Thanks to a strong start, the Boston Bruins are currently sitting near the top of the NHL standings. The team’s AHL affiliate Providence Bruins has also enjoyed a sterling recent surge to push to the top of the Eastern Conference standings after going 9-1 in their last 10 games.
One integral member of Providence’s success is rookie defenseman Torey Krug, who leads the team in scoring from the blue line. Now healthy after earlier season lower body injuries that affected his speed and directional change ability, the former Michigan State captain is firing on all cylinders.
The 21-year-old may not possess ideal pro size, but Krug compensates with explosive burst from a stop, superior balance/edgework, outstanding vision and the ability to make crisp outlets to boost the transition game. The free agent defenseman signed with Boston last March and got a few big league games in to finish the 2011-12 NHL campaign. At the rate he’s going in Providence (a 10-game points streak just ended), and with an elite work ethic to go with his impressive offensive dimension, don’t be surprised to see him with the big club sometime soon.
Craig Cunningham is once again reminding everyone why Boston used a top-100 pick on the then 19-year-old in 2010. The former Vancouver Giants captain (who finished his WHL career with the Portland Winterhawks) is as versatile a player you will find at any level. Although not big, he’s a quick skater who brings excellent smarts, soft hands and gritty, two- way ability to the mix. Like most of his club, he struggled to find the back of the net early in the season, but is well on pace to exceed his AHL rookie totals of 20 goals and 36 points.
Providence goaltender Mike Hutchinson has only seen 19 games of action with the stellar play of Nilkas Svedberg, but he’s making the most of his starts. After a difficult beginning to the year, “Hutch” has worked his save percentage just north of .900 and continues to show flashes of big-league ability with his 6-foot-3 frame and excellent quickness. The right-catching former third-round pick in 2008 has consistency challenges going back to his days in the OHL, but he’s managed to be a dependable backup in the AHL since turning pro. What he has yet to prove is an ability to perform as a regular starter with the bulk of his team’s workload.
Former Kitchener Ranger right wing Tyler Randell has yet to record a point this season in the AHL after shuttling between farm spots in Providence and Charleston, S.C. in the ECHL. He filled in for Lane MacDermid in providing rugged play and fisticuffs while the latter was recalled to Boston earlier this month. The 2009 sixth-round pick twice scored 20 goals in a season while in the OHL (including a four-goal playoff game), so the raw potential is there for him to be more of a scoring presence in the AHL, but he’s not there yet. He has good hands and a hard shot, but with heavy feet, Randell needs to improve his quickness and intensity to move up the depth chart.
An old saying says that when opportunity knocks, open the door. That is pre- cisely what 2010 sixth-round selection Zane Gothberg has done in February as a freshman goaltender at the University of North Dakota. In consecutive weeks, he garnered WCHA Rookie of the Week (Feb. 5) and WCHA Defen- sive Player of the Week (Feb. 12) honors in going 3-0-1 against Wisconsin and University of Nebraska-Omaha.
BEAR CUB SNAPSHOT: Zane Gotberg, G, North Dakota
Outlook: Gothberg has good size at 6-foot-1; although still lanky and maturing physically, he brings the requisite quickness, flexibility and overall athleticism to the position. The NCAA rookie is still refining his technique: he plays a hybrid style between butterfly and standup. He will aggressively challenge shooters well outside the paint, or retreat to his goal line and rely on his reflexes to keep the puck out of the net in close. Gothberg has a quick glove and does well to direct rebounds away from danger with his blocker and stick. Rebound control with the leg pads is still a work in progress. The 20-year-old brings a battler’s mentality, in that he will sacrifice fundamentals and style points to make the save any way he can. While this may lead observers to label Gothberg as “unorthodox” he has shown a willingness to adapt and is respected by his coaches and teammates alike for his work ethic, passion and dedication to improving his game.
The 2010 Frank Brimsek Trophy winner as Minnesota’s top senior goalie is building off of a record-setting season with the USHL’s Fargo Force a year ago as that league’s co-winner of top goaltender honors. Although Gothberg is a long-term project for the B’s, he’s in a perfect position to continue his gradual development and could one day challenge Malcolm Subban and Niklas Svedberg as top goaltender prospects on the organization’s loaded depth chart in net. Gothberg is a bit of a “character” with his laid-back personality, but he’s all business when he takes the ice and is a fierce competitor. As he earns more starts at North Dakota and gains experience, the Bruins will at some point be forced to determine where he fits into the club’s grand plans. Until then, Gothberg has all the makings of a late-round gem and darkhorse candidate to exceed expectations and eventually develop into an NHL starter.