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Bruins take aim at targets

Options aplenty in areas of draft, trade

ILYA KOVALCHUK May be available from Atlanta ILYA KOVALCHUK
May be available from Atlanta
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 26, 2009

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For the Bruins, like every other NHL club, the upcoming month is a significant one for scouting teenage puck prodigies, expanding on their organizational viewings, and focusing evaluations of the players that might someday become Boston property.

In the next few days, as the World Junior Championship revs into high gear, Bruins management will descend upon Saskatchewan to scout the best youngsters - Canada, Russia, and Sweden should have the strongest rosters - in the most significant tournament for under-20 talent. Then next month, the Boston bosses will travel to Windsor, Ontario, for the annual CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, which features the top 40 players from the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL who are eligible to be selected in the 2010 draft in June.

“You have to be careful not to place too much weight in the game,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli. “But there’s testing before the game that is valuable for our scouts.’’

The Bruins, owners of the deepest bounty of picks in the next two drafts, will be certain to take full advantage of the talent show. As it stand now, the Bruins will have 19 picks total in 2010 and 2011, with the crown jewels being their high-round selections.

Aside from their first-round picks, the Bruins also netted Toronto’s first selections in 2010 and 2011 in the trade for Phil Kessel. The Bruins also hold five second-round picks: three in 2010 (their own, Tampa Bay’s via the Mark Recchi trade, and Toronto’s as part of the Kessel package), and two in 2011 (their natural pick and Minnesota’s selection, which arrived as part of the Chuck Kobasew trade).

But it’s a good bet that the Bruins will part with some of those picks between Monday, when the holiday roster freeze is lifted, and the March 3 trade deadline. The Bruins have some young and inexpensive talent on their big-league roster, such as Tuukka Rask, Blake Wheeler, Mark Stuart, and Matt Hunwick, that might attract interest around the league and fill some of the Black-and-Gold needs.

The Bruins’ No. 1 priority is a top-six forward who can put shots behind goalies, while a puck-moving defenseman would also be an important upgrade.

For a rebuilding club such as Carolina, however, picks are considered more valuable than roster players. Picks are cheaper. They’re subject to entry-level deals for the first three years, then head into restricted free agency. If, for example, Carolina swaps veteran winger Ray Whitney for a pick, the Hurricanes can lean on their scouts and hockey operations people to select players that fit their system.

And considering the Bruins have yet to see any players from their last three drafts develop into NHL-ready players, they’d be sure to get a quicker return by swapping their picks to round out the 2009-10 roster.

Last year, the Bruins didn’t have to part with picks at the trade deadline. They shipped Petteri Nokelainen, who had been surpassed by Byron Bitz on the depth chart as a grinding bottom-six forward, for Steve Montador, one of their secondary options after pursuing Derek Morris (the former Coyote was traded to the Rangers). With Marco Sturm out for the year because of knee surgery, the Bruins needed a lefthanded wing with power-play experience. Not only did the Bruins trade down-and-out prospects Matt Lashoff and Martins Karsums for Recchi, but they also swiped Tampa Bay’s 2010 second-round selection as part of the deal.

This season, the Bruins’ need for scoring from the wing is even more pronounced than last year, when they finished second to Detroit in goals per game. The Bruins expected Sturm and Michael Ryder to pick up the scoring slack left by Kessel. Sturm is projected to score 23 goals, while Ryder is on pace for 21 - reasonable numbers for second-line wingmen, but not of the caliber of top-line snipers. Milan Lucic, capable of potting 20-plus goals, has been limited to only two strikes in 10 games because of finger and ankle injuries.

The prize of the unrestricted free agents-to-be is Ilya Kovalchuk, last seen in Boston Wednesday scoring on a breakaway for his team-leading 21st goal. Although the Thrashers are tied for sixth place in the East, three points behind the fifth-place Bruins, they might be forced to trade Kovalchuk if they can’t agree on a long-term extension.

Other impending UFA forwards who could be put into play before the deadline include Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne (14 goals), Whitney (10), St. Louis’s Paul Kariya (eight), and Los Angeles’s Alexander Frolov (nine).

Any trade, however, won’t come immediately. Chiarelli’s plan is to evaluate the attack once Lucic returns, possibly for Friday’s Winter Classic. Then, the Bruins could drop temporary first-line winger Steve Begin to a more natural grinding role.

So for now, it’s up to the current roster to continue climbing the standings amid a rough part of their schedule.

“We’ve got a tough stretch after Christmas,’’ said Recchi.

“Obviously there are going to be a lot of distractions with the games. So we’re going to have to be really, really focused, get down to Florida, make sure we play two good games down there, then come home again and play Atlanta again.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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