The other day on NHL Radio I heard Steve Kouleas quote the late great Pat Quinn by saying “you can’t turn green tomatoes red. It has to happen naturally.” That is a perfect analogy for prospects.
Some might ripen before others. If you get extremely lucky, they all do. But normally, some never ripen the way we had hoped. Some never make it to the NHL.
Since the inception of BostonPucks.com back in the summer of 2015 we have kept an eye on all Bruins prospects. We patiently watch the ripening process. And it has been a good few years for that. As a Bruins fan who truly enjoys following prospects this has been a real exciting stretch.
There is no denying the Bruins are stacked with quality prospects. They are deep and plentiful. The Bruins have even started graduating some of these prospects to their big club this season. Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen and Matt Grzelcyk are a few that are becoming everyday NHLers. Bjork is currently on a bus between Boston and Providence, but for all intents and purposes he is nearly everyday NHLer.
For this little Top 10 Bruins prospects exercise, if the player has played over 10 games in the NHL they are not eligible to be on the list. I do also consider how close to NHL ready they are as well but it’s not a huge factor.
So let’s get down to business here.
Without further adieu, here are the BostonPucks.com Top 10 Bruins prospects:
10. Joona Koppanen LW/C, Ilves – Liiga
Drafted: 135th overall in the fifth round of the 2016
The first of two players from Finland on this list. Joona Koppanen blasted on the scene at the World Juniors where he scored 3 goals and 1 assist. He was 2nd on Team Finland in goals for the tournament. Koppanen has signed his ELC so hopefully we see him soon here in North America. Most likely he will need some AHL seasoning just like most prospects.
Koppanen has played in 35 games for Ilves recording 11 assists.
9. Ryan Lindgren D, Minnesota – NCAA
Drafted: 49th overall in the second round of the 2016
The “stay at home” defenseman is a two time medalist at the World Junior Championship tournament for Team USA. Lindgren is a beast and is a hard to play against type of defensemen. Due to his limited offensive ability I see Lindgren being either a number four, five or six defenseman for the Bruins. Lindgren plays the majority of most penalty kills and is on the ice at the end of games protecting the lead.
Lindgren has played in 27 games and has scored 2 goals and 4 assists for 6 points on the season. Look for him to stay at Minnesota for another year after this one. Lindgren’s brother, Charlie, also a prospect, is a goalie in the Montreal Canadiens organization.
8. Jeremy Swayman G, Maine – NCAA
Drafted: 111th overall in the fourth round of the 2017
Jeremy Swayman has been a nice surprise this season. He entered the University of Maine as a true freshman and has taken over as the starter. He was also named the Hockey East Rookie of the Month for January.
Swayman has good size and is athletic. He was the 3rd goalie on Team USA for the World Junior Championship tournament and could be the main man next year for Team USA with Jake Oettinger and Joe Woll aging out.
Goalies develop slowly and I would assume Swayman will stay at Maine for at least another year, but most likely two. Then it will be a year or two in Providence.
Swayman has played 22 games at Maine and has a 12-6-3 record to go with a .926 save percentage and a 2.52 goals against average.
7. Jack Studnicka C, Oshawa – OHL
Drafted: 53rd overall in the second round of the 2017
I really like this pick by the Bruins. His name says it all. If he does not end up being an NHL star it is a waste of a great name. Studnicka is currently 1 point away from his total last season and he has 17 regular season games remaining. He has been about a point per game player all season. It would be great to seem him in the 70 point range. Studnicka doesn’t turn 20 until February 18th, 2019, so most likely he will be back with Oshawa next year. He will have a shot at Team Canada for the World Juniors next year.
Studnicka has played 51 games for the Oshawa Generals scoring 14 goals and 37 assists for 51 points.
6. Zach Senyshyn RW, Providence – AHL
Drafted: 15th overall in the first round of the 2015
Senyshyn has been a bit disappointing so far in Providence. He has been playing a third line role the past few weeks and now is injured. He was on a similar pace as Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk during their first year pro but since then Senyshyn only has 2 assists in the last 15 games.
With all that being said, the kid can score and has rockets on his skates. And being that the AHL is a developmental league, Providence coach Jay Leach is playing Senyshyn on the 3rd line to work on the little things to get him to the next level.
Positions might open up a little bit after the trade deadline where Senyshyn will move up in the lineup if some guys get moved.
Senyshyn has played 41 games for Providence scoring 6 goals and 11 assists.
5. Jakub Zboril D, Providence – AHL
Drafted: 13th overall in the first round of the 2015
Although his offensive game has not developed yet at the AHL level all indications are that Zboril’s defensive game is heading in the right direction. But maybe the leash hasn’t been loosened as much on the offensive side.
That being said, the continued development on the defensive game will open up the offense side. Zboril has all the tools to be at least a top 4 defenseman. He was the best defenseman available at the time the Bruins took him in 2015. There have been questions about his attitude and his desire the last couple of years, but hopefully he will out grow that.
The Bruins would love one of their young left shot defensemen to develop into a top 4. There is a lot of competition for that need on the left side with Jeremy Lauzon and Urho Vaakanainen in the mix as well. There isn’t room for all 3 on the Bruins club, so Zboril future eventually might not be with the Bruins. If that is the case hopefully he can build up his value.
Zboril has played 43 games this season with Providence recording 1 goal and 7 assists for 8 points.
4. Trent Frederic C, Wisconsin – NCAA
Drafted: 29th overall in the first round of the 2016
Frederic is a little off his pace when he exploded on the NCAA scene by capturing the Big 10 Rookie of the Year honor last year. He had dealt with a broken hand last season and only played in 30 games scoring 33 points (15 goals and 18 assists). He also isn’t an unknown freshman this year and other teams are keying in on him. This year Frederic was able to represent Team USA at the WJC scoring 5 goals (4 of them in the Bronze Medal game).
Frederic has been on fire since returning to Wisconsin from the WJC. In the 9 games since the WJC Frederic has 11 points (6 goals and 5 assists). He had 6 points (2 goals 4 assists) this past weekend against Michigan. He could leave Wisconsin after this year, but it would not hurt to stay one more year.
Frederic has played 30 games for the Wisconsin Badgers recording 14 goals and 13 assists for 27 points.
3. Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson C, Providence – AHL
Drafted: 45th overall in the second round of the 2015
Of the youngsters playing down in Providence JFK has been the most consistent and that is no surprise. That is his M.O. Once Ryan Spooner and Rick Nash are out of the way JFK is going to have a shot at being the 3rd line center. But it is not a given. He is going to have some competition for that spot in the Bruins lineup from Ryan Donato and Trent Frederic. The Bruins organization values the 200 foot player and that is what JFK is as he’s been touted as a Patrice Bergeron clone. However, even though I don’t think JFK will have the offensive upside as Bergeron, certianly a 3rd line center role seems to be a fit as soon as next season.
JFK has played 46 games in Providence this season scoring 13 goals and 15 assist for 28 points.
2. Urho Vaakanainen D, SaiPa – Liiga
Drafted: 18th overall in the first round of the 2017
The smooth skating Vaakanainen might be a little high on this list than where he should be, but the 1st round pedigree safely puts him in the top ten. The potential skill set is what puts him as the second prospect on my list. The prospects that are playing in the Euorpean professional leagues are much harder to analyze. It is hard to truly feel the level of play they face and we do not see any games, so we really do not know all the situations the player is put in.
I thought Vaakanainen looked really good at the WJC when he played for a underperforming Finland team. Vaakanainen makes a good first outlet pass and is a smart player. He is also a tremendous skater. With Vaakanainen’s skill set you would expect he would be more of an offensive defenseman, but that part of his game has not developed yet.
He has not signed his ELC yet either so do not expect him in North America until at least next season, but it all depends on his contract in Finland.
Vaakanainen has played 30 games in the Liiga scoring 2 goals and 4 assists.
1. Ryan Donato C/LW, Harvard – NCAA
Drafted: 56th overall in the second round of the 2014
Ryan Donato made the biggest jump in our prospect list since last time around. The Bruins were so loaded with prospects the past couple of years, near NHL ready, it kept Donato out of the top ten with him destined to return to NCAA hockey this season.
Donato is the oldest player on this list and he is proving this season that he deserves to be the Bruins #1 prospect. He is the best player in college hockey. A sure fire Hobey Baker finalist. He is going to miss a handful of games for the Olympics, so that could hurt his Honey candidacy a bit, but armed with some individual awards and accolades I do not see any reason for him to not leave Harvard and join the B’s after this season.
Donato has played 23 games this season and has scored 21 goals and 10 assists for 31 points.
A lot has been said about the job that Keith Gretzky did as director of scouting in his stint with the Bruins before moving on to Edmonton. He is worthy of the praise. But the Bruins did well at last year’s draft without the draft version of the Great One. There are 3 prospects from the 2017 draft (the B’s first draft without Gretzky) on this mid season top 10 prospect list.
If you go by what the expert analysts said many felt the Bruins played it safe in the 2017 draft. They “hit singles instead of home runs” said one analyst. Yet as we all know drafting is not an exact science. And until the player flames out, or ripens, or is no longer with the organization, it is hard to judge how good a single draft went. It could take half a decade to get that answer.
Either way, the Bruins did pretty well to get 3 quality prospects out of the 2017 draft and to get them on our list.
Personally, I look at drafting like a funnel. A prospect funnel. It’s wider at the top so more prospects will be a there, yet only a few at a time can move on through to the bottom and to the NHL. With so many prospects graduating to the AHL and NHL ranks, and others knocking on the door, the Bruins do not have a ton at the lower amateur levels. They now only have 9 prospects combined in the NCAA and the CHL. I would say as of today 4 of those players do not have much of a chance to get to the NHL. But then again you never know. They could ripen.
It certainly makes the 2018 draft an important one for the B’s. One that needs to restock and keep that prospect funnel full.
It will be interesting over the next few years to see how the Bruins handle all their prospects, how they make room for them all. Making room will be difficult to successfully manage the forward position. With Heinen, DeBrusk, JFK, Senyshyn, Frederic, Studnicka and Donato something will eventually have to give down the road. They will not all fit into the lineup. Some of them might not truly make it, or they will be traded and another piece will hopefully make the Bruins lineup in return. But that is why Don Sweeney makes the big bucks. And it’s why I write fun blogs like this one.
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