Six Bruins prospects ready to break through next season
Six Bruins prospects ready to break through next season
With the introduction of Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy as a new assistant to the NHL staff along with player development guru Jay Pandolfo, it’s another sign the Black and Gold are turning over toward a youth movement. Clearly there will still be Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci and Brad Marchand among a veteran core group, but the Bruins will need much greater contributions from young players than they received last season.
That will include greater development and performance from youngsters like David Pastrnak, Joe Morrow, Frank Vatrano and Colin Miller that have already started to establish themselves at the NHL level, and it will include breakthroughs from a second wave of young players getting their first extended taste of NHL action.
Here are the top six Bruins prospects expected to break on through to the NHL next season, and contribute in Boston for the NHL parent club that’s developed them over the years:
1) Noel Acciari
Acciari is going to have to work on the offense, but the Rhode Island native impressed in his audition as the fourth line center at the end of last season. The 24-year-old had just one assist and was a minus-4 in 19 games, but he also made a tangible impact with his fearless physical play and his willingess to throw hits at any opponent big or small. The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder packed a wallop that got the attention of other players, and made the fourth line impactful, physical and much, much faster with Landon Ferraro. If Acciari can play that way consistently and find a way to post the seven goals and 19 points he produced in a half-season in Providence, then the Bruins will really have something on their hands for an energy line. He’s an intense, coachable kid from a great Providence College program, and it was pretty obvious that Claude Julien took a liking to him right away after watching him play. Acciari should have the inside track on the fourth line center job to start this season, and needs to simply keep showing the energy, work ethic and attitude he featured in Boston last season if he wants to win a permanent job.
2) Malcolm Subban
The Bruins had planned on Subban finally ascending to the NHL this coming season as a backup to Tuukka Rask, and perhaps providing the Bruins with a talented, young performer between the pipes that could push their Finnish franchise goalie. Subban was definitely on board with the program while gaining steam in the second half of his AHL season, but then was sidetracked by a very serious fractured larynx injury suffered during pregame warm-ups. The 22-year-old never returned to action in the AHL last season following the injury, and finished with a .911 save percentage and 2.46 goals against average for the P-Bruins when he was healthy. It could be challenging for Subban to win the backup job in training camp given the rustiness that will be involved, and the final few months of AHL development he missed last season. But the Bruins do need to give Subban a run at the NHL level at some point to see what he can do, and perhaps set the trade market if they end up using the former first rounder as a bargaining chip. Subban also needs a little more NHL action to simply, finally get the bad taste out of his mouth of his only NHL outing against the St. Louis Blues in the 2014-15 season. For those that don’t remember, Subban was pulled from that game in St. Louis after allowing three goals on three shots on net to start the second period.
3) Danton Heinen
The 20-year-old forward out of the University of Denver made a big splash in two NCAA seasons with the Pioneers after being selected in the fourth round by the Black and Gold in the 2014 NHL Draft, and will be in the mix competing for a forward spot in training camp with the ability to play either of the wing positions. Heinen played in two AHL games, and posted a pair of assists, for the Providence Bruins at the end of last season while showing flashes of the playmaking, scoring and offensive creativity that make his game sing in the offensive zone. He’s not the biggest or the fastest player, but his hands and hockey IQ have more than made up for it at every level leading into pro hockey. He’s also at least six feet tall, however, so he’s not undersized like fellow forwards Czarnik, Acciari or Griffith. Heinen may need some time and seasoning at the AHL level before he’s ready for the big boys, but he’s one of the most promising prospects in the Bruins system, and could contribute sooner rather than later. Consider him a sleeper in training camp that could surprise and end up cracking the NHL roster to start the season if he brings it in the preseason, and shows the ability to create offense from the wing that the B’s desperately need.
4) Brandon Carlo
The 19-year-old looked pretty good after being thrown into the AHL playoff fire at the end of last season in Providence, and showed the 6-foot-5 size, skating ability and attitude that can play in the pros as he develops into a solid shutdown blueliner at the NHL level. It was thought Carlo might make a good, affordable replacement for Kevan Miller as a low-paid, bottom pairing, rookie defenseman right off the bat in the NHL next season, but that plan has obviously been put aside with both Adam McQuaid and Miller now locked into lengthy contract extensions with the Black and Gold. There still may be room at the NHL level at some point for the 2015 second round pick and 37th overall selection, but Carlo may also benefit a bit from some AHL development time next year before he’s ready for the speed, aggression and violence shown toward big-bodied D-men in the NHL. It’s difficult at this point to project how good Carlo will be offensively once he hits his peak performance, but he showed some ability to play with the puck on his stick during the World Junior Tournament while giving hope his puck-moving game will develop.
5) Austin Czarnik
The Miami University center almost made his NHL debut last season, but instead had to settle for watching briefly from the NHL press box while otherwise lightning things up at the AHL level for the P-Bruins. Czarnik was one of the standouts at NHL training camp in Boston last fall along with Frank Vatrano, and led all American Hockey League rookies with 61 points last year while racking up offense despite being another talented P-Bruins forward with a small-ish frame. The production in his first taste of pros is a positive sign for Czarnik’s future exploits at the NHL level. He never appeared to be intimidated at all by the size, speed, strength and skill of his opponents. Czarnik could be Noel Acciari’s big competition in camp for the fourth line center spot, or the talented two-way player could be bumped all the way up to third line center if the Bruins pull off any kind of summer hockey trades involving current third line center Ryan Spooner.
6) Seth Griffith
The undersized winger isn’t the biggest body or the strongest skater, but he did lead the Providence Bruins in scoring a season (an impressive 27 goals and 77 points in 57 games while skating on many nights with Frank Vatrano) after scoring a couple of pretty goals for the NHL parent club. The hands are most definitely there and Griffith has a good head for the game, and at times he’s shown the confidence to be play with some of Boston’s better forwards in a top-6 role. But after signing a one-year, two-way deal with the Bruins this week, this season will be a pivotal one toward defining whether Griffith is a AAAA player that will end up toiling in the AHL for his pro hockey career, or if he can indeed make the big leap to the NHL and a Boston Bruins team looking for talented, inexpensive wingers.