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Bruins can keep looking to the future (and thank the Maple Leafs) as Central Scouting releases midterm rankings 01.10.11 at 4:55 pm ET
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Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson is considered one of the top prospects in the 2011 draft. (AP)

NHL Central Scouting has released its midterm rankings for players in the 2011 NHL Draft. A year ago, Plymouth Whalers (OHL) center Tyler Seguin was the No. 2 prospect at the midway point before surpassing fellow Windsor Spitfires winger Taylor Hall in the final rankings. The rest, as they say, is history, as the Oilers went for Hall over Seguin at with the top pick, and the B’s grabbed Seguin second overall.

The Bruins had that pick of course, from the Maple Leafs, who gave the B’s a pair of first round picks as part of their package for Phil Kessel.

Now, as the midterm rankings are released, the Bruins and their fans can think a bit more about the next major piece they’ll get to add thanks to the Kessel deal. The Leafs were expected to be an improved team this season, and they are — two whole spots.

If the draft lottery were to take place today, the B’s would be fourth in line given that the Leafs’ 36 points ranks 26th in the NHL. Who might their prize be? Judging by Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire’s comments to NHL.com, the Bruins wouldn’t be in bad shape if the Leafs’ pick wound up being the fourth overall choice.

McGuire suggested that this will not be a draft class like last year, which featured two concrete elite players in Hall and Seguin and then a bit of a dropoff.

“I would say at this point, with the number of viewings our scouts have had, as many as eight players could be taken first,” McGuire told NHL.com in the story. “The depth goes right through this draft. A cynic or somebody who’s characterizing this as a non-Sidney Crosby draft year only needs to know that whoever emerges in April at No. 5 on our list (Central Scouting’s final rankings), and in St. Paul as the No. 5 pick, could eventually be a better NHL player than No. 1. That said, this isn’t a Crosby draft year.”

Here are the best of both the North American and European skaters:

NORTH AMERICAN

1. Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Kitchener (OHL), 6-foot-0, 207 pounds
- 25 goals in 32 OHL games this season; currently out with a high ankle sprain
2. Sean Couterier, C, Drummondville (QMJHL), 6-foor-4, 195 pounds
- Has 16+37=53 totals this season at Drummondville
3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Red Deer (WHL), 6-foot-0, 170 pounds
- Has 50 points in 39 games after totaling 65 in 67 contests last season
4. Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Saint John (QMJHL), 6-foot-1, 168 pounds
- Has nearly doubled his 35 points from last season, as he has 65 in 40 games this year.
5. Tyler Biggs, RW, USA U-18 (USHL), 6-foot-2, 210 pounds
- Cincinnati native has four goals in 11 games
6. Sven Baertschi, LW, Portland (WHL), 5-foot-10, 175 pounds
7. Dougie Hamilton, D, Niagara (OHL), 6-foot-1, 6-foot-4, 193 pounds
8. Brandon Saad, LW, Saginaw (OHL), 6-foot-1, 208 pounds
9. Nathan Beaulieu, D, Saint John (QMJHL), 6-foot-2, 185 pounds
10. Ryan Murphy, D, Kitchener, 5-foot-10, 176 pounds

EUROPEAN

1. Adam Larsson, D, Skelleftea (Sweden), 6-foot-3, 200 pounds
- Believed by one scout to be a better prospect now than Victor Hedman was two years ago
2. Joel Armia, RW, Assat (Finland), 6-foot-3, 191 pounds
3. Mike Zibanejad, C, Djurgarden Jr. (Sweden Jr.) 6-foot-1, 191 pounds
4. Jonas Brodin, D, Farjestad (Sweden), 6-foot-1, 165 pounds
5. Dmitri Jaskin, F, Slavia Jr. (Czech Jr.), 6-foot-1, 196 pounds

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Michael Ryder gets bumped up to top line in Bruins practice 01.07.11 at 12:11 pm ET
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Michael Ryder is having a bounce-back year for the Bruins. (AP)

After Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Wild, Bruins coach Claude Julien did a bit of tinkering with the lines in practice on Friday. According to multiple reports out of Wilmington, here is how the lines looked:

Lucic-Savard-Ryder

Recchi-Seguin-Bergeron

Wheeler-Krejci-Horton

Marchand-Campbell-Thornton-(Paille)

With Michael Ryder and Nathan Horton essentially switching spots, the rest of the lines seem unchanged. Tyler Seguin has centered the second line for the last two games.

Horton reportedly left practice with an unknown ailment, and Claude Julien told reporters that he considers the winger day-to-day.

Though he has gone four games without a point, Ryder has been one of the Bruins’ best offensive threats this season and is having a bounce-back year after scoring only 18 goals a season ago. The free-agent-to-be has 11 goals and 12 assists this season for 23 points. He is on pace for 23 goals.

Horton has been hot and cold throughout the season, and though his statistics may not reflect it, he has shown improved play over the team’s last four games. He has 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points.

Neither winger would face too major of an adjustment to their new line, as both Horton and Ryder have worked with David Krejci and Marc Savard, their new respective centers. Horton began the season on a line with Krejci and Milan Lucic before recently playing with Savard in the middle of his line with Lucic. Ryder was on Savard’s line when he returned from post-concussion symptoms last month before playing on his familiar line with Krejci and Blake Wheeler.

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Tyler Seguin getting used to going back and forth between positions 01.06.11 at 2:02 pm ET
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Tyler Seguin has said it countless times: he doesn’t care what position he plays, as long as he’s playing and helping the team. A stock quote? Sure, but the 18-year-old truly doesn’t seem to have a preference, and he has seemed equally capable in both roles.

A natural center, Seguin was rumored to be in line for a temporary move to the wing from the moment the time the Bruins drafted him second overall. The most success he had with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL came when he played as a pivot, but given that the Bruins already had what they thought would be a healthy Marc Savard, as well as David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, and newcomer Gregory Campbell, it seemed to make more sense to start Seguin out on the wing.

Of course, that didn’t immediately come to be, as Savard’s setback late in the offseason due to post-concussion symptoms kept him out for the first 24 games of the season. Seguin would start the season centering the third line before seeing occasional time on the wing. With Savard’s return, Seguin stayed at wing, and after the offense-wide shakeup two weeks ago, the rookie wound up on the left wing of a line with Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi.

On Monday, though, Seguin started out centering Campbell and Shawn Thornton before Claude Julien moved him back to his normal line, but with the rookie playing more center. Bergeron, who played the wing as a rookie, saw more time on left wing as the two players swapped positions on the line throughout the night.

Seguin said he can handle going back and forth between wing and center throughout the night, though he didn’t see it entirely as smooth sailing.

“Me and Bergy got a little mixed up out there,” Seguin admitted. “We didn’t know who was playing center. Sometimes we’d go out there, and one guy would be taking the draw when it was supposed to be another guy.

“Stuff like that is just going to take a game to get used to. Tonight, if we’re still together, we know where we’re playing.”

Much has been made of the impact playing with a guy like Recchi could have on a rookie, but in Bergeron, Seguin gets to not only skate with a textbook two-way center, but someone who has succeeded in both roles. Seguin should have the opportunity to continue learning from Bergeron, as the three skates on the same line in Wednesday’s practice.

Through 36 games this season, Seguin has six goals and seven assists.

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Post-(optional) morning skate notes: Tuukka Rask first off the ice, for what it’s worth at 12:19 pm ET
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The Bruins held an optional morning skate in anticipation of Thursday night’s tilt with the Wild at TD Garden. The following players participated:

Forwards: Nathan Horton, Daniel Paille, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic, Gregory Campbell.

Defensemen: Steven Kampfer, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid

Goaltenders: Tuukka Rask, Tim Thomas

Former BC and Bruins winger Chuck Kobasew makes his return to the Garden tonight. (AP)

Rask was first off the ice for the B’s in the skate, though given the combination of the fact that it was an optional skate and the trickery these guys have pulled in the past, it isn’t worth putting too much stock into. Rask made 36 saves in the B’s 3-1 victory over the Maple Leafs on Monday, while Thomas played in eight straight games prior to getting the night off in Toronto.

Here are a few notes from after the skate:

- Claude Julien isn’t happy with the way the power play has been performing of late. The team has been on the man advantage only six times over the last three games and hasn’t scored on any of them.

“I think it’s got to get better,” Julien said. “We talked about that this morning and again the month of December actually was a decent month for our power play, but so far in January … it hasn’t been good enough for us and needs to generate some goals. So it’s a challenge for a power play right now to kind of turn that around and bring it up a notch.”

- Given that the Bruins are coming off a successful road trip (3-0-2) and are gearing up for a tough stretch that includes games against the Canadiens, Penguins, and Flyers, a home game against Minnesota is a pretty good candidate for a potential trap game. That’s not the way Julien sees it.

“I don’t know if I’ll call it a trap game, but it’s certainly a game that is going to represent a challenge for us, and most games do anyways,” Julien said. “I think it’s important for us to be well prepared and focus properly and come up with a solid effort tonight and give yourselves a chance to win a hockey game and build yourself up in a positive way for this next segment.

- Former Boston College and Bruins forward Chuck Kobasew is back in Boston for the first time since being traded to Minnesota seven games into last season. In parts of four seasons (158 games) with the Bruins, Kobasew had 44 goals and 39 assists.

This season, Kobasew has six goals and an assist in 25 games for the Wild. His former coach had nothing but nice things to say about him.

“Chuck, to me, was always a true professional,” Julien said of Kobasew. “He came in and I mean that in the sense where everything he did was related to the game, he came in and it was all business when it was at the rink. Very good individual, good person, and it wasn’t easy to let him go.”

“I don’t think anybody’s looking ahead here,” he added. “We’re at a stage of the season where every game means a lot, and you really have to focus on the game that’s in front of you, not the ones that are a few days away, or a week away. I think our guys are pretty focused on the task at hand.”

- Tyler Seguin‘s mother and sisters will be in attendance tonight, as they’re in town visiting the 18-year-old. Seguin’s mother was at the home-opener vs. the Capitals on Oct. 21, and though his sisters haven’t seen him play in Boston, this isn’t their first trip to the Garden. The Seguin family took in the Celtics game last night before going back to watch World Junior Championship final between Canada and Russia, a game Russia took, 5-3, via five unanswered goals.

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Bruins return to Garden for first time since kicking off hot streak at 10:33 am ET
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The Bruins have begun to catch fire since pounding the Thrashers, 4-1, at the Garden on Dec. 23. They have points in each of their last six games, coming away with four wins in a stretch that’s seen them go 4-0-2. On Thursday, they face a Wild team that has won two in a row and is two points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Martin Havlat leads the Wild with 35 points this season. (AP)

WHERE IT’S AT

- The B’s haven’t played at the Garden since their statement game against the Thrashers, On the season, they are 9-6-3 at home, including their season-opening loss in Prague.

- The Wild are 3-1-1 in their last five away games. Their road record is identical to the Bruins’ home record at 9-6-3.

NOTABLE NUMBERS

- It’s been a tale of two Tylers, so to speak, regarding Tyler Seguin and his production at home and on the road. Seguin has picked up just three of his 13 points in home games, and has scored just one goal at TD Garden. Here are his splits:

Home (17 games): 1 G, 2 A, 3 P, minus-5

Road (19 games): 5 G, 5 A, 10 P, plus-7

Milan Lucic is among the guys who have fared just about the same regardless of location. He’s split his 28 points right down the middle, picking up 14 at home and 14 on the road.

- The Bruins have gone 0-for-6 on the power play over their last three games, which suggests they could stand to draw a few more penalties and capitalize when they do so. The Wild have kill off 81.2 percent of their penalties this season, which puts them 19th in the league in penalty kill percentage.

- Minnesota winger Martin Havlat has four assists in his last four games and has totaled 27 this season. The numbers aren’t all pretty for Havlat, as he was a minus-four on Sunday against the Coyotes in a 6-5 overtime loss.

STORYLINES GOING IN

- Who will center the second line? Claude Julien gave Tyler Seguin a good deal of time between Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi in the Monday’s 2-1 victory over the Maple Leafs. The coach said Tuesday that he feels comfortable using the two interchangeably in the middle and on the left wing, as Bergeron got plenty of experience at wing early on in his career.

- The Lucic-Savard-Horton line looks as though it has finally gotten going, as it was able to produce goals from both Nathan Horton (his first in nine games) and Marc Savard on Monday. Horton finished the night with a pair of points.

- With the five-game road-trip in the mirror, this game kicks off a rather difficult stretch over the next eight games. Their coming opponents include the Canadiens, Penguins (twice), Flyers, and Hurricanes (twice).

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Claude Julien open to giving Tyler Seguin more time between Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi 01.05.11 at 1:02 pm ET
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Tyler Seguin has played both wing and center this season. (AP)

WILMINGTON — Bruins coach Claude Julien said following the team’s practice at Ristuccia Arena on Wednesday that he feels comfortable using both rookie Tyler Seguin and veteran Patrice Bergeron interchangeably at center on the second line. Given both players’ experience at wing, Julien trusts either one at either position on their line with Mark Recchi.

Monday night in Toronto, Julien gave Seguin, who has typically played the wing with Bergeron and Recchi, more time as a pivot, with Bergeron playing left wing.

“Most of it was [at center],” Julien said of Seguin’s 14:21 of ice time in the team’s 2-1 victory over the Maple Leafs. “[Bergeron] was taking some face-offs, but for the most part, [Seguin] was at center. In cases like that, I’m kind of using them both. If it’s late in the game, and you really want to make sure you’re good in your own end, you go with the experienced guy, but at the same time, Tyler is obviously a little bit more comfortable at center using a little bit more of the ice, so you give him that opportunity as well.

“Bergy has played wing before, so I think we can alternate those two guys depending on the game situation.”

Seguin has made strides of late, and after getting just 6:30 of ice time against the Thrashers on Thursday, had a strong showing vs. the Sabres on Saturday. The 18-year-old had a goal and an assist and led the B’s with six shots on goal in the team’s 7-6 shootout loss while also scoring in the shootout.

“A lot of it is about feeling comfortable about his game and his overall game,” Julien said of Seguin’s recent play. “I think that’s what’s happening now.”

In 36 games this season, Seguin has six goals and seven assists.

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Schedule not letting up on Bruins after road trip 01.04.11 at 11:17 pm ET
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The Bruins have picked up a lot of things over their past six games, the last five of which were spent outside the confines of TD Garden. As the B’s return to Boston to face the Wild on Thursday, they do so as a more finely tuned machine, and one that doesn’t face nearly as many questions as it did two weeks ago.

Claude Julien's team is one of the hottest in the NHL, but the schedule isn't relenting. (AP)

The top line of Lucic-Savard-Horton showed signs of breaking out and eventually did when they produced a pair of goals on Monday in Toronto. The top line woes had been one of the biggest concerns for the B’s even as the team achieved success against the Thrashers and the early stops of the trip.

That’s not the only sign of things looking up for the B’s. Tuukka Rask got a whole 80 minutes worth of time between the pipes. Tyler Seguin is looking less like an 18-year-old rookie and and more like an NHL player, which will eventually mean some sort of doom for opposing goaltenders.

The Wheeler-Krecji-Ryder line is playing as well as any of the B’s lines have all year, while the Merlot Line can continue chugging along with the health of Gregory Campbell. Points aside, the B’s have plenty going for them as they return home.

The Bruins left for the trip as a team that had followed a 1-2-2 slump with a statement-making 4-1 victory over the Thrashers that included a night’s worth of fights on a single shift, and they return having solidified its standing as one of the best road squads in the league. Additionally, they have taken 10 points over a six-game stretch for the second time since the beginning of December.

Beginning with their Dec. 23 win, the B’s have been one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, as the 10 of a possible 12 points they have seized over their last six games is a mark that is matched only by three Eastern Conference teams: the Thrashers (4-0-2), the Lightning (5-1-0), and the Islanders (5-1-0).

On the trip, they went from second place in the Northeast to being owners of a three-point lead over the Canadiens, who have sputtered in notching only one win over their last three games. Given that both the Atlantic and Southeast divisions have boasted more points (both divisions have two teams with more than 50 points, while the Bruins lead the Northeast with 48), establishing a stranglehold on one of the top-three spots in the East by winning a weak division will be key for the Bruins to avoid having to battle for a playoff spot as the season progresses.

Though the last six games (4-0-2) have provided enough for hockey fans around Beantown to have a renewed faith in their squad, the test in this chunk of their schedule, so to speak, is not over. In fact, the five games they will play following Thursday night’s tilt with the Wild, regardless of venue, may be just as big a barometer for future success as the five they just wrapped up on the road.

After Thursday’s game, the B’s will hit the road for a pair of games that will kick off the following stretch: at Montreal, at Pittsburgh, vs. Ottawa, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Pittsburgh.

Of course, the Habs, Penguins (twice), and the Flyers are the teams that stand out in that stretch, as they all have a lot to do with the Bruins’ playoff picture going forward. Furthermore, after their performances against the teams yielded a mixed bag of results earlier in the season, it will be interesting to see how well this rejuvenated B’s team can handle the best the Eastern Conference has to offer.

The Bruins have a five-game sample of the three teams, and vs. the clubs they are a combined 2-2-1. They have dropped both contests vs. the Canadiens, while they beat the Flyers in Philadelphia before losing to them in overtime at the Garden. It was in Pittsburgh that the B’s, after entering the final period trailing by a score of 4-2, scored five third-period goals to give them a 7-4 victory on Nov. 10.

The Bruins will wind down (if you can call it that) from their tough stretch with a pair of games against the ninth-place Hurricanes, who blanked them at the Garden in the post-Thanksgiving matinee.

The B’s have reached one of many checkpoints along the season, but the schedule isn’t softening up on them yet.

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