First of all, Nathan Horton has been all smiles since arriving in Boston, and he gave an indication of what could be in store (provided he can remain healthy) when he unloaded that big league heavy wrister past Carey Price just 1:33 in. Regardless of how his NHL career has gone, he was the third overall pick for a reason, and you saw one of the key factors of that selection with that shot. When he gets up his head of steam like he did, and has the time and space to generate the unreal power and torque on the shot, it becomes exceedingly difficult for any goalie to stop.
Tyler Seguin assisted on Johnny Boychuk's goal (and Boychuk has looked like a total stud in the camp sessions so far-- he looks like he picked up a step since last spring, and is really putting in a visible effort), and was OK-- solid-- but not spectacular. He's obviously learning, but didn't look at all out of place last night. I've said it before and will again-- he'll be in Boston simply because he's too good to go back to junior and the Bruins will want to control his development as opposed to giving up control to the Plymouth Whalers. Nothing against his junior team, of course, but Seguin is the crown jewel of Boston's future, so they'll want to exert as much influence on him as they can. Sending him back to the OHL risks stagnation and they won't allow that. UPDATE-- I've seen some real harsh criticisms of Seguin on the internet today and I honestly don't get it. He wasn't that bad, although admittedly, I was watching a stream. But, I think the critiques are once again a product of the enormous expectations. I thought some of the same criticisms I saw from people of him in the rookie games were over the top, so I guess we'll have to see how it all plays out from here.
Matt Bartkowski continues to impress. Logged over 18 minutes of ice time and finished the night with a +2 rating. Now that I'm watching him closely, I think he could see NHL games in Boston this year if injuries take a toll. Bartkowski is a guy this blogger wasn't thrilled with when the deal with Florida went down, but I have to eat crow and admit to doing a complete 180 on it, especially with Dennis Seidenberg signed to a cap-friendly extension. Peter Chiarelli and his scouts deserve a lot of credit for both Seids and Bartkowski, who looks like a 3-4 year pro out there-- not a player just a few months removed from patrolling the Ohio St. blue line.
Adam McQuaid was also good last night and he's going to be the seventh defenseman and NHL understudy a la Boychuk last season. Would rather he played in Providence, but the B's can't slide him past the rest of the league on waivers-- someone would snap him up quickly. So, he'll sit, but the moment someone on 'D' goes out with injury, he'll be in, and he looks to have built on what was some solid spot duty last season.
Nice to see Ryan Spooner still with the team. He's still pretty small, although it was evident to me that he's been working hard in the offseason to build up his strength. There is no denying his skills/talent and he'll go back to Peterborough soon because there are too many guys in Boston for him to have a legitimate shot at making the team right now. But make no mistake-- the longer he's around to get in some exhibition games and be around the team, the better his confidence and perspective will be going back to junior.
Tuukka Rask isn't a "kid" at 23 anymore, but his performance last night has to have Bruins fans giddy with what could be a huge year for him. He's been lights-out in camp and last night, he made a mockery of Montreal's goalies. The more you see Rask, the less important, you come to realize, is the need for Boston to spend a high draft pick on a goalie. Obviously, if there is a value selection sitting there in June, they'll consider it, but with Hutch just starting up on the pro side, and sixth-rounder Zane Gothberg on the five-year plan, that pretty much frees up the B's to focus 2011 on shoring up the defense.
That's why I'm labeling the 2011 draft watch the "year of the blue liner" in anticipation that the B's will add at least one high-end talent on defense, and probably several others with raw, but bankable potential. Of course, don't expect them to keep all five of their picks in the first three rounds in the process, but they're going to make sure they come away with some upside and skill at the position.
Although I've seen him ranked all over the map in the pre-season, I'm betting that Youngstown's Scott Mayfield will make a run as one of the higher-end guys in this draft. He's got the size, mobility, intelligence and a little snarl to really appeal to scouts. Kitchener's Ryan Murphy is another hyped kid and rightfully so with his skating and puck skills, but the Bruins already have five sub-6-foot prospects on 'D' (seven when you include the two in Boston's top-six in Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick) Will they really spend a high pick on Murphy (assuming he's available)? That's the question he'll have to answer this season.
And of course, Adam Larsson is the big prize on defense-- a future franchise cornerstone for whichever team finishes last overall. Yes, before the season has begun, I'm predicting that Larsson will be selected ahead of the likes of Sean Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, neither of whom have the sustained and bankable stardom that John Tavares had in '09 when Victor Hedman could have been the No. 1 pick. And, don't forget about David Musil, either. The Vancouver Giants star has a world of size and talent, but has more to prove this year than any other player in the top-five because some warts on his game have already been identified by scouts (namely intensity and decision-making), so he'll be closely scrutinized. Still, with that kind of raw talent and superior bloodlines, hard to imagine he'll slip very far if at all.
Other guys to watch: slick, skilled Russian d-man Andrei Pedan, who is with the OHL's Guelph Storm, a pair of big and talented but raw players in Dougie Hamilton (Niagara- OHL) and Dillon Simpson (University of North Dakota) and smallish puck mover Adam Clendening, whom the Bruins will get a lot of viewings in over at Commonwealth Ave. There's also Scott Harrington of London, who has size and skill, but who right now isn't being projected as having a lot of offensive upside from the scouts I've talked to. Would be nice to see him exceed expectations and put up some numbers and jump into the race as a legit. candidate to be a No. 1 or high-end No. 2 NHL defenseman.
Should be a great year to focus on d-men and see which cream rises to the top!