The Boston Bruins saw plenty of success among their prospect pool in 2015-16.
Three of their young stars — Seth Griffith, Alexander Khokhlachev, and Austin Czarnik — finished among the top seven scorers in the AHL, while Frank Vatrano also led the league in goals.
However, that team-wide scoring prowess might not mean too much to the Bruins, as the one prospect they truly need to rise up the AHL ranks had a much less inspiring 2015-16 campaign.
Malcolm Subban, the 22-year-old netminder drafted 24th overall by Boston back in 2012, entered the season to high hopes, only to finish with a less than impressive .911 save percentage and a 2.46 goals against average. Both marks were the worst of Subban’s AHL career. He finished with a save percentage above .920 in each of his first two seasons in Providence, while his goals against average has gotten progressively worse each season.
By the campaign’s end, Subban ranked outside of the top 30 goaltenders in the AHL (34th to be exact), while teammate Jeremy Smith had the second-best save percentage in the league (.934). Subban is still young and has plenty of time to develop, but there’s no denying the fact that he’s been somewhat disappointing for the Bruins organization so far.
The second goaltender selected in the 2012 draft (after Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy), Subban has now seen three goalies who were drafted after him but have already found genuine success at the NHL level. Joonas Korpisalo (drafted 62nd overall) made his mark for Columbus this season, appearing in 31 games for the Blue Jackets. Frederik Andersen (drafted 87th overall) has already established himself as a bona fide starter in the big leagues, and is sure to have plenty of suitors this summer.
And then there’s AHL standout Matt Murray (drafted 83rd overall), who is fresh off leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship.
The Bruins are surely feeling the sting of Subban’s mediocrity with these other similarly aged netminders finding their way so soon. But the list doesn’t end there. A glance at the top tenders in the AHL hints at more similar prospects who are close to contributing for their NHL clubs soon enough — names like Scott Wedgewood, Garrett Sparks and Connor Hellebuyck.
The same goes for last year’s group, which included Murray, John Gibson and Scott Darling.
As other organizations start to see their young netminders emerge and prove themselves in the lower ranks, Subban has remained mired in the middle of the pack, failing to crack the top 15 in any of his three AHL seasons. On raw skill and potential alone, there still seems to be a high ceiling for the young goaltender, but Subban seems far from ready to contend for a spot at the NHL level just yet.
Which isn’t great for Boston, because they might need him sooner than he thinks. The Bruins’ string of disappointment continued this season as they failed to earn a postseason shot once again, marking the first time in a decade that they’ve missed the playoffs in back-to-back years.
One key aspect of their mediocre performance was the inconsistent and largely unimpressive play of Rask. The veteran came up the worst numbers of his career in 2015-16, posting a save percentage of .915 and a goals against average of 2.56.
Rask did have one worse season in regards to goals against average, as he posted a mark of 2.67 as a backup in 2011, but his save percentage — arguably the more important of the two statistics — ranked as a career-low this season, down from .922 last season and .930 the year before.
To be fair, Rask did pick up his play at the end of the year when Boston was pushing for a playoff spot, but the 29-year-old’s play wasn’t enough to mitigate the damage done by his rough start to the year. The key issue, however, is that Rask’s play fluctuated wildly from month to month, resulting in similarly inconsistent play from the team as a whole.
He started the year with save percentages of .889 and .907 in October and November, before exploding for a mark of .948 in December (all three months saw roughly the same number of games). While Boston won six of 10 games in that sterling December, they dropped to just three wins over Rask’s next 10 games, as his save percentage plummeted down to .914 in January.
His play levelled out over the final two months, when he posted save percentages of .920 and .918 before allowing 12 goals in his final four appearances.
Needless to say, 2015-16 wasn’t kind to the Finnish netminder. Last season wasn’t too hot for him either, especially during a four-month opening stretch that saw his save-percentage rollercoaster from .899 up to .935 down to .896 and back up to .949. That tumultuous style is fairly new for Rask.
The last time Boston made the playoffs, in 2013-14, Rask kept his save percentage above .927 in all but one month of the season, dropping only to .912 at his lowest point. He also posted at least one shutout in five of seven months that season – as opposed to 2015-16, when he posted three in the opening three months and then zero for the final four months of the campaign.
Rask certainly isn’t done as Boston’s starter, and it’s fair to assume the former Vezina Trophy-winner has a lot left to give in the Bruins’ cage. But considering his play over the past two seasons, he doesn’t seem to be the player he was a few years ago, at least in terms of his consistency.
That should be enough to have Boston thinking about the future, as the club would surely like to have a backup plan ready should Rask continue to decline over the next couple of years. However, it seems they don’t have an answer in Subban, as his play as of late has done little to show the organization that he’s ready for a bigger role.
Goaltending issues are the last thing Boston needs, as their defense is already well into their own decline (a trend that, to be fair, didn’t help Rask’s recent performance either). Shoring up the club’s back end will be a top priority if they hope to get back into the playoffs any time soon, but at this point it seems they might be better off looking to the trade market rather than rushing Subban into the limelight too soon.