The best of the B's best: Top 10 prospects in B's organization
The best of the B's best: top-10 prospects in B's organization
The last few development camps for the Bruins have been proof positive for the Black and Gold that their draft-and-development system is working well, and that the organization can expect several waves of talent to come their way. The Bruins have already witnessed this firsthand with both Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy graduating to the NHL level last season, and other youngsters like Noel Acciari, Sean Kuraly and Frank Vatrano filling into jobs up front for the Black and Gold.
That doesn’t even mention 21-year-old David Pastrnak, who is developing into the kind of game-breaking offensive force that the Bruins have consistently banished in the recent past with names like Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin coming back to haunt the B’s. So with another wave of young B’s players expected to fill in and support the NHL roster this upcoming season, here’s a list of the top-10 Bruins prospects ahead of an NHL training camp where many of them will be hoping to make a name for themselves.
1. Anders Bjork, forward (drafted 5th round in 2014)
The 6-foot, 187-pound Bjork enters this season as the highest-rated prospect that still hasn’t suited up for an NHL game, and behind only Charlie McAvoy in terms of young Bruins players with the highest potential ceiling. Bjork is fast, skilled and has developed well in his three years at Notre Dame, and has dominated in each of the last two development camps with his B’s prospect peers. The 21 goals and 52 points in 39 games for the Fighting Irish as a junior speak pretty highly to potential offensive output at the next level, and his combination of speed, skill and a tiny bit of grit is the kind of combo that plays at the NHL level. It would be surprising, and disappointing, if Bjork doesn’t win a job in Boston out of training camp. He stands as the best forward prospect currently in the B’s organization despite a number of first round picks right alongside him. NHL outlook: Bjork is one of the pre-training camp favorites to win a winger spot with either Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci, and could develop into a top-6 winger with 20 goals plus potential.
2. Jake DeBrusk, forward (drafted 1st round in 2015)
The 20-year-old DeBrusk is coming off his first full season of pro hockey, and he got stronger and better as the AHL season went along for the Providence Bruins. By the end of the season he was Providence’s best player at the forward position and he’d finished with 19 goals and 49 points in 74 games. DeBrusk added another six goals and nine points in 17 AHL playoff games, and showed that he’s getting close to NHL readiness in the process. The 6-foot, 181-pound DeBrusk isn’t the fastest skater and he’s not the biggest guy on the wing, but he has some good offensive tools, knows where to go on the ice to get into scoring position and he’s got a high hockey IQ as the son of a former NHL player. There’s still some debate as to what his upside is once he gets to the NHL level, but the Bruins are expecting DeBrusk to compete for one of the open wing spots this fall. NHL outlook: DeBrusk should get some NHL time this season, and it remains to be seen if he’s top-6 material or a future third liner in the NHL. But he’s done nothing to dissuade the notion he’ll be a productive NHL forward sooner rather than later.
3. Zach Senyshyn, forward (drafted 1st round in 2015)
The other winger taken with those middle three first round picks in the 2015 draft, the 6-foot-3, 196-pound Senyshyn is a bit behind the other two top forward prospects in his progress. He’s posted back-to-back 40 plus goal seasons for the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL and has the kind of size/speed talent package that could really explode at the NHL level. But Senyshyn looked like he needed more development time at the AHL level when he appeared in a handful of playoff games for the P-Bruins at the end of last season, and will probably start this year in Providence regardless of how good he looks in NHL training camp. While Bjork and DeBrusk are ahead of Senyshyn on the development scale, it could very well turn out that Senyshyn becomes the best player of all three of them when it’s all said and done. One thing he really needs to work on with the P-Bruins is his toughness level in one-on-one battles and his play away from the puck, but the shot, the skating speed and the natural ability have all brought comparisons to Chris Kreider. NHL outlook: Senyshyn probably won’t be in the mix for the open NHL jobs this fall, but he could become an option for Boston this coming season once he hits his stride in the AHL. Senyshyn has the goods to be a top-6 right winger with 20 plus goal scoring potential once he gets to the NHL.
4. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, center (drafted 2nd round in 2015)
JFK took a giant leap in his development path when he opted to leave Boston University at the end of his sophomore season to sign with the Bruins. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound two-way center prospect has shown outstanding tools at BU over the last couple of seasons, and looks like a Bruins-style player with his smart, opportunistic offense combined with his conscientious two-way play. Forsbacka Karlsson has solid offensive skills as attested by his 14 goals and 33 points in 39 games for the Terriers last season, but it may take some time for that offense to really shine at the NHL level. Forsbacka Karlsson got into one game for the B’s at the end of last season and looked a bit over his head trying to jump on the moving NHL train from college hockey. Unfortunately, JFK wasn’t allowed to play in the AHL playoffs with Providence once he’d appeared in an NHL game and wasn’t really able to push his development ahead with a good, solid AHL stint. It’s expected that JFK is going to push Ryan Spooner for the third line center spot in Boston come training camp time, and he gives the B’s an option that could be a much more well-rounded player than the offensively dynamic Spooner. NHL outlook: JFK is a fine third line center prospect and could grow into a Patrice Bergeron-like center with time and hard work, but he may be destined for the AHL first given the way he looked in Boston late last season.
5. Jakub Zboril, defenseman (drafted 1st round in 2015)
Zboril has the size, the skating ability, the puck-moving instincts and the toughness to be a very good player for the Black and Gold, and he’s shown those in flashes over the last couple of years. There have also been questions about his work ethic, his approach to being a pro hockey player and just how much he’s going to maximize his potential as a player in the NHL. The good news is that he’s said many of the right things over the last couple of years since a rough first development camp, and he’s really shown an ability to elevate his game to excellent levels when the games matter most. But it’s going to be a long road for Zboril to show the consistency that the Bruins want to see, and that could mean it’s some time before he gets a crack at the NHL level. It may be that Zboril ends up being trade bait for the Black and Gold given his talent, his standing as a prospect and the questions they may still have about him as an eventual finished product at the NHL level. Still, the talent is undeniable with Zboril and that’s the most important thing with these prospects. NHL outlook: Zboril has all the tools to be a top-4 defenseman capable of playing 20 minutes of ice time per night with strengths at both the offensive and defensive sides of the game. It may take him a little bit longer to develop into an NHL player, but that’s not uncommon for many defensemen that develop at a more deliberate pace.
6. Trent Frederic, center (drafted 1st round in 2016)
Frederic may be hard-pressed to live up to being the “other” first round pick in the draft class that netted the Bruins Charlie McAvoy, but he’s done a good job of making the B’s look good for taking a chance on him. There were questions about his offense and ceiling as an NHL player when he was taken in the last few picks of the first round, and there’s still some debate as to whether he’s simply a third or fourth line center in the NHL. However, the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Frederic answered some questions when he posted 15 goals and 33 points in 31 games as a true freshman for the University of Wisconsin, and showed more offense than some expected from him. He’s still going to be a physical, grinding style player at the pro level that’s in the mold of a David Backes-type player, but there’s plenty of room for those kinds of guys in NHL dressing rooms. The 19-year-old isn’t going to wow anybody with his hands or his skating game, but he’s more than effective making the plays that need to be made to win games. NHL outlook: Frederic has toughness and leadership qualities to go with his production, and he probably feels more like the typical Bruins prospect than almost anybody else on this list. He impressed Bruins officials enough in development camp that he might not be in Wisconsin much longer after this upcoming college hockey season.
7. Ryan Donato, forward (drafted 2nd round in 2014)
Donato has been to four development camps and feels like he’s been on the B’s prospect scene forever, but things have been kicked up a notch now for the 21-year-old. The 6-foot-1, 181-pound Donato really made his presence felt at this month’s development camp, and the skating and strength have finally started to catch up to the hands and instincts that have always been there. Donato has always had an aggressive, dangerous shot with an excellent release, and now he’s finding more and better ways to feature that shot. He’ll be playing center this upcoming season for Harvard, and it will be interesting to see if he can continue to expand his prospect portfolio by showing he can play both center and wing. As it is, it looks like this upcoming season will be his last one at Harvard prior to joining the pro ranks and attempting to break on into the NHL scene in Boston. NHL outlook: Donato really exploded for 21 goals and 40 points with the Crimson this past season in 36 games, and will get a legit look by the Bruins once he becomes a pro player. It’s too tough to tell where Donato’s upside sits as a possible NHL player, but he feels like the kind of player that could have a long, solid career in the league based on his tools, his intelligence and the way he hustles all the time just like his old man.
8. Urho Vaakanainen, defenseman (drafted 1st round in 2017)
The 6-foot, 180-pound D-man doesn’t have the offensive cachet of many of his fellow prospects on this list, but Vaakanainen has the kinds of defensive tools that could make him an NHL player for a long, long time. Vaakanainen is excellent in the defensive zone, solid on the penalty kill and shows a good stick and good instincts in breaking up plays, and combines excellent skating and smart, smooth first passes into good plays out of his own end. All of that adds up to a nice stay-at-home partner to younger puck-moving D-men like Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy, and somebody that should be a solid contributor for a long time. He probably won’t ever top the B’s prospect list, however, because his offensive skills are average, and it doesn’t appear that he takes the kind of risks necessary to become a playmaker. Vaakanainen could be a fine B’s player for the next decade, but he also qualifies as a very, very safe, conservative pick in the middle of the first round. NHL outlook: Vaakanainen should play in the league based on his size, skating and his willingness to play good, strong defense, and he looks like a player that could be a long term fit as a shutdown D-man. The question is just how much offense he’s ever going to bring to the table, and that’s a liability in today’s NHL if his offensive game never really develops.
9. Danton Heinen, forward (drafted 4th round in 2014)
The 22-year-old Heinen is on the more experienced scale of prospects having already appeared in eight NHL games with the Bruins last season, but he still registers based on his past track record and the way he finished up the season in the AHL. Heinen looked overmatched at the NHL level after a very strong training camp with the Bruins, but he settled in at Providence and finished with 14 goals and 44 points in 64 games before exploding for nine goals and 18 points in 18 AHL playoff games for the P-Bruins. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound winger wasn’t really assertive or noticeable in his time in Boston, but he can make plays with his skating, his skills and his creativity once the confidence begins to match the talent level. Heinen should get another long look in NHL training camp this season, and may be more ready for a top-6 look in Boston after gathering some important experience last year. NHL outlook: The 22-year-old Heinen certainly deserves another top-6 forward look after showing that he wasn’t quite ready for prime time last season, but people need to remember that it was his first pro season. If the same thing happens again this season with Heinen then it will be tough for him to fend off some of the other forward prospects about to pass him by on the organizational depth chart.
10. Jeremy Lauzon, defenseman (drafted 2nd round in 2015)
The 20-year-old Lauzon is an interesting prospect as a 6-foot-3, 202-pound D-man that’s posted a 50-point campaign in junior hockey, and has shown an ability to elevate his game in the big moments. Lauzon really flashed in his QMJHL season following his draft year, but has also battled some injury problems in the last two seasons that raise some questions about his long term durability. Certainly he has the tools and the ability to control play at both ends of the rink, and Lauzon profiles well with the rest of the D-corps prospects. It will be interesting to see how his game translates to pro hockey this upcoming season, however, as there is very clearly some raw elements to his game that need to be further developed at the AHL level. Lauzon posted five goals and 14 points in 13 games during the junior hockey playoffs to finish things off on a good note, and leave the Bruins with an idea of what they might see when he’s ready to go at the NHL level. It will be interesting to see which player, Lauzon or Jakub Zboril, becomes the better pro player after coming out of the same draft class. NHL outlook: With some time and development, Lauzon could be a top-4 defenseman at the NHL level and exactly the kind of player that the B’s are currently searching for as a partner to go alongside Charlie McAvoy. Perhaps in a year or two, that’s exactly what he will be to the Black and Gold.