This isn’t the best year to be a nearly NHL-ready Bruins prospect.
With the exception of defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who will have to forget how to play hockey or go on the Atkins Diet over the next two months to not make the Bruins, there isn’t much room at all for one of Boston’s top prospects to find their way to the NHL this season.
That’s too bad for the likes of forwards Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight, as both 2010 second-round picks showed at the recently concluded Bruins development camp (their third) that they are knocking on the NHL door. Spooner scored a pair of goals and was the best player on the ice during Monday’s scrimmage, while Knight’s ability to get to the net has only improved.
“I call them the usual suspects,” general manager Peter Chiarelli said after camp concluded. “… Just by where they are in their development and contractually, there’ll be guys that’ll challenge at our training camp. I think the Spooners or the Knights are going to challenge [for a roster spot], and obviously Dougie’s going to challenge.”
The real challenge for Spooner and Knight will be to find room in Boston. The Bruins are essentially returning all of their 12 forwards from last year’s lineup, with Jordan Caron taking Benoit Pouliot’s job after splitting time last season serving as the biggest change. Pouliot and Brian Rolston are gone, but with Nathan Horton presumably back, the only spot for a forward -- unless one of these guys can take Caron’s job, and that’s an entirely different story altogether -- might be as the 13th guy.
Given that both Spooner and Knight can play in the AHL this coming season, it probably wouldn’t be the best thing for their development if they make the team and spend game nights in the press box. Look at Caron over the last two seasons, for example. He made the team out of camp in 2010, but whenever a particularly lengthy stretch as a healthy scratch appeared to be on the horizon, an assignment to Providence soon followed.
After Caron was sent down and then returned six times over the course of the 2011-12 season, it appears he is finally ready to take the left wing job on the third line, and that means that guys like Spooner and Knight might have to look for apartments in Providence. They won’t give in that easy, though.
“I’m not going to go into camp thinking I’m just going to get sent down to Providence,” Knight said on Saturday. “I think if I put in a lot of work these next seven or eight weeks I can give myself a chance. You never know with injuries or trades or things like that. … That is out of my control, though. I’m just coming to camp ready to play.”
Here are four more things learned at the team’s sixth annual development camp.
HAMILTON IS HOLDING UP HIS END OF THE BARGAIN
Chiarelli said Monday that he isn’t going to give a youngster a job in July. If he were, you’d have to think that player would be Dougie Hamilton.
The 6-foot-5 defenseman has all the talent and hockey smarts a team could ask for, but a point of emphasis for his development has been filling out his big frame. He’s done that, adding what Chiarelli said was 11 pounds over the course of the last year to get him to just about 205 pounds.
Hamilton, 19, would still like to add more weight before training camp, but it won’t be easy. He’ll be spending a lot of time on the ice prior to main camp, so he’ll really have to make his off-ice workouts count when he gets it over the next couple months.
The Toronto native will play in a four-game series against Russia for the Canadian World Junior team in August, with two games being played in each country. After some downtime, he’ll head back to Boston for rookie camp prior to main camp. It’s harder to add weight while playing, but Hamilton sees this offseason as more relaxed with opportunities to put in good hours in the weight room.
“I think the past has been even busier,” he said. “Last year was pretty tough with the combine and going to the draft and stuff like that and then World Junior camp. … I think it’s good. I think it’s going to be fun going there playing against Russia.”
If Hamilton’s progress is any indication, he’ll be able to show up to training camp a little heavier. Panthers blueliner Erik Gudbranson played at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds as a rookie last year, and it seems at this point that somewhere in that range would be good for the lanky Hamilton. Whenever he can, he’ll work to get there.
“It’s different training,” Hamilton said of trying to add weight while also playing frequently. “You’ve got to prepare differently for games and stuff like that, but I think that’s what I’m used to. I guess I’ll just have to work harder in the gym when I can and go on the ice as well.”
ALEXANDER KHOKHLACHEV IS KHL-BOUND, BUT HE WANTS TO BE A BRUIN
Some interesting news popped up just prior to the start of development camp when it was reported that Alexander Khokhlachev, the B's second-round pick in the 2011 draft, was going to play in the KHL in the coming season.
The Russian-born scorer leaving junior hockey for the OHL raised some natural questions: Was he going there for good and would the Bruins make him an offer in order to retain his rights?
Answers came quickly, as Chiarelli said Friday that Khokhlachev was only going to play in Russia for one season and that the Bruins had signed him to his entry-level deal. After playing for Moscow Spartak, Khokhlachev will return to North America and either play the 2013-14 season in Providence or Boston.
Khoklachev, 18, said he made the decision to play in Moscow because his father is the team’s general manager and because he felt heightened competition would be better for his development.
“I will be playing with men,” Khokhlachev said. “It’s not junior hockey. It’s a lot of guys who have played in the NHL before, so it’s a really good league, the second[-best] league in the world. … In OHL, I play against [younger] guys, and in [the KHL] I’ll play against men.”
Khokhlachev recorded 145 points (59 goals, 86 assists) over 123 games for the Windsor Spitfires (OHL) over the last two seasons. After a 34-goal regular season and 20 points in 18 postseason games in his draft year in 2010-11, he saw his 2011-12 season cut short by a lacerated kidney and played in 56 games.
‘SUBBAN’ IS PRONOUNCED ‘SOO-BAN,’ NOT ‘SOO-BAHN’
Straight from the goalie’s mouth, there’s that. Of course, Brad Marchand (Marsh-AND, not Marsh-AHND) remains one of the most regularly mispronounced stars in recent memory, so perhaps Malcolm Subban, whose last name is commonly pronounced both ways by fans and media, will one day join Marchand in that regard in Boston. Speaking of Subban …
THE BRUINS MIGHT HAVE THEIR FIRST LEGITIMATE TOP GOALIE PROSPECT SINCE TUUKKA RASK …
… Or they might not, and that’s what makes goaltending such a maddening position when it comes to the first round of the draft. For every Carey Price or Tuukka Rask taken in the first round, there’s an Al Montoya or a Hannu Toivonen.
The obvious logic as to why so many first-round goalies fail to live up to their billing is that they take so long to develop that it’s difficult to evaluate a player’s NHL potential when they’re five or so years away.
The outlook for Malcolm Subban is bright, as he held his own in development camp after completing his second season with the Belleville Bulls (OHL) and being chosen 24th overall by the B’s. Still, with the 18-year-old a good four or five years away from being in the NHL discussion, no one can say with certainty whether he’ll be a star or be the next Toivonen or Evgeni Ryabchikov, both of whom were first-round busts for Boston.
“I’ve skated with a lot of [NHL] guys and I have a lot of the attributes to become a pro goalie. I know from just skating with them, and I think I’m getting better every day and improving,” Subban said on the second day of camp. “I think that if I keep working hard, and I really want to play, I think that alone will help me get there. I’ve just got to do my part and work really hard to get ready for the opportunity when I get the chance.”
Subban certainly made a good impression on his fellow prospects (it appears he’s jumped in on Knight and Spooner’s Twitter bromance), and his wit and similarities to his brother (Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban) definitely made him a hit with the media. The opinions that truly matter are those of the B's brass, and they came away from the camp pretty happy as well.
“I think [he]’s pretty much as advertised -- the athleticism and the competitiveness, even from a shootout perspective -- his statistics are phenomenal in that -- then you see him out there. He’s an exciting prospect,” B’s assistant GM Don Sweeney said after the camp was finished. “We’re looking forward to having our goalie coach really be in close communication and certainly line up a path that they can have input while not overstepping while he’s back what his junior team.
“Certainly [we’re] starting to identify some of the stuff that he sees that may or may not be exposed strengths and weaknesses and going to work on it. We’re excited about him.”
Last season for Belleville, Subban had a 2.50 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.