Friday, July 30, 2010

Boston Bruins Prospects Series: #23 Craig Cunningham

Craig Cunningham, LW
5-10, 180
September 3, 1990
Shoots: Left
Boston's 4th choice, 97th overall, in 2010 Draft
Signing status: Unsigned

Talent Analysis

Physical: Short but stocky forward is naturally strong and better suited to transition from major junior to the pro grind than one would think simply by looking at his vitals on paper. Strong upper- and lower-body drive for his size. Very good skater who doesn't have explosive speed, but is highly quick and agile; outstanding edge control provides him the balance and elusiveness to slip checks and create space for himself. Soft hands for passing and scoring goals. Can feather feeds through traffic and find open teammates for quality scoring opportunities. Has a quick stick and is exceptionally good at getting it on loose pucks and putting them home in close. Chippy player who gives as good as he gets; not afraid to get his nose dirty. Doesn't have the size to be a physical force, but willingly initiates contact and finishes his checks-- plays with a lot of energy. Another dedicated gym rat who became a close friend and workout partner of Milan Lucic's when the two were teammates on the Memorial Cup-winning Vancouver Giants in 2006-07.

Intangibles: This fierce competitor has had to overcome a great deal before age 20; lost his father, Alvin, to a car accident 10 years ago and had to grow up quickly. Highly coachable player who is as mature and focused as any 19-year-old prospect you'll find. Has the kind of heart and desire that may transcend his size deficit at the next level, but has a ways to go before he'll be ready to seriously compete for an NHL job. An affable yet serious type who learned the value of hard work watching his mother, Heather, work two jobs to support him and his two brothers after his father passed away. One of those classic "more than the sum of his parts" type players you hear about; he elevated himself from 0 goals at age 16 to 11 to 28 to 37 this past season while facing other teams' best defensive focus. Driven to succeed and is a fine leader and teammate.

Boston Bruins 2010 Development Camp assessment
Cunningham kept the skeptics (present company included) at bay in Wilmington this month by showing off the skills and drive that the B's raved about when they drafted him with a surpisingly high pick for a player who was twice passed over previously in the draft. He played well on a line with Ryan Spooner and camp invite Tyler Brenner, going hard to the net and generating some good scoring opportunities. All three wore a teal penney throughout camp and scored goals while making it exciting for the fans in attendance. Cunningham also showed a nice chemistry skating with '09 top pick Jordan Caron when the team went to a three-on-three scrimmage format on the last day. Cunningham wasn't a dynamic presence, but he grew on me as the days progressed, and certainly did not look out of place.

The Bruins did not draft Cunningham with the thought of having him serve as an AHL Marty St. Pierre-type of filler player, but hope that he could one day become a fixture on their third line and see a lot of special teams time. If you listen to Cunningham's junior coach, Don Hay, and former NHL star and family friend Ray Ferraro, he's going to not only make it to the NHL one day, but stay there. If you look at the youngster's steady progression, there is reason to believe that he can make that happen at some point, but his lack of size will be the biggest obstacle to his quest to reach the highest level. He has an overage year of junior eligibility left, so depending on how Boston's contract and cap situation looks, they could defer his signing for another season, or go ahead and get the soon-to-be 20-year-old into the pro mix right away.

“He’s just such a coachable young man. Right from the time he was 16, he really understood everything that was being taught to him. He tried to do everything that was being taught to him, and he continually got better and better. The evolution is that he’s a 19-year-old player now; he knows what the expectations are and he’s grown with different leaders. He’s a real Giant-type player—he’s a really hard-working young man.”- Vancouver Giants Don Hay to; December, 2009

“When he was 16 we saw some skill in him, but he didn’t score a goal the whole year. But in that training camp with his own age group, he was one of the top players. We knew he had the skill, but he wasn’t having the success as far as putting up numbers. But killing penalties and doing all the things—playing five-on-five, finishing checks—he did all those things. Now, as a 19-year-old, his skill level has caught up and he’s been a real, real good player for us.”- Don Hay to; December, 2009

"We really like this kid. He led Vancouver in scoring andwas one of the top scorers in the entire WHL this past season, but beyond that, you have to look at what he's gone through in his life and how he's had to overcome a lot. He brings a lot of energy and passion to everything he does, and he's just one of those players that we looked at a lot this year and felt he brought both that scoring and character to the table."- Bruins director of amateur scouting Wayne Smith
to B2010DW; Los Angeles; June 26, 2010

"Craig Cunningham / LW ('90): Has become shifty and dangerous enough that he's turned into a real pro prospect. Seems to me like he's grown a little bit (maybe an inch or so) in the last two years, so that also helps. And he was one of the youngest players in the 2008 draft, so he's closer to being a part of last year's group. I'll be shocked if someone doesn't grab him at least late in the draft - could even go in the middle rounds. If somehow he doesn't go, he'll have a lot of calls from teams for a camp invite."- Mike Remmerde, NHL Draft Notes Blog, June 22, 2010

"It was a great experience. I really like all the guys here; it kind of felt like we became a team right away which was pretty cool. All the stuff we did in the first few days-- I mean-- it was hard, but I think it made the week easier as you got more and more comfortable within the organization and with the people you were around all day."- Craig Cunningham to B2010DW, Wilmington, Mass.; July 6-10, 2010

"I'm a two-way player. I can play a checking role or scoring role; it doesn't matter. I can play up or down the lineup-- I can be moved up or moved down. I pride myself on my work ethic and that's kind of what gets me to where I am today."- Craig Cunningham to B2010DW, Wilmington, Mass.; July 6-10, 2010

Fast rising Cunningham leads Vancouver Giants to the net

The Final Word
Looking back on it, it's easy to get caught up in the fact that the Bruins spent a top-100 pick on a player who was passed over some 420 times previously as Red Line Report pointed out in their July draft recap, where Cunningham was featured as one of the most "overvalued" picks of the draft. That said, some players simply take a longer time to develop, and in Cunningham's case, the skill was always there, he just took more time to put it together. I went to Wilmington interested in what he could do because the fact of the matter is, while sources I spoke to from the WHL beat at the draft expressed surprise that Cunningham was drafted as high as he was, not one person had a bad word for him. Not one. Now, is he going to be a legitimate NHL player, or one of these 'tweener guys who's an AHL star, but only plays bit roles now and then as he bounces around the circuit with numerous NHL clubs? That's for Cunningham to determine, but he's one of those guys who you come to appreciate the more you see him. He could in time prove the doubters wrong and establish himself as a valuable character role player who can do a little bit of everything.

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