The Providence Bruins 2017-18 defensive group helped contribute to the AHL’s second-lowest goals against average at 2.54, trailing only the Toronto Marlies, who happen to be in the Calder Cup Final. The P-Bruins had size, physicality, and above-average skating ability on the back end this season, but the group’s offensive contributions held them back from being among the league’s elite.
It was a young group, and as the younger players improve their ability to read and process the game, more offense will come. The 2018-19 will likely see the return of two prospects with high expectations, but there will be room for the organization to add to the Providence blue line.
Two Top Prospects Should Return in 2018-19
Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon will be back in Providence. Both are high draft picks and could use another year of seasoning in the AHL. Lauzon had a frustrating season, missing 22 games due to a concussion. It’s the type of injury that can slow development, and 22 games is a lot of time to miss for any type of injury.
Lauzon joined the organization as a second-round pick in 2015. His stock started to rise even more after an impressive showing for team Canada in the 2017 World Junior Championship. He’s a physical player who could jump into the rush and join the offense at the junior level. If he can stay healthy, his style of play will endear him to fans in Providence. The left-shot defenseman has a chance to position himself for a role in Boston after another year of seasoning and health.
At the time of his selection, Zboril was seen as a player with a lot of tools in terms of skill. He’s a strong skater and appears large on the ice with the ground he’s able to cover. Zboril appeared more assertive and was given more opportunity at the end of the season. His offensive numbers should improve next season from the 4-15-19 he tallied in 68 games this season.
Much like Lauzon, 2018-19 will be an important year of development for Zboril. The Bruins organization will be watching closely as there is room to add to the NHL blue line. He possesses a hard shot that will start to pay dividends as Zboril takes more chances. With the veteran situation in Providence unclear right now, Zboril is one of the leaders on defense returning next season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s a call-up at some point in 2018-19.
Filling Out The Providence Defense
One of the most interesting storylines this offseason is the future of Tommy Cross. The P-Bruins’ captain was drafted by the Bruins organization in the second round back in 2007. He’s been a mainstay in the organization despite only playing in three NHL games since he turned pro in the 2011-12 season. Cross had another solid season at the AHL level this year, leading all Providence defensemen in scoring with 8-28-36 in 72 games.
Cross would leave a considerable hole in the lineup. He’s played a lot of special teams minutes for the P-Bruins. If he leaves, the young blueliners will be given more opportunities in his absence. Providence could still use a veteran defenseman to come in and provide leadership for the young group. There will be a free-agent signing to fill that role if Cross and the Bruins part ways.
Connor Clifton received some good news at the end of the season. The former Quinnipiac Bobcat signed a two-year NHL contract at the beginning of May. Clifton earned the deal after signing in Providence to start the year. Originally drafted by the Arizona Coyotes, the rugged defenseman impressed the organization with his play in Providence this season.
Bruins sign defenseman Connor Clifton to 2-year NHL contract: https://t.co/jTHfv3LHoN
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) May 3, 2018
Clifton played a hard-nosed game to become a regular on the P-Bruins blue line. The 5-foot-11 defenseman doesn’t shy away from contact. His simple but effective approach led to a season where he finished fifth on the team with a plus-11 rating. In college, his physical play kept opposing teams on edge every night. Boston saw enough potential this season to reward him with the two-year deal.
Emil Johansson will also return after his first season in North America and Harvard product Wiley Sherman will get his first real opportunity as a P-Bruin next year after appearing in two late-season games. There will be a veteran signing or two added to the group. If the organization looks for an AHL veteran, it wouldn’t hurt to add a more offensive-minded defenseman to the group. Currently, the core will be young next year, but loaded with potential at the top end.