The Bear Cave

July 13, 2009 6:53 AM

One Veteran and Two Rookies Added for Providence

With the Boston Bruins beginning to round into shape for the 2009-10 season, part of the organization's focus will now shift down to the American Hockey League. Thanks to some tremendous work in the areas of free agency and player development, the Providence Bruins have been one of the most consistent and successful franchises in the AHL. Providence has made the playoffs in each of the last eleven seasons, winning at least one series in seven of those postseason runs.

Through one week of free agency, things are looking good for the Baby B's. Earlier in the week, the big club signed goaltender Dany Sabourin and defenseman Drew Fata to one-year deals. Fata will give Providence an experienced blueliner, while Sabourin guarantees that there will be a solid number one goalie in either he or Tuukka Rask.

According to the PJ Star in Peoria, IL, the P-Bruins will have another new face in the lineup when the team takes the ice in October. That player is forward Trent Whitfield, who reportedly signed a two-year contract with Boston.

Oddly enough, Trent Whitfield was originally drafted by the Boston Bruins with the 100th overall pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. After five seasons with the WHL's Spokane Chiefs, Whitfield never suited up with the Boston organization. In the summer of 1998, the Alameda, SK native decided to sign on with the Washington Capitals, splitting the 1998-99 campaign between the AHL's Portland Pirates and ECHL's Hampton Roads Admirals. Whitfield would become a household name in Maine, as he would spend parts of the next seven seasons playing with the Pirates. In 348 career games with Portland, he recorded 103 goals, 153 assists, and 256 points, to rank fourth on their all-time scoring list. Whitfield also made frequent trips to Washington during that time, accumulating nine goals and eleven assists in 143 regular season games with the Capitals. There was also a one-game stint with the New York Rangers in that stretch, as waivers became a factor twice in less than a month.

After seven years with the Capitals and Pirates, it was time for a change in scenery for Whitfield. During the summer of 2005, Whitfield switched conferences, signing on with the St. Louis Blues. The 5-foot-11, 204-pound forward split the 2005-06 season between the Blues and the Peoria Rivermen, scoring seven points in 30 games with St. Louis, and 53 points in 41 games with the Rivermen. The next two seasons were spent exclusively in Peoria, where Whitfield compiled a total of 55 goals, 75 assists, and 130 points, while only missing one game. This past season, the 32-year old had 20 goals and 30 assists in 69 regular season tilts with the Rivermen, while also picking up one assist in three games with the Blues. Whitfield leaves the St. Louis organization as Peoria's all-time leading scorer since the Rivermen joined the AHL.

In Whitfield, the Bruins are getting a player who should gain quite the positive welcome from fans in Providence. Unfortunately for him, the chances of making the team in Boston are going to be slim, as most of the 2008-09 Bruins are returning. However, this is a player who has had a letter on his uniform in Portland and Peoria, meaning he can be counted on to lead his new teammates in a positive manner. Whitfield is a veteran of the AHL, who should be good for at least 20-25 goals. That will likely translate into a job as either the first or second line center with the Peebs. In the case of an injury at the NHL level, Trent could earn some minutes at the TD Banknorth Garden, while also making a serious push toward the second year of his contract.

While veterans always add nice pieces to the puzzle, Boston also took the time to get a pair of young faces under contract. Defensemen Rob Kwiet and Zach McKelvie were signed during this week's development camp, meaning that they could be headed for Rhode Island in the fall. Both were given entry-level contracts, with Kwiet signing for three years, and McKelvie signing for one.

Remembering back to the beginning of the week, Rob Kwiet comes to the organization a few months after winning one of Canada's biggest prizes - the Mastercard Memorial Cup. The 20-year old has a major offensive contributor for the Windsor Spitfires, registering 12 goals and 55 assists in 66 regular season games. Kwiet's production continued in the playoffs, when he had five goals and ten assists in 20 contests. One of the Toronto, ON native's biggest strengths in putting together those numbers is his ability to start a breakout from his own zone. So, although he might not have the booming slap shot of Johnny Boychuk, expect Kwiet to add offense to the Providence blueline by simply moving the puck.

24-year old Zach McKelvie is an interesting signing for Boston. McKelvie was unable to participate in the development camp, and is on the older side for a player still looking to make his professional debut. However, the Bruins must have seen something they liked in him, and if recent signings are any indication, the New Brighton, MN native should fit in just fine. McKelvie is coming off of a four-year career with Army, where he scored 14 goals, 42 assists, and 56 points in 134 games. McKelvie was the Black Knights' captain this past season, which should indicate another tremendous leader for the Providence locker room. On the ice, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound blueliner plays a good two-way game.

Leading up to the draft, the concern for the future appeared to be the lack of depth on the blueline. However, with Kwiet and McKelvie added into the mix, that should take care of the situation for at least one more year. Assuming that Matt Hunwick re-signs and Johnny Boychuk makes the team in Boston, the two newest members of the organization should fit in as Providence's fifth and sixth defensemen. Right now, the top four would consist of Drew Fata, Adam McQuaid, Andrew Bodnarchuk, and Jeff Penner.

Speaking of Matt Hunwick, the NHL assigned Boston's defenseman with an arbitration hearing date of July 24th. If Hunwick and the Bruins are unable to agree on a deal before then, a neutral party will become the deciding factor. It is rather surprising that the two sides haven't come to terms yet. That being said, the general consensus states that one will get done at some point this week.

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