All is quiet on the Bruins front in terms of free agency, and Boston will likely proceed with the hand it has. That also means that with the newly-open roster spots left by Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton, players in the system will take on more minutes, and a more prominent role at the NHL level. Luckily for the Bruins, Providence isn’t short on two-way talent. Here are some players who could potentially be in the fold for the 2014-15 season. Next
Ryan Spooner, F
NHL experience: 27 GP, 11 assists
The skinny: Spooner has been flirting with the Bruins NHL roster for a few seasons. The speedy, skilled 22-year-old has proved he certainly can excel at the AHL level, where he’s nearly been a point-per-game player for the P-Bruins. Before that, Spooner spent four years tearing up the OHL, amassing 259 points in 230 games. Wherever he’s found himself holding a stick, Spooner has been rather effective on the offensive side of things.
That efficiency translated to his extended NHL stint last season, during which Spooner tallied 11 assists in 23 games, putting his playmaking skills on display. But therein lies another wrinkle to how Spooner fits in, as the Bruins have been reluctant in the past moving the natural center to the wing. This week, Peter Chiarelli backed off that stance a bit, saying Spooner could be moved to the outside this season, but then hedged that statement by saying maybe even Chris Kelly could move to the wing to make room for Spooner.
However you choose to shuffle the deck, Spooner is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the pack in terms of NHL readiness. His pace and vision are well-suited for a professional-style game, and Spooner would add some needed speed to the Bruins’ forward corps. In his small sample size of 23 games last season, his numbers stack up pretty well against other Bruins who will likely be in the bottom six next season. It very well may finally be time for Spooner to lock up an NHL job. Next
Matt Fraser, F
NHL experience: 27 GP, 3 goals, 2 assists
The skinny: From pondering his future in a Chipotle to scoring a game-winning overtime goal in the playoffs, Fraser had quite the ride at the end of the Bruins’ season. Part of the Tyler Seguin trade, Fraser has never struggled to produce at the AHL level, scoring 90 goals in 181 minor league games. That’s not to say he can be nearly a 0.5 goal a game player at the next level, but with Jarome Iginla gone, and the Bruins looking to add a scoring forward on the right side, Fraser seems like a prime candidate.
In his 14 games with the Bruins last season, Fraser was most commonly deployed with Spooner and Carl Soderberg, where despite not scoring at his AHL clip, he still put in steady possession numbers. Fraser played less than a combined 10 minutes alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, but may be a match on a new third line where he could provide scoring depth. Next
Justin Florek, F
NHL experience: 4 GP, 1 goal, 1 assist
The skinny: While Florek wasn’t a player the Bruins called on much during the regular season, his six playoff appearances last season are telling as to how much the organization trusts him. The big, 24-year-old winger could add good size and skill to the Bruins bottom six, with the ability to use his frame to hold onto the puck. Florek has scored 32 goals in his 148 games in Providence after showing a strong nose for the net in the collegiate ranks at Northern Michigan.
Florek would be a logical replacement for Thornton’s fourth line vacancy, while he would bring much more to the table than the tough guy. For the Bruins to go out and plug in another puncher in Thornton’s stead would be counter-intuitive to correcting what plagued its bottom-three forwards last season: a lack of skill and the ability to drive puck possession. The three players who were on the ice when Montreal scored early in Game 7 against the Bruins this season? Well, Thornton, Campbell, and Paille. The fourth line is certainly an area Chiarelli needs to address, and Florek could be part of the internal answer. Next
Zach Trotman, D
NHL experience: 2 GP, no career points
The skinny: There’s a good chance the Bruins blue line is already set, but should Chiarelli attempt to move a defenseman, Trotman could step in and be a factor. A seventh round pick in 2010, Trotman came to Providence more known for his defensive game, but has worked on getting a strong shot through from the point, and has started to round out. At 6-foot-3, he’s certainly got the size to compete at the next level, and, if Bruce Cassidy and the coaching staff of the Bruins’ AHL affiliate have proven anything, it’s that they do a stellar job preparing defensemen to play in Boston.
It’s more of a numbers game for Trotman. There are only six spots, which are likely occupied unless Chiarelli makes a deal, so Trotman would be better off staying in the AHL accumulating experience rather than sitting in the TD Garden press box as a seventh defenseman. Next
Alexander Khokhlachev, F
NHL experience: 1 GP, no career points
The skinny: ‘Koko’ as he’s known among the Bruins ranks, was mentioned by Chiarelli in the same breath as Spooner on Tuesday. Like Spooner, Khokhlachev is a natural center, but a player who could be shifted to the wing if the Bruins’ brass thinks it’s a good fit, or even stay at center and push a player like Kelly to the wing. Khokhlachev has shown all of the offensive promise the Bruins saw when they drafted him in 2011 in the second round, scoring 23 goals in 76 AHL games, about a 25 goal pace over an 82 game season. Khokhlachev may be a step or two behind Spooner right now simply because Spooner has more exposure, but the 20-year-old Russian will have training camp to prove himself and earn a spot. Next
Craig Cunningham, F
NHL experience: 2 GP, no career points
The skinny: The clock is probably beginning to tick a bit louder for Cunningham. Having just finished his third full season in Providence, there’s little doubt that Cunningham can find the back of the net at the AHL level. He finally got his first taste of NHL action last season, skating in two games: One in December against Calgary, and the season finale against the Devils.
Cunningham has scored 20, 25, and 25 goals in his three AHL seasons, respectively. But at 23, he’s teetering on the brink of losing the “young prospect” status. Cunningham has that second gear, like Spooner, and can play at a faster pace. He will be in the mix to compete for a roster spot should the Bruins open it up to this group of AHLers, and he probably has the most to prove among those youngsters. Back to the beginning
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