- P-BRUINS SEASON IN REVIEW: VETERAN DEFENSEMEN
- Jun 13, 2017
Jun 13, 2017
P-BRUINS SEASON IN REVIEW: VETERAN DEFENSEMEN
One thing that made the 2016-17 Providence Bruins season one of the most successful in franchise history was the core group of veterans in the locker room. Perhaps no group better illustrated this than the veteran defenseman who were on the roster from opening day until the end of the season. Their play, in addition to Zane McIntyre’s, made Providence one of the toughest teams to score against as they allowed to fourth fewest goals in the AHL with the second best goals allowed per game average. Add in the ability to score like no group of P-Bruins blue liners have in years and it is easy to see why this group was so important.
Tommy Cross was the leader of the 2016-17 squad, so naturally he was the leader of the defense. The P-Bruins captain led all defensemen with a +18 rating for the season, good for 10th in the AHL among blue liners and third on the team among all skaters. Originally a second round pick by Boston in 2007, the 27-year old set new career highs this season in all major scoring categories with 12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points. Cross, voted team MVP by his peers, also became the P-Bruins all-time leader in games played March 18 after skating in his 279th game for Providence. His scoring ability wasn’t expected to be as high as it was this season, so that production was certainly an important development for the team and his NHL future.
A defenseman brought in known for his AHL scoring ability was Alex Grant, and the veteran did not disappoint in his first season with the P-Bruins. Grant was named the team’s defenseman of the year after leading the team’s blue liners with a career-high 17 goals, 32 assists and 49 points. A fourth round pick by Pittsburgh in 2007, the 28-year old was the leader of the Providence power play all season, running the point and amassing a team best six goals and 16 assists on the man advantage. Grant finished tied for second on the P-Bruins in points and was fifth overall among AHL defensemen while his goal total was good for second among AHL blue liners.
Cross and Grant were on the top two defensive pairings and helped some of the younger players develop. Cross skated with Rob O’Gara while Grant skated with Matt Grzelcyk for most of the season. Among the bottom pairing defensemen, Providence had solid veterans to fill those roles. Chris Breen started the season off slow recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but the stay-at-home defenseman was back to his shutdown ways over the final 26 games of the season as he was a +6 despite just three points. Linus Arnesson missed most of the season due to an Achilles injury, but he returned for the team’s postseason and played very well by leading the team in plus/minus. Chris Casto didn’t provide much in terms of offense in the regular season, but in the playoffs he was Providence’s third leading scorer amongst defensemen.
As is the case in the AHL, where each of these players go for the 2017-18 season remains unclear. Arnesson has already returned to his native Sweden and will play next season there. Cross, Grant, Breen and Casto are all unrestricted free agents and looking for a chance to prove themselves at the NHL level. The P-Bruins will likely not retain them all, but that doesn’t take away from the season they had as the highest goal scoring Providence defense since 2006-07.
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The Providence Bruins are the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Boston Bruins, playing their home games at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, RI. Spanning more than 20 years, the Boston/Providence affiliation is one of the longest and most successful player development partnerships in professional hockey history.
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