2013-14 American Hockey League Season Previews
Coaching Staff: Bruce Cassidy, head coach; Kevin Dean, asst coach
Affiliates: Boston Bruins (NHL) South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL)
Prepared by: Kirk Vance, The Hockey Writers
Record: 50-21-0-5 (105 points)
Conference finish: 1st overall
Calder Cup Playoffs: Lost in Semifinals 4-3 to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
After finishing the regular season with the best record in the AHL, the Providence Bruins struggled out of the gate in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Facing off against the eighth seeded Hershey Bears, Providence dropped the first two games at home in the best of five series. Despite the early deficit, the Baby B’s turned it on in a hurry, and took the next three games and the series. The roll would continue into round two, as the fifth seeded Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins arrived at the Dunk. Providence took both home games, quickly jumping out to a 2-0 series lead. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the big club called up Torey Krug between games two and three. This left Providence without one of their biggest contributors on the blue line. They would manage to overcome this loss in game three, winning on the road in the first minute of overtime, taking a commanding 3-0 series lead. That would be the last bright spot of the season for Providence. The Penguins came back and won the last four games of the series and eliminated the Bruins from the playoffs. Although it was a bitter ending, the impressive regular season gives the organization a foundation to build upon as they move forward.
- Jamie Tardif (RW) Trent Whitield (C) Christian Hanson (C) Chris Bourque (LW) Michael Hutchinson (G) Matt Bartkowski (D) Torey Krug (D) Colby cohen (D) Ryan Button (D)
- Malcolm Subban (G) Anthony Camara (LW) Seth Griffith (C) Joe Morrow (D) Reilly Smith (RW) Matt Fraser (RW) Nick Johnson (RW) Alexander Fallstrom (RW) Mike Moore (D)
2013-2014 SEASON PREVIEW
Entering last season, the Providence Bruins had missed the playoffs for three consecutive years. Bruce Cassidy’s bunch finally broke through last season, not only making the playoffs, but finishing with the best regular season record in the AHL. With that success came promotions, and with those promotions came the heartbreak. As players were called up to Boston for the playoff run, Providence’s roster was decimated. They became one of only a handful of AHL teams in history to blow a 3-0 series lead, and the first of those teams to lose game 7 on home ice.
This season, the Baby B’s will look to rebound from that defeat, and get to the next level. It won’t be easy for Providence, having lost their Captain (Trent Whitfield) and both Alternate Captains (Chris Bourque, Jamie Tardif) to free agency. In addition to the captains, the Bruins also lost Garnet Exelby and Christian Hanson to free agency, two key veteran leaders for last year’s squad, creating quite a void in terms of on-ice leadership. Rather than rushing out to sign veteran free agents for Providence, Peter Chiarelli decided to let the young guys take on more of a leadership role. In terms of prospect development, that will go a long way in preparing these players for the NHL. As for Providence’s success, the loss of leadership could really hurt.
The key transaction of the summer for the Bruins was the Tyler Seguin trade. It had a major impact on the entire organization, but Providence may benefit the most this season. They welcomed a top defenseman in Joe Morrow, as well as Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser, two of the top four scorers for the Texas Stars last year. Morrow will play a big role as Bruce Cassidy will lean on him to help replace Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug. Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser put up big numbers last year, numbers that may actually improve playing along side the talent that has been assembled in Providence. Fraser finished last year with 33 goals, good enough for second in the AHL. If he ends up on a line with Ryan Spooner, look out. Spooner is one of the more creative puck distributors in the AHL, and Fraser has a deadly shot, a combination that could give opposing teams nightmares. Reilly Smith didn’t put up the numbers that Fraser had, but for good reason. Smith spent half of his year with the Dallas Stars. In 37 NHL games, Smith put up nine points playing on the third line. While in the AHL, Smith put up 35 points in 45 games. If Jordan Caron doesn’t win the third line winger spot in Boston, Smith will be next in line.
On the blue line, the Providence Bruins will start the season without their top two defensemen (in terms of point production) from last year. Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski have both graduated to the NHL, leaving a big void for Providence to fill. One of the spots will be filled by newcomer Joe Morrow. The 2011 first round pick will assume a lot of responsibility in his first season with the Providence Bruins. The second spot will likely be filled by a rotation of players, with David Warsofsky and Zach Trotman the top candidates to see increased ice time. Overall, the defensive group will be expected to make major strides forward this season, especially if Niklas Svedberg makes the NHL club.
In net, the Bruins are currently in a wait-and-see mode. If Niklas Svedberg returns, he will team with Malcolm Subban to create a formidable goaltending tandem. If Svedberg leaves, Subban and Adam Morrison will have much bigger roles than originally anticipated. Both goaltenders will be AHL rookies, so Providence will be forced to endure some growing pains throughout the year. Whether he pairs with Svedberg or Morrison, Subban is the goalie to watch. The Bruins 2012 first round pick will get his first chance to make an impression on the local fans as he makes his debut in the AHL. Developing consistency will be the primary goal for Subban this year, as he adapts to a new league and a higher level of play.
Upfront, the Bruins loaded up this summer. They added Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser via trade, Nick Johnson via free agency, and Anthony Camara and Seth Griffith via the draft. These new arrivals join a forward group that already featured the likes of Ryan Spooner, Jared Knight, Alexander Khokhlachev, Carter Camper, Craig Cunningham and Justin Florek. This group should have no trouble generating offense, and will look to improve on last year’s offensive output. The real question for the forwards will be how they all fit together. Bruce Cassidy will have plenty of options when it comes to line combinations, but putting together the best lines will be a constant challenge.
Potential Call-Up Impact
With so many players fighting for one or two spots in Boston, it is likely that a number of players will receive call-ups this season. With the current logjam of defensemen, the majority of call-ups will be forwards. Unless someone stakes a claim to the third line winger spot early, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, Jared Knight, Ryan Spooner, Alexander Khokhlachev and Jordan Caron (the frontrunner to win the spot out of camp) will all be competing to be first in line. In the early going, the organization may have a longer leash on Jordan Caron, but if he doesn’t seize the opportunity, it will come down to Smith and Fraser as the first call-up. Niklas Svedberg may break camp with the big club, but if not, he will be on call if Chad Johnson falters.
If Niklas Svedberg spends any amount of time in Boston, the Providence Bruins will be forced to rely on Malcolm Subban and/or Adam Morrison in net. Svedberg was huge for Providence last season, tying the franchise record for wins in a season enroute to winning the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s most outstanding goalie. Subban and Morrison will have to adjust to the AHL on the fly if Svedberg gets the call, and their performance could be the determining factor in whether the Baby B’s take a step forward or a step back this season.
Providence has a great deal of forward depth, so a call-up or two would not be too detrimental to the team’s success. With the acquisitions of Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser this summer, and the arrivals of Seth Griffith and Anthony Camara, the Bruins enter this season with a healthy competition for playing time. With players already fighting for ice time, the departure of a few players will create opportunities for those remaining in Providence, giving the team an influx of talent throughout the season.
Considering the Bruins finished with the best record in the AHL last season, the additions that they have made this offseason should allow them to overcome any call-ups this season, and still remain near, or at, the top of the standings.
The majority of Providence’s additions this offseason were upfront, so an uptick in goal scoring should put them up over 240 goals on the season. The losses on defense and (potentially) in net are cause for concern, but the change in offense and defense should balance out, leaving the Providence Bruins with around 46 wins. That should be good enough to win the Atlantic Division and earn Providence home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
With the Boston Bruins putting a bigger emphasis on drafting and player development, the Providence Bruins are in the early stages of what could become a lengthy stay atop the division. With many of the Boston Bruins players locked into their positions going forward, Providence will see longer stays for most prospects, giving them the opportunity to develop strong chemistry. The win totals might fluctuate by a few games each season, but the Baby B’s will be a constant playoff contender for years to come.
Breakout Prospect Prediction: After tallying 57 points in his first full season in the AHL, Ryan Spooner will look to become one of the elite forwards in the AHL. Despite missing time due to injury last season, as well as a brief stint with Boston, Spooner finished in the top 10 for assists. With a year of experience under his belt and a group of talented forwards joining him in Providence, the only thing that could stop Spooner from breaking out this year would be a promotion to Boston.