Summer Skate Boston Bruins
The Bruins captured their first Stanley Cup in 39 years, and did it in style by eliminating the consensus top seed Vancouver Canucks. They may not have added much talent in free agency this summer, but they restocked the system by snagging two top prospects, Dougie Hamilton and Alexander Khokhlachev, in the draft.
Trending Up: C Tyler Seguin
Last Season: 2.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 4.5 GVT
VUKOTA figures Seguin could jump from his rookie season total of 22 points up to 34 in his sophomore year -- that projection is probably conservative. Last season, he managed to score 1.44 points per 60 minutes of ice time, which is only slightly below the scoring rate of an NHL top-six forward. The fact is, he was eighth among Bruins forwards for power-play ice time and Mark Recchi's retirement leaves a hole that needs to be filled. Seguin has the talent to eat up some of those extra opportunities.
Trending Down: G Tim Thomas
Last Season: 40.0 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 13.3 GVT
While it may seem like Beantown sacrilege to suggest the hero of the Bruins' season could take a step backward, it's really just simple logic. Thomas set the single-season record for save percentage at .938 and the likelihood that he'll be able to duplicate such a historical performance is very low, especially adding in the fact that he'll be 37 years old next season and he's backed up by the uber-talented Tuukka Rask. VUKOTA expects Rask to play 38 games in 2011-12 versus only 26 this past season, which seems to be a reasonable assumption if coach Claude Julien wants to keep Thomas fresh for another Cup run next year.
Pronman's name to know: RW Jordan Caron
After wrapping up a solid QMJHL career between the Rimouski Oceanic and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the Bruins first-round pick in 2009 had a fine first professional season playing for the Providence Bruins in the AHL. While simply looking at the 20-year-old winger's counting stats may not wow anyone at first glance -- Caron registered 12 goals and 28 points in 46 games -- keep in mind Providence wasn't really a great scoring team. In fact the team's two leading scorers, Jamie Arniel and Zach Hamill, had 50 and 41 points respectively over the full season. Caron was given a 23-game look in the NHL during the 2010-11 season, and wasn't sheltered by any means as he faced top-quality competition on a regular basis.
Caron isn't a flashy player, but he's a hard-working, two-way forward who can score goals at an above-average level and is a great weapon to plant in front of the opposing net. There are forward prospects with more raw scoring talent in the Bruins' system who may push for a spot in the not too distant future, such as Khokhlachev, Maxime Sauve and Ryan Spooner. However Caron has the pro-level physique having filled out well and possesses the ability to play well on the bottom two lines. He could push for a starting role on the defending champions in a lesser role this season and has enough talent to generate some offense as well.
Summer Skate Montreal Canadiens
The Habs had a reasonably successful season but were derailed by injuries along the blue line; only three of Montreal's rear guards played 70 games or more in 2010-11. The only major addition for the Canadiens in free agency was veteran forward Erik Cole, another player with problems staying healthy.
Trending Up: C Scott Gomez
Last Season: 0.6 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 4.8 GVT
Despite appearing in 80 games, Gomez saw his point total drop from an average of 62 points the past three seasons to only 38 points in 2010-11. His poor scoring rate also coincided with a career-low 4.5 percent shooting percentage. Furthermore, in the previous three seasons, Gomez and his linemates have scored on 7.5 percent of shot attempts, but last season they converted on only 4.7 percent of their opportunities. Shooting percentages tend to fluctuate but frequently return to their mean value over the long-term. Look for Gomez to get more puck luck this season and for his point totals to increase.
Trending Down: G Carey Price
Last Season: 29.5 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 14.7 GVT
Price was the fourth-most valuable player in the NHL last season according to GVT. That lofty status coincided with his breakout season as a starting goalie, as he played in 72 games and logged a career-high .923 save percentage. Much like Tim Thomas, VUKOTA doesn't expect him to repeat a career-best season, however it still has him projected as the second-most valuable goaltender in the league for 2011-12.
Pronman's name to know: D Alexei Yemelin
Yemelin was drafted all the way back in 2004 as a third-round pick of the Canadiens and has logged over six full KHL seasons since then, playing in three world championships as well for Russia in that time frame. He was one of the top defenders for Ak Bars this past season in the KHL, playing over 21 minutes per game for a team that finished second out of 12 teams in the Eastern Conference.
Yemelin has never really been a top offensive force from the blue line, as he is more known for his great physical game and ability to get things done in his own end. However, this season he started to show solid puck-moving abilities and a nice shot from the point that led to a jump in his statistics, as he put up 26 points this year; his previous best in a full KHL season was seven.
It's rare that a team will get a top prospect to make his NHL debut at the age of 25, but that's what Montreal is going to get. Yemelin is more than physically developed and has a ton of top-level experience, and the only thing that will keep him from being an average top-four defenseman in the NHL right away is if he takes a while to adjust to the NHL pace on the smaller ice surfaces.
Summer Skate Buffalo Sabres
With Terry Pegula purchasing the Sabres, the team has adopted a much more aggressive approach to player acquisitions. Buffalo brought in Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino this offseason to go with a solid core of young and veteran players. All have the talent to improve the team, although the Sabres may have overspent for the talent they acquired.
Trending Up: G Ryan Miller
Last Season: 11.7 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 13.7 GVT
While last season appeared to be a poor one for the Team USA hero, it was merely a step back from great to above average. In the 2009-10 season and the Olympics, Miller set the bar astronomically high for himself. That he didn't live up to those lofty expectations last season should hardly be seen as a failure. That said, VUKOTA expects Miller to elevate his game in 2011-12 to that of the third-most-valuable netminder in the NHL.
Trending Down: LW Thomas Vanek
Last Season: 16.8 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 11.4 GVT
Austrian sniper Thomas Vanek managed to notch 32 goals and 73 points last season. One of the reasons VUKOTA expects Vanek to lose value is he played 80 games in 2010-11 for the first time in three seasons. That is unlikely to be repeated. The other reason Vanek's GVT is projected to slip is that he was uncharacteristically impressive in shootouts last season. He converted 83.3 percent of his attempts despite never topping 40 percent in any of the previous three seasons. That was likely due to some puck luck and is going to be hard to repeat.
Pronman's name to know: C Luke Adam
The last three AHL Rookie of the Year winners have all been prospects of the Sabres organization. Nathan Gerbe won the award in 2009, Tyler Ennis in 2010 and Adam was the recipient for the 2011 AHL season. The 21-year-old Adam led all rookies in scoring, notching 62 points in 57 games, which made him good enough to be the Portland Pirates' AHL All-Star game representative.
The centerman is a very physically developed player with a huge frame (6-foot-2, 215 pounds), and it makes him a very effective player along the walls and in front the net. Adam doesn't really have a "wow" offensive tool to his skill set, but he's a player who does a little bit of everything well. He has pretty soft hands for a big guy; he can score goals; he plays a smart two-way game; and he works hard. Adam's skating is the only real issue holding him back, but there's a lot to like with his package and not a lot of risk. He's knocking on the door to become a regular in the league, and it may not be long before he's playing scoring-line minutes.
Summer Skate Toronto Maple Leafs
With a hot start and a few players emerging in key roles, last season looked like a very big step forward for the Maple Leafs. Despite missing out on Brad Richards in the summer, GM Brian Burke was able to bring in Tim Connolly, Cody Franson and John-Michael Liles to add a more offensive element to his team and to complement emerging goaltender James Reimer.
Trending Up: C Phil Kessel
Last Season: 9.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 12.7 GVT
Despite all the heat he takes from both Bruins fans and Leafs faithful, Phil Kessel is a legitimate top-six forward. At the age of 23, he owns three straight 30-goal seasons. Most promising, however, is that he's managed to increase his shot volume by 40 percent in the past three seasons. Shots lead to goals, and Kessel is primed to score more of them in 2011-12.
Trending Down: LW Clarke MacArthur
Last Season: 11.5 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 8.4 GVT
One of four Leafs forwards to score at least 20 goals last season, Clarke MacArthur had a career year at the age of 25. He racked up 62 points, a significant increase from a previous career high of 35. VUKOTA has a tough time reconciling this jump, but MacArthur has been given steadily more offensive zone time over the past three years. More importantly, the line of MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin absolutely dominated possession in 2010-11 for the Leafs. MacArthur may have just found the perfect fit for his skills.
Pronman's name to know: C Joe Colborne
Colborne was acquired by the Maple Leafs in February as the key piece of the deal that sent Tomas Kaberle to the Boston Bruins for the top center prospect and the Bruins' 2011 first-round pick. Colborne, a first-round pick by Boston in 2008, wasn't producing a ton of points on the Providence Bruins -- then again, most of their forwards didn't -- but he had a solid finish to the season with the Toronto Marlies, notching 8 goals and 16 points in 20 games.
Colborne possesses a very intriguing package of tools, and he can make a lot happen on the ice. He's a very good skater for a 6-foot-5 forward, sees the ice well as a playmaker and has a plus shot that can score from distance when he chooses to unleash it.
The main concerns surrounding Colborne have to do with his lack of a physical game. Although these are certainly valid, he isn't completely nonexistent in that department. Instead, he's inconsistent, flashing the ability to dominate at times, and then hanging out on the perimeter at others. He has the talent to possibly play a top line in the NHL, and there's certainly enough there to be a heck of a second-line pivot.
Summer Skate Ottawa Senators
There wasn't much positive news for the Senators in last season's debacle. However, they stole goaltender Craig Anderson from the Avalanche at the deadline and acquired talented forward Nikita Filatov's rights from Columbus for only a third-round pick.
Trending Up: RW Daniel Alfredsson
Last Season: 2.3 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: 5.0 GVT
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Not many players can maintain a point-per-game pace like Alfredsson did into his mid-30s. Last season, his scoring totals came to a screeching halt. Both injuries and an inevitable age plateau had their effect. VUKOTA is projecting a minor bounce-back for Alfredsson, but hardly to the lofty heights of his past.
Trending Down: G Craig Anderson
Last Season: 16.7 GVT (with Ottawa) | VUKOTA Projection: 10.3 GVT
While Anderson's overall GVT tallied to 8.5 last season, it was a tale of two parts of the season. As the backstop for the Avalanche, a meager -8.2 GVT belied his true talent. After the trade to the Senators, he played as well as any player in the NHL, performing 16.7 goals better than replacement level in a little over 17 games. He can't sustain that same pace for a whole season, so won't be worth as much to Ottawa, but will likely improve overall.
Pronman's name to know: D David Rundblad
Rundblad's huge season in the Swedish Elite League established him as one of the elite defense prospects in all of hockey. As a 20-year-old, he scored 11 goals and had 50 points in 55 games while logging almost 23 minutes per game for Skelleftea HC, one of the Elite League's best teams. He led the entire league in assists -- not simply for defenseman -- and not surprisingly was named the SEL Defenseman of the Year. This all happened the season after the Senators acquired Rundblad from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for the Sens' first-round pick in the 2010 draft. St. Louis then used the pick to draft Russian Vladimir Tarasenko, who has become one of the elite prospects at the forward position. That deal will be under heavy discussion for several years as the two top talents make their way to the NHL.
Ottawa has not made its love for Rundblad a secret. The Sens have publicly said he will undoubtedly be a top four defenseman for them in the 2011-12 season and should get heavy offensive minutes. Rundblad is an elite puck-mover who has tremendous technique with the puck and top-end offensive awareness. The physical and defensive aspects still need some attention, but there is little doubt that Rundblad is going to put up hordes of points in his NHL career. When it comes to pure upside, Rundblad is right up there with the best of the prospect world.
A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
Ryan Popilchak is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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