The Boston Bruins could be parting ways with six unrestricted free agents that are all in their 30’s on July 1. The exodus of those veterans opens roster spots and roles for next season’s Bruins.
But which prospects and youngsters are ready for a bigger role in Boston?
It wasn’t long ago when some analysts were calling Alexander Khokhlachev Boston’s best prospect. Disgruntled with not being given a real shot at the NHL, he is moving on. He is now bound for the KHL after three standout seasons in the AHL.
Losing him stings, but he wasn’t the only youngster with potential in the Bruins’ system.
Khokhlachev led the Providence Bruins in two of the last three years, but last season he was surpassed for the team lead by Seth Griffith. Griffith scored 77 points in 57 games in Providence.
With point production like that it, should come as no surprise that Griffith is a player being discussed for next year’s Bruins roster.
He was selected in the fifth round in the 2012 Draft. After playing 30 games for the Bruins in 2014-15, a knee injury derailed his 2015-16 season. What Griffith lacks in size he makes up for in offensive ability and instincts. The 23-year-old should fit nicely into a bottom-six scoring role for Boston next season if he is given the chance.
As intriguing as Griffith is, the youngster that has most Bruins fans excited is David Pastrnak. Pastrnak had 15 goals in 51 games with Boston last season. Those are impressive numbers for someone who saw an average ice time of just 13:57 per game.
Last season Brett Connolly failed to impress, and wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer. Both Lee Stempniak and Loui Eriksson are likely headed to free agency, which means there is a vacuum at wing in the top six which can be filled by Pastrnak.
His possession numbers and primary point production per sixty minutes were outstanding last season, and he has earned more ice time and a bigger role in Boston’s offense next season.
Another young player that stood out from last season was Frank Vatrano. The Massachusetts-born Vatrano dominated at the AHL level before being called up to Boston. Despite being undrafted, Vatrano had 36 goals in 36 games with Providence, and shared AHL Rookie of the Year honors with Colorado prospect Mikko Rantanen.
Vatrano scored 8 more goals in the 39 games he skated in Boston’s bottom six.
After seeing just an average of just 11:53 time on ice per game after his call-up, it’s difficult to say what Vatrano’s role will be. It’s a small sample size of NHL experience.
A scoring role at wing on the third line would be a good fit for the 22-year-old forward. However, he’ll have a chance to prove himself at training camp in the fall. So far, Vatrano has handled being underrated just fine in his hockey career.
On Boston’s blue line, Colin Miller is hoping to rebound after failing to impress in 2015-16 season. After making the team out of training camp, Miller was demoted to the AHL in February. He played just three games to close the season after being called up in April. Before his demotion, Miller had 3 goals and 13 assists in 39 games while leading Bruins defensemen in generating shots.
There is undoubtedly room for improvement in Miller’s game away from the puck. After joining the Bruins in the Milan Lucic trade, expectations were high for the former Kings’ prospect. Patience with Miller and his game will be key. A sheltered even-strength role and time on the second power play unit are achievable goals for the former fifth round pick.
With so many unrestricted free agents hitting the market on July 1 the Bruins have a great opportunity to commit to a youth movement. Giving young players like Pastrnak, Griffith, Vatrano, and Colin Miller bigger roles is a great first step to getting the Black and Gold back on track.