type of thing, and I think he’ll push at training camp. How that plays out, that will be an interesting one to watch.”

 

24-year-old Justin Florek (19 goals and 38 points in 69 games, one goal and 2 points in four games with Boston, and two goals in 10 combined playoff games for NHL and AHL and 23-year-old Matt Fraser (20 goals and 30 points in 44 games for Providence, four goals and seven points in nine combined AHL and NHL playoff games, and two goals in 14 games for Boston): “It’s the forward’s turn. [Alexander] Khokhlachev, and [Ryan] Spooner, and [Justin] Florek, and [Matt] Fraser through a trade. It’s their chance to push for jobs more this year than defense, and for me that’s great. Like I said, you don’t want to be – it’s great, all these defenseman, and if that’s how people identify ‘oh you did great at teaching defensemen’ but you’d like the whole nine yards: Defensemen, forwards, goaltenders and then winners. This year it looks like it’s the forwards turn, you’re right.”

 

22-year-old Craig Cunningham (25 goals and 47 points in 75 games in Providence, and 3 goals and 7 points in 12 AHL playoff games and two scoreless games in Boston): “He’s put in his three years, his numbers have got – he scored 20 goals every year, he hasn’t missed a game. The games he’s missed we sat him out late in the year to give him a rest. He’s very durable.

"The thing with Cunny [Craig Cunningham] it’s almost like someone comes along and passes him as a winger, then as a centerman. He’s good in every area of the game and to be in the NHL, to earn your job, you maybe have to have a particular strength in one area to sort of solidify that spot for yourself. He’s missing a little bit of that. But I tell you what, there is not a better kid in the locker room down there. So he’s the type of guy who you’re certainly hoping for and rooting for that he finds a way.

"It’s just such a tough lineup to crack, and now you’ve got bodies to climb over. It’s a good problem for Boston, and a tough problem for him. I’d put him in that category, but I think some of the other guys have moved passed him a little bit in the last year in terms of centermen, like Koko [Alexander Khokhlachev] and [Ryan] Spooner. I think Cunny [Craig Cunningham] as a winger, it’d have to be the right situation for him. With Thorty [Shawn Thornton] gone, that’s good for him, it gives him an opportunity to maybe start on the fourth line if they don’t address that position with another player like [Shawn] Thornton. Then that’s good for Cunny [Craig Cunningham].”
 

32-year-old Bobby Robins (five goals and 14 points in 68 games for Providence, and one goal in nine games during the AHL playoffs): “I think in some ways it might you know, you almost feel like he’s paid his dues to give him a chance because of his age. Maybe it could work for him in that regard. Clearly he’s getting a late start, he knows that. But the way the League is going, you’re right, there is less demand, but Bobby [Robins] is a good skater, and a good open ice hitter as well. He’d be a guy that would change the momentum in a hurry with body checks.

"He’s not going to sit at the end of the bench and play two minutes, he can play. We need to see, ‘Can he handle the puck on the boards clean enough at the NHL level, and make the plays into the middle of the ice?' Until you see him do that, and get his opportunity – he’s gotten so much better at it. Time will tell, that will determine whether he plays or not because I think the other elements are in place.”
 

21-year-old Seth Griffith (20 goals and 50 points in 69 games for Providence, and four goals and 11 points in 12 AHL playoff games): “I think he needs more time. I hope he proves me wrong because I know the right hand shot forward is in demand here, so great for him. I think the pace of the game for him got better as the year went on, but it’s still not consistent where he keeps his feet moving every night. That’s part of the learning process.

"Better on the walls, he’ll have to get better against men. But the other parts of his game, I think he could come up and compliment skilled players. He’s got the hockey IQ, and he’s got the hands, I think he can make the same plays he does in Providence here, at times. You know, when they’re there he can do it, it’s just the time and space issue for him, and the strength and quickness. I think another year will benefit him because he is a pretty fit guy for us, he’s 190 pounds and he’s strong. It’s now just building that into man strong and not just, you know, young-adult strong, for lack of a better term.”


ONE TIMERS

*High praise for 2014 first round pick David Pastrnak from Cassidy as well, as he referenced a couple of NHL names that get your attention when discussing the Czech prospect that’s put on a show this week: “There’s a reason he’s a first round draft pick. He’s got all kinds of skills, he’s got a – he reminds me a little bit of when Tyler [Seguin] was here at his first development camps again. And Alexander Semin I had years ago, those quick guys that can really shoot it off without a lot of time or wasting a lot of time, and make those little tight area plays.”

 
*It’s almost a near certainty at this point that the Bruins will make a trade for another bone fide NHL winger if they look to replace one of the two right wings they lost (Iginla, Thornton) in free agency. One interesting trade target to keep in mind after Anaheim added Ryan Kesler and Dany Heatley to a crowded group of forwards: former Ottawa Senators draft pick and current Ducks winger Jakob Silfverberg. The 23-year-old Swede has good size and 6-foot-2 and 196-pounds, and the Ducks might be ready to deal after he had just 10 goals and 23 points in 52 games last season on the West Coast. He also had just a couple of goals in 13 playoff games with Anaheim, but he’s got more than a few fans in the B’s organization that like his size, skill and ceiling as a hockey player that could be a top-six winger and 20-plus goal scorer. There is a lot of attention being paid to the Evander Kane situation by Bruins fans hoping he comes to Boston, but Silfverberg could be an under-the-radar deal that nab a skilled, talented young player with a lot less baggage. Silfverberg is a restricted free agent due for a raise coming off his entry level contract, but he won’t be breaking Boston’s bank either. He was the centerpiece of the Bobby Ryan deal, though, so he won’t come cheap despite his mediocre first season in Anaheim. But his value clearly isn’t as high as it was a year ago, either.
 

Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.