MVP: Anton Khudobin
To what degree the 2011-12 P-Bruins meet their expectations will be heavily dictated by how much Khudobin fulfills his promise. Potentially playing in up to two-thirds of the 76-game regular-season schedule, he must be a cornerstone that averts the same, fatal recurrence of early deficits that plagued this team leading up to his early March arrival last year.
Statistically speaking, Khudobin’s introductory whirl in Providence was his best AHL stretch so far in three-plus seasons in the league. Over 16 games, he posted a 9-4-1 record (contrast that with the team’s cumulative 29-32-5 transcript without him) and coupled it with a 2.40 goals-against median and .920 save-percentage.
With as many as 16 skaters from last year’s homestretch figuring to see action in Providence again, Khudobin is simply tasked with backstopping a winning carry-over into the full 2011-12 campaign. Whether he needs to weather an early rubber blizzard or neutralize a threat to a lead—like the team’s last regular-season period, when he stopped 24 of 25 Manchester Monarchs shots to salvage a 3-2 win—most of his mates know he can deliver.
All Khudobin has to do is stock up the same brand of confidence that he did for six weeks and make it valid for six months this time.
Top Gun: Josh Hennessy
Don’t let Hennessy’s downturn in production with the Lugano Swiss team (9-10-19 in 47 games) diminish your conviction in him. Two of his teammates last season, Chris Bourque and Colby Genoway, were likewise generously fruitful in their initial AHL seasons, but less prolific upon taking their duffel bags overseas.
Instead, expect Hennessy to go for his sixth straight 20-plus-goal campaign on his native continent. In five years with the Cleveland Barons and Binghamton Senators, he finished with 24, 27, 22, 20 and 30 strikes. And he only once mustered fewer than 50 points in a single AHL season, namely when injuries confined him to 59 games-played and 37 points in 2008-09.
The P-Bruins have not had anybody whip up more than 23 goals or 50 points in either of the past two seasons. No one has cracked the 30-goal plateau for them since Pascal Pelletier in 2007-08.
None of those trends need be safe for long under Hennessy’s influence.
Top Defenseman: Colby Cohen
If he can stay healthy for the duration of the campaign, expect Cohen to have a breakthrough, sophomore surge in his first full year as a Bruin. He should not only use his supreme size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds, only one inch and five pounds less than leader Nathan McIver) in his day job, but also improve his accuracy as a point-based puckslinger and playmaker.
As a rookie last season, between Lake Erie and Providence, Cohen inserted two goals and logged 13 assists over 60 outings. Seeing as he previously concocted 25 goals and 78 points in 118 college games at Boston University, there is indubitably more for him to pull out and dole out on the professional ponds.
The sooner he gets going on that, the bigger a two-way threat he will be.
Top Rookie: Craig Cunningham
A regular in the deeper half of the postseason and consistently prolific throughout each of five major-junior seasons, Cunningham has all of the means to make a prompt splash on the AHL scene.
And besides his enticing numbers in the scoring columns, Cunningham’s stamina is self-evident in that he missed only one out of 216 regular-season games over his last three years in the Western League. To those three seasons, he appended an aggregate 54 playoff games, tallying 24 goals and 35 assists.
Having exhausted his eligibility and skated many extra miles in the Canadian Hockey League ranks, Cunningham should be primed to tackle a fresh challenge in the AHL.
Hendricks Fan Appreciation: Lane MacDermid
From Jamie Huscroft to Kevin Sawyer, from Aaron Downey to Adam McQuaid, Providence fans always embrace their foil-fisted mainstays. But beyond the instinct to protect his teammates that he has long established in his first two AHL seasons, MacDermid is on pace to burgeon as a respectably productive point-getter.
Last season, MacDermid elevated his totals by five goals and 14 points. And he proved reasonably efficient on both sides of the puck as one of only four P-Bruins regulars to finish in the black under the plus/minus heading.
On top of that, he is on the heels of turning heads in Boston’s training camp, from which he was discharged only after the last exhibition game.
Accordingly, all signs point to MacDermid pleasing all breeds of hockey fan at the Dunkin Donuts Center this season. Like it or not, Bruins buffs cheer for goals and brawls alike, and he figures to dole out a decent amount of both.