Dominic Tiano: Could Mattias Ekholm Be A Fit For the Bruins?

Dominic Tiano continues to carry the TSP blog with his tremendous insight and knowledge. Here’s his latest in looking at potential additions to a Bruins group that is among the best in the NHL right now.– KL

With respect to the post’s titular question, our answer at TSP is: Absolutely. There isn’t a team in the National Hockey League that couldn’t use the 30-year-old left shooting defenseman on one of the best bargain contracts that carries a cap hit of just $3,750,000.

The Nashville defender signed his current deal on October 26, 2015. It was a six-year deal worth $22,500,000, meaning he has one more year left on the deal before he becomes and unrestricted free agent.

According to CapFriendly, as of this morning there are only 5 teams that have more cap space than the Bruins. Not one of those five teams are currently a playoff team and are all in different stages of a rebuild.

Cap-wise, the Bruins are in great shape and can literally fit Ekholm’s contract under the cap without having to move out any salary. But obviously, Nashville is going to want a young NHL player back in return, among other pieces.

But why would Nashville move on from Ekholm? There is something wrong with the Predators, and no one seems to know what that is. They currently sit seventh in the Central Division, just one point up on the lowly Detroit Red Wings and some sort of retooling is needed.

Nashville’s goaltending has been mediocre at best. They have a contract like Matt Duchene which is virtually unmovable, as is that of Ryan Johansen. Viktor Arvidsson is also on a great deal, but he is off to a very bad start this season.

Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis aren’t going anywhere and neither is Filip Forsberg. So, it makes sense that with his contract, Ekholm could bring in the best return. In fact, there could be a bidding war for his services like we haven’t seen in some time.

Several NHL Insiders are reporting Ekholm is on the market including Chris Johnson,while Pierre LeBrun is hinting at it. There are even reports from Ekholm’s native Sweden that the defender is available.

It’s reasonable to assume the Preds would want one of the Bruins young defencemen back in return. It’s almost certain the Preds are going to want a draft pick back in return, likely a first, as well as another prospect.

That young defender the Preds would likely ask for is Jeremy Lauzon. But sources tell me that GM Don Sweeney does not want to move Lauzon and would consider protecting him in the expansion draft – although, if they acquire Ekholm they might have to re-think their strategy there. The prospect ask going the other way could be someone like Jakub Lauko.

But we know how negotiations work. Sweeney could offer a second if the Preds are intent on Lauzon and up the ante to a first if the Preds were to take Jakub Zboril instead for example.

Two things are a certainty if the Preds move on from Ekholm: 1) David Poile is going to be busy talking with the other 30 General Managers and 2) Sweeney will make a phone call to the 615 area code.

Sweeney has an advantage here over other GM’s. Along with the help of Evan Gold, he has cap space to make the deal now, is not forced to move out cap space, doesn’t have to wait until closer to trade deadline to lower Ekholm’s cap hit and he has the assets to swing a deal.

Dominic Tiano: Grading the Bruins D

Dominic Tiano is back with his assessment of how the Boston Bruins defense has played through one quarter of the 2021 NHL season. Enjoy!- KL

When Torey Krug signed with the St Louis Blues and Zdeno Chara ultimately decided to sign with the Washington Capitals, there was nothing but unanswered questions surrounding the Boston Bruins blue line for the 2020-21 National Hockey League season.

Who was going to replace Krug on the powerplay? Who is going to replace the offense from the blue line? Who was going to replace Chara on the penalty kill? Who was going to shut down the opposition’s top lines? Who was going to replace Chara’s leadership? It was question after question after question, and when you tried to answer them, fans didn’t like the answers.

We are officially at the quarter-way point of the season, so this is a good sample size to look at how the young defense has performed thus far.

The 2019-20 President’s Trophy winners dressed ten different defensemen and they combined for a total of 32 goals and 112 assists in the 70-game shortened season.

This season, the Bruins have dressed eight defensemen and only because of the injuries to Matt Grzelcyk and have scored 3 goals and 21 assists. That projects to 12 goals and 84 assists for the season. Pro-rated over 70 games, that is 15 goals and 105 assists. The helpers are fine, but they are on pace to score half of what last year’s blue line did and despite the 10-2-2 start, it could be a problem moving forward.  

Last season, the Bruins had the third best penalty kill with an 84.19% success rate Mostly on the backs of Chara and Brandon Carlo. To date this season, the Bruins rank second with an 88.0% success rate largely on the backs of Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon. They are backed up by Charlie McAvoy and Kevan Miller, with Lauzon and Miller picking up the Chara minutes.

At the other end of the ice is where the loss of Krug was thought to be most impactful, especially the powerplay. Coach Bruce Cassidy has tried different things including five forwards at times. A year ago, with Krug manning the point, the Bruins had the second best powerplay in the league converting on 25.22% of their opportunities. This season they rank eighth but are converting on 27.27% of their chances, an increase of 2.02%. But they need a blueliner that can take the reigns there and the injuries to Grzelcyk don’t help. As we saw last against the Islanders, using 5 forwards can cost you.

The loss of Chara on the blue line, and Krug for that matter, takes away some leadership on the back end, but you can’t underestimate the leadership of Miller, now the grey-beard on the team. He can keep his teammates calm and cool under pressure. Not to mention the young guys stepping into the role. Carlo has over 300 games under his belt and Grzelcyk and McAvoy around 200. They will be counted on to take up some of the leadership slack left by Chara’s departure.

Cassidy and his coaching staff have also adjusted the system employed now that he has a more mobile unit on the backend. First off, they’ve tried to employ a more traditional shut-down defender with a puck mover on each pair, something that has worked so far.

Secondly, when defending, the defense has the green light for both guys to activate below their own goal line with the centerman usually covering the net in front of Tuukka Rask or Jaroslav Halak. Third, they all have the green light to skate out of the zone. And finally, because of the young legs, they can all activate at the offensive blue line and pinch down deep, something the coaching staff keeps encouraging them to do.

Coming into the season we preached how young this defense was going to be and that there would be growing pains. The growing pains have been evident, but not consistently and it has yet to hurt the team but, there is a long way to go.

Here’s a look at the Bruins defense, our Grade, and what we’ve seen so far:

CHARLIE MCAVOY Grade: A

I will be the first to admit it: Charlie McAvoy should be an A+. But for me, to earn an A+ you need to excel in every area of the game and McAvoy is doing that in every situation except one and that is the power play, although that is through no fault of his own. Cassidy prefers a left shot defender up top on the first unit which is why, when Grzelcyk is healthy, he gets those opportunities first. Cassidy has also used five forwards (at times) in the absence of Grzelcyk instead of McAvoy with David Krejci (who happens to be a right shot) at the point.

In the absence of Krug, McAvoy has taken his game to another level offensively. He is on pace to set career highs in goals, assists and points – all in just a 56-game schedule. He leads the team in assists and points, shot attempts and shots on goal and he can drive the offense from the back end like few others can.

It’s not just about offense though. He’s trusted to defend, almost always going up against the opposition’s top players. He kills penalties, he’s physical, he’s a one-man breakout machine and he easily leads his fellow blue liners in blocked shots with 29.

McAvoy is a minute eating defender who does it with quality. He leads the blue line averaging 24:19 in time on ice – 4:34 more per game than the next closest, his partner Lauzon. He leads them by a wide margin in even strength time on ice, exactly 20 minutes and he averages 2:09 in powerplay time and 2:14 in penalty kill time per game.

McAvoy will get some serious consideration for the Norris Trophy this season. Well deserved consideration. His time as a true number one defenseman in the NHL has arrived.

JEREMY LAUZON Grade: B

A lot of eyebrows were raised when it was suggested here, and the coaching staff gave Lauzon the duties of skating beside McAvoy. Has he disappointed anyone? Lauzon has been the steady defensive defenseman that can be relied upon and that in turn, gives McAvoy the opportunity to concentrate more on offense. He refuses to be outworked and leads his team in hits with 39.

He’s been winning the majority of his battles along the walls and in front of the net. Not only is he good at clearing his zone, he can make a good first pass as well and usually makes the right decisions. He’s become a staple in the penalty kill leading all Bruins blueliners in PK time on a PK that had an efficiency of 84.19% a season ago to 88.0% this season. The coaching staff is showing they are gaining more and more confidence in him and it is reflected in his average time on ice. Averaging 19:45 TOI, Lauzon trails only McAvoy at 24:19 in that department.

As we saw against the Washington Capitals on February 1, Lauzon does have some offensive abilities. Where the coaching staff used him mostly for defensive zone draws prior to that, they have been giving him more and more offensive starts lately, to the point where is starts are virtually even. Again, he trails only McAvoy in attempted shots on goal with 41 and shots on goal with 21 and Grzelcyk in percentage that get on goal with 51.2%.

MATT GRZELCYK Grade: B-

Playing in just one game in between two injuries has limited Grzelcyk to just six games on the season. Despite his size, we know what we get from him. Quick on his skates, retrieves pucks quickly and transitions even faster. Uses his positioning and his stick to defend well. His metrics across the board are very good and there is no denying that.

I know many people will question this grade but hear me out. Grzelcyk is suppose to be the guy to replace Krug on the point on the first powerplay unit. Six games just aren’t enough of a sample size to determine if he is that guy – yet. But if he is, then an A Grade is definitely on the horizon.

What we do know is Grzelcyk can sure pass and he can make smart plays. While he doesn’t posses the same kind of shot from the point that can beat a goaltender like Krug can, Grzelcyk shoots smartly. He likes to send pucks towards the goal and in just six games has directed 20 shots towards the net. A whopping 65% of those shots have reached the netminder. How good is that? Only one other defenceman is above 50% (Lauzon, 51.2%). Even McAvoy is firing at 46.4%.

That’s an important skill for a point man to have, especially since the Bruins appear to have found their permanent net front presence in Nick Ritchie. If Grzelcyk can come back and take the reigns and be effective on the powerplay, his grade can only go up.

BRANDON CARLO Grade: B

Carlo is quite simply one of the premier shut down defenders in the NHL. At 6’5” and over 210 pounds, he is a superb skater. Although he isn’t as physical as many fans want him to be, Carlo has some amazing strength that makes him a force in front of his goaltenders and a defender that the opposition doesn’t relish battling along the walls. He can go up against the oppositions best and paired with Lauzon on the penalty kill, form on of the better PK pairs in the NHL.

It’s noticeable that Carlo wants to be more involved in the offense and he has taken it upon himself to do just that. Carlo could very well surpass his career high of 19 points from a season ago, and do it in the shortened 56-game schedule.

Carlo has somewhat slowed that offensive down lately, largely due to the turnstile of partners he’s had, with little chance to get some chemistry going. He’s usually paired with Grzelcyk, but injuries have limited him to just 6 games. When the latter was out, it was with Clifton and then on what was a back-to-back situation, John Moore. And as mentioned, he is usually paired with Lauzon on the PK but also with Miller at times.

We fully expect that once Grzelcyk returns and Carlo gets a regular partner, that he will continue to push forward offensively.

JAKUB ZBORIL Grade: B-

Perhaps the growing pains are more evident in Zboril than any of the other d-men. And that is not a knock on him. He is the least experience of the group and the talent he possesses is clearly evident. But once in a while he might make you want to throw your remote through your 72” TV.  

Again, they were expected to happen. But if you can set them aside for a moment and look at the good things, then we should be happy with what we are seeing. It’s true that Cassidy is somewhat sheltering him with the most offensive zone starts on the blue line at 63.4%, but the coach is also trying to get him accustomed to the NHL at the same time. When Lauzon was serving his 5 plus 10 with his fight in New York, Cassidy had no hesitation in throwing Zboril out there to kill a penalty. It’s in him, but it is evident the coach wants to take it slowly.

Cassidy is also willing to use Zboril on the powerplay and eventually, Zboril might just excel at it. He has an excellent shot from the point but he definitely needs to work on getting it through. He’s third among the blueliners with 36 attempted shots on goal, but is a team worst 36.1% getting it on the net, either missing the target or having it blocked. It’s not a matter of if, but when he gets better at that, good things will happen for him.

In his own zone, he’s good at retrieving pucks and transitioning, makes a good first pass, but more importantly, he can skate out of danger. He’s learning how strong NHL players are as compared to AHL players, but that to will come and some of the misfortunes he’s had will become less and less frequent.

KEVAN MILLER Grade: B-

When General Manager Don Sweeney inked Miller to his contract there was an uproar through Bruins Nation. Many eyebrows were raised and many questions were asked. Why sign Miller before Chara? Why sign a player that has not played in almost two years? And more importantly, why sign a player that is coming off of two major knee surgeries?

Well, 14 games into the season things have changed, and might I add, dramatically. In a poll I conducted on Twitter with over 500 hundred votes, Miller was the overwhelming choice by fans as the 7th Player Award winner to date with over 40% of the vote. (He was followed by Nick Ritchie with 28%)

However, it’s more than just being able to skate in 14 games when there was doubt (in the minds of fans) that he could not just play quality hockey, but play at all. Miller can play both sides of the ice with little difference when on his weak side. We’ve seen it a lot when paired with McAvoy on the second pair killing penalties. He’s physical and hits hard, trailing only Lauzon in hits with 30.

He’s a guy the coaches can depend on to defend a one goal lead in the last minute. He wins his battles along the walls and is hard to move. As we saw against the Rangers, down a man and the Rangers goaltender pulled for an extra attacker, Miller on his off side paired with Carlo, ate up a lot of the time remaining on the clock buy keeping the puck along the boards behind the goal line.

Despite Miller’s superb work on the PK and in key defensive situations, he and his usual partner in Zboril are getting some sheltered starts from Coach Cassidy, with over 61% of the pair’s zone starts being in the offensive zone.

CONNOR CLIFTON Grade: B-

Cliffy Hockey, what can we say? If there is one player in the NHL that plays much bigger than 5’11” and 175 pounds, it’s Clifton. While Lauzon leads the team in hits, it’s actually Clifton that leads the squad in hits per game with 3.3. He plays physical, he can defend and he can skate. He’s pretty underrated in some circles as a puck carrier, but he can move the puck. And he will stand up for a teammate.

Clifton doesn’t get much specialty team time on ice. The coaching staff use him primarily in 5 on 5 situations, but when one of the other d-men are in the box, they have no hesitation in using him on the PK.

It’s hard to imagine that on many teams he wouldn’t be a starter in the top six. For now, he is the 7th defenseman on this squad who will see time when someone goes down with an injury or is in need of a break.

With Clifton what you see is what you get: 100% effort on every shift, accountability and determination. You couldn’t ask for more from a player in his spot.

John Moore was left off the list because one game just isn’t enough to grade him on, even though he had a very good first game of the season against the Islanders.

We’ve sometimes repetitively said there would be growing pains with this young defence. And there has been on any given night one guy is not at his best. What we haven’t seen is those growing pains as a group. When one is struggling, the other five pick up the slack, and that is part of the reason they sit 10-2-2 one-quarter of the way through the season.

Dominic Tiano: Salary Cap 101- Explaining the Bruins’ Cap Situation

Dominic Tiano provides this helpful tutorial on NHL capology and how the constant juggling act currently affects the Boston Bruins. We couldn’t break it down and answer your many questions about the nuts and bolts of the NHL’s economics without our resident capologist and 4th Amigo- KL

I never would have imagined that one tweet about deadline cap space would generate as many questions as it has. With that said, I will try and explain it in detail what that means as your Boston Bruins enter uncharted territory (for them) with a boat load of cap space and how the brain trust of Don Sweeney and Evan Gold use it to their advantage.

To begin with, there are two changes that you’ll have to remember. First, a normal NHL season usually has 186 days in that season. Because of the shortened season, that number is now 116. Second, there are 26 days remaining in the season after trade deadline.

The next focus is on the taxi squad. The taxi squad is considered being in the AHL, so while a player is on the taxi squad, his cap hit does not count. The NHL cap is calculated daily so when a player is on the taxi squad, his cap space is not being counted towards the cap, thus “banking cap space”.

The best way to explain that is to use Trent Frederic as an example since the Bruins have used him the most in paper transactions to bank some cap space. Frederic carries a cap hit of $925,000 and that is what the Bruins would be charged if he were to remain on the roster for the full 116 days.

Today marks day 26 of the NHL season. Frederic has been on the NHL roster for only 14 of those days with the other 12 on the taxi squad. If you take $925,000/116 that gives you a daily cap hit of $7,974. By sending Frederic to the taxi squad his accumulated cap hit is now $7,974 X 14 or $111,638 where as if he remained on the roster throughout the full 26 days it would be $7,974 X 26 or $207,325. That’s a savings of $95,687. (numbers are rounded as we aren’t using fractions of dollars).

The affects can be seen in the following charts:

The cap hit is calculated by the cap hits of the players on the roster and those that have been on the roster at any point during the season. Earned bonuses have no current affect as they are not charged to the team until the end of the season, although they may want to plan for it.

The projected cap space is what you need to focus on here (ignore the Deadline Space for now, we’ll explain that later). The projection is based on the current roster if it remains the same until the end of the season. However, we know that it will not and there will be changes almost daily.

As you can see, the Bruins cap space projects to be $3,578,368 if the roster remains unchanged until the end of the season with a Deadline Space of $15,965,026 (again, we will explain Deadline Space later). 

The chart below shows the difference between moving Frederic up and down to the taxi squad and if he had remained on the roster for the full 116 days of the regular season. 

As you can see, the projected cap space decreases to $2,765,006 and the deadline space to $12,336,181 (I promise we will get to the Deadline Space).

While it’s true the difference between Frederic’s current cap hit (14 days on the roster) and his $925,000 normal cap hit is substantial, thus skewing the numbers a bit, it must be remembered that at some point Jake DeBrusk, Jack Studnicka and Ondrej Kase are going to come off of injured reserve. That would put the Bruins at a 24-man roster therefore, someone is going to have to go back down to the taxi squad to get to the 23-man roster limit (barring any further injuries) so the numbers aren’t really that skewed.

Now, to the dreaded deadline space.

The replies I have received suggest it is some form of cheating and that they can exceed the cap. That’s not true and I hope this will clear that up for you. Deadline space is the average annual value (AAV) of contracts that can be added and still remain compliant at the end of the season.

If you refer to the second chart above again, the Bruins have $12,336,181 in deadline space. That means they can add two players with an AAV of $6 million each and still remain cap compliant at the end of the season.

Remember, the cap is calculated daily, and there are only 26 days remaining in the season after trade deadline, so the actual cap hit to the Bruins is $6 million/116 for a daily cap hit of $52,724 and over 26 days that’s a cap hit of $1,344,824. For two players carrying an AAV of $6 million that comes to $2,689,648, and that puts them below the $2,765,006 in the cap space they would have had at the end of the season.

So, the question becomes “how do you know what AAV you can add at trade deadline and remain compliant?”

If you don’t want to dig out your calculators that’s okay, I will do the math for you!

Using the second chart, if you take the Projected Cap Space of $3,578,368 and divide it by 26 (the number of days remaining after trade deadline) that gives you the daily cap space of $137,630. If you then multiply that by 116 (the number of days in the NHL season) that gives you $15,965,026 or the AAV that can be added at trade deadline and remain cap compliant.

I hope that clears it up for you.

2021 Season Bruins Prospects Ranking- Updated

Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

The 4 Amigos teamed up to give you the 2021 season ranking of the Boston Bruins prospects as they see it. This is likely the last time you will see Jack Studnicka, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon on the list of prospects here at TSP.

The 4 met up recently via online call to compare their lists and compiled the ranking based on a couple of basic criteria: players must be under age 25, and prospects are ranked and ordered based on long-term potential and impact at the NHL level. That’s pretty much it. A subjective process to be sure, but done based on knowledge, direct and indirect observations and intuitive projection.

Here’s the list, followed by some observations for broader context (not all prospects have follow-up comments, just the ones we felt strongly enough to share some light on).

So, last call for Studnicka and some of his mates- we’ll see how this all looks after this season and in the next several years. -T4A

Forwards

  1. Jack Studnicka, C/RW
  2. John Beecher, C
  3. Trent Frederic, LW/C
  4. Curtis Hall, C
  5. Trevor Kuntar, LW
  6. Oskar Steen, C
  7. Jakub Lauko, LW
  8. Cameron Hughes, C
  9. Pavel Shen, C
  10. Matt Filipe, C/LW
  11. Zach Senyshyn, RW
  12. Matias Mantykivi, LW
  13. Quinn Olson, LW
  14. Riley Duran, C
  15. Jake Schmaltz, C
  16. Joona Koppanen, C
  17. Jack Becker, RW

1. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think Jack Studnicka is the top prospect in the organization, let alone the top forward. We have been saying it since his draft year – He’s a Patrice Bergeron-lite.

Studnicka isn’t flashy, but he does everything and he does it with an effort that is unmatched by many. Most impressive is his ability to think the game like Bergeron. As Reed likes to say “he has a computer between the ears.” He’s played a 200-foot game since junior and excels in all three zones. He can play the power play, he can kill penalties, he can shut down the opposition’s top players, he can provide offence, he has superb leadership qualities and surprisingly, he’s not afraid to be the first one in to defend a teammate.

All things considered, Studnicka translates into an excellent second line center who you can use in any situation. The only thing preventing him from being a top line pivot in the NHL is that only time will tell if the offense he was able to provide in the OHL and AHL can translate to the big league.– Dominic Tiano

2. After some discussion and debating, the amigos landed on Johnny Beecher for the No. 2 spot behind Studnicka. Beecher, 19, is currently in the middle of his sophomore campaign at the University of Michigan. Beecher, 6’3” — 210lbs, started off slow in terms of production this season, however, he’s remained a top-six center through it all. The context on his slow start can be explained quite simply— he was playing well and just didn’t have many points to show for it.

Following his selection to Team USA for the World Junior tournament this winter, Beecher received an alleged false-positive COVID-19 test, knocking him out of the competition. Beecher, freshly out of quarantine and protocols, has since returned to Michigan and is riding a four-game point streak. He’s right back up to .50 PPG with 4G-2A-6PTS in 12GP and even tucked himself an explosive breakaway goal this past weekend. While it must be noted that Beecher lacks the creativity of a typical, top-six playmaker, he makes up for it in another areas to get the job done.

I’m not the biggest fan of comparisons, however, Beecher draws similarities to that of current Boston Bruins center Charlie Coyle. Like No. 13 in Boston, Beecher has elite skating ability at his height and weight. Quite frankly, his skating and physical tools are NHL-caliber and he should have himself a career on those merits alone. Beecher has incredibly soft hands that you don’t find in many plus-sized forwards, let alone with his weight and power. He’s able to weave in and out of players, driving wide and touring the zone with silky-smooth movements.

Beecher forces more breakaways than essentially any prospect in the NCAA right now and while he’s not a sniper, he’s an elusive, deceptive forward capable of tucking it home. He won’t be batting 1.000 on breakaway goals, but he’s certainly going tuck his fair share moving forward. There just aren’t many forwards out there that skate, accelerate, move and stickhandle like Beecher does at his size. It’s those reasons that made the decision easy for us to place him at No. 2 behind Studnicka.- Anthony Kwetkowski

3. While currently playing in Boston and quickly rising as a fan favorite, Trent Frederic already brings a lot to the bottom-six while still having room for growth. The 22-year-old center is an athletic, rugged player standing at 6’3” and 215 lbs. Frederic has been torching his way though the AHL for two years now, scoring at a .50 PPG clip and fighting anyone who will go with him. His well-rounded game highlights his constant, infuriating style of play which is as aggressive as it is entertaining.

Drafted at the end of the first-round by Boston in 2016, there’s always been some controversy surrounding Frederic. That said, he’s a career .50 PPG player in the AHL and led the league in PIM last year with 148. He’s big, strong, tough, athletic and aggressive night in and night out. Frederic, similar to Beecher, isn’t the most creative forward out there and that’s not really his style. However, he does have an excellent shot and has been beaten goalies clean for a few years now. His impact on the game isn’t limited by his average creativity because he’s effective in many other facets of the game.

Hitting, fighting isn’t exactly what it used to be in the NHL, but Frederic possesses both of those talents in spades. After all, this is the same player who beat the brakes of Brandon Tanev in his NHL debut. Frederic has yet to get on the scoreboard, but if the first two games of the season are any indication, he’s bound to be potting a few goals sooner than later. There’s something to be said for guys who make their presence felt each shift and aren’t afraid to shoot.

Frederic ranks No. 3 for us due to many factors, most importantly are his size, toughness and skill. Sure, he lacks the creativity of a top-six center, however, he’s still a good skater with an excellent shot. There really aren’t many players out there who have the package of tools available to them like Frederic and he’s clearly making an impact in the NHL right now— points or no points.- A.K.

4. It’s a lost season for Curtis Hall, who like so many Ivy League hockey players, saw the year officially cancelled back in November, meaning he’s essentially out a year of development. Not ideal, but there’s still much to like here.

The big, rangy center is smart and has decent skill- even if he projects to be more of a two-way forward (whether he plays up the middle or slides to wing when he turns pro is TBD). The B’s got nice draft value for Hall, who didn’t put up big numbers in junior but has seen his offense blossom more in the NCAA. He won’t lose any of his college eligibility over the 20-21 cancellation, but for the Bruins, not getting the games in could mean his eventual signing to a pro contract could be delayed by a year. It’s still tough to project what he will eventually be in another 4-5 years, but given his natural tools and pro attributes, he broke into the top-5 even without the games to measure him this season by.- K.L.

6. Joining the Providence Bruins for the 2019-20 season after a breakout 2018-19 with Farjestad of the SHL, Oskar Steen took some time to adjust to the North American game. Over the 2nd half of the abbreviated season he really found his stride in the AHL, finishing the season with 7 goals & 16 assists for 23 points in 60 games which placed the talented Swede 8th in Providence scoring. A strong competitor at 5’9” 187lbs, Steen is known for his offensive acumen but won’t shy away from physical contact either. A smart 200 foot player, Steen returned to Sweden with Bjorkloven in the Allsvenskan to open the season recording 12 goals & 3 assists for 15 points in 16 games, Steen’s 12 goals still leads Bjorkloven despite the team having played 14 games without him. Steen’s future at the NHL level may be as a winger but he is an exciting prospect who could bring speed, skill and fire into the middle-6 for the Bruins in the next couple of seasons.– Reed Duthie

10. When the Carolina Hurricanes opted not to sign 2016 third-round pick Matt Filipe after he finished four years in the Hockey East this past spring, the B’s jumped on the local (Lynnfield) and former Malden Catholic HS and Northeastern University product. The rugged, big-bodied center isn’t flashy or dynamic- more of a versatile, Swiss Army Knife-type forward who is intelligent and plays the game the right way. A good north-south skater who is tough to play against, he looks like a solid eventual role player if he makes the NHL. While not having dynamic scoring potential, we feel like Filipe has the potential to be a culture guy who enhances the room, competes hard and is tough to play against, and could eventually develop into a Noel Acciari-kind of forward. It also speaks to the shallow pool of current B’s prospect talent that he’s 10th, but he’s there as a high-motor, high-character type who could beat the standard projections, just like Acciari did.- K.L.

11. This was one of the more debated prospects in the system, at least among forwards. Three of us actually had Zach Senyshyn higher on their list and one had him lower. After the debate, we settled on this spot just outside of the top-10. Before we go on, it must be pointed out that we believe the Bruins have not given up hope of him carving out an NHL career, eventually.

But here’s the issue that was brought up in support of moving him down the list: Instead of judging Senyshyn on NHL potential, we judged him on potential with the Bruins. It’s clear to everyone that David Pastrnak will be the number one right wing on the squad for years to come. Ondrej Kase will be given every opportunity to prove that the Bruins made the right choice in dealing for him. Finally, Craig Smith was brought in to the fold as a right wing for the next three years. He’s also not a 4th line player in the sense that the Bruins like to utilize their 4th line and Chris Wagner is locked in there for 3 seasons. With the season set out to be the way it is, there was virtually no opportunity for Senyshyn to crack the lineup. As for next season, well, it all comes down to Kase and what he can do. For Senyshyn to do it, that’s who he is going to have to beat out.- D.T.

12. On the rise- Finnish prospect Matias Mantykivi has already broken through as a regular in Finland’s SM-Liiga having skated in 59 games at the country’s top level over the past season and a half and continues to improve. A project for the Bruins to monitor, Mantykivi is likely to surpass his rookie pro output in his sophomore season as well as having represented Finland at the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship. Projecting as a 3rd line forward who can bring some offense as well as a rounded 200-ft game, look for the Bruins organization to bring Mantykivi to North America by the 2022-23 season.- R.D.

13. We expected more juice from Quinn Olson, now in his second NCAA season, than we’ve seen to date, which accounts for his being ranked currently in the bottom-5. Good player and still a sneaky-good pick by Boston in 2019, but he’s off to a slow start, and we may not see the projected offense come to the fore until junior or senior seasons for him. He’s fast, smart and can do a little bit of everything, and while he does have more potential on paper than say…Filipe…he’s also fighting more of an uphill battle because the B’s have more Olson type players in the system right now.

Defense

  1. Mason Lohrei, LD
  2. Urho Vaakanainen, LD
  3. Jeremy Lauzon, LD
  4. Jack Ahcan, LD
  5. Jakub Zboril, LD
  6. Dustyn McFaul, LD
  7. Victor Berglund, RD
  8. Nick Wolff, LD
  9. Roman Bychkov, LD
  10. Mason Langenbrunner, RD

1. Sitting atop the defenseman rankings at No. 1, Mason Lohrei isn’t a benefactor to the recency bias, instead he’s a blossoming, top-tier defensive prospect playing in a top developmental league. Lohrei, 20*, is the backbone and lifeline for a talented Green Bay Gamblers squad. On any given night, you can find Lohrei quarterbacking the powerplay and racking up points, driving the offense from his zone forward.

Although I addressed it at the start of this review, let me reiterate that Mason Lohrei isn’t No. 1 because of recency bias. The recently converted forward-turned-defenseman (at Culver Military Academy) has simply begun blossoming into a true play-driving defender in his second year. Standing at 6’4” and already 200lbs+, Lohrei has puck-skills that will bring you back to the days of watching Hamilton play in juniors as a Boston prospect.

Although Lohrei might not be a carbon copy of Dougie Hamilton, when you watch him, and I mean really watch him, you’ll see those similar, seamless high-end tools with and without the puck. He’s able to stop on a dime and adjust his direction with ease. He’s able to snap a puck on net (or into the back of it for that matter) from the blue line with accuracy, power and purpose. The second-year USHL defenseman has utilized that shot to maintain his place atop the scoring list for his position with 9G-16A-25PTS in 18GP. An excellent skater, Lohrei is able to utilize his feet and drive play in traditional two-way fashion.

While this ranking might seem controversial, I really don’t believe it is. Boston, while home for many other solid prospects, just doesn’t have many drivers in the system as a result of remaining competitive and graduating talent to the NHL. Lohrei has been exactly that this year in the USHL, by the way. Whether it’s against 2000, 2001 or 2002-birth year players (2003 and 2004 birth years also compete in the league), Lohrei is able to shoot, score, pass and skate through all of the high-end talent his league has to offer. With that said, he’s still a converted defenseman and needs time to develop, round out his game for the next levels. He’ll be at Ohio State next year and is expected to make an immediate impact upon arrival.

At the end of the day, Lohrei ranks No. 1 in the system for us because he has true top-pairing potential. He’s playing in the USHL and dominating on a nightly basis, especially late-night into overtime or period three where he’s good for a league-leading six (5) game-winning goals. Lohrei, the USHL’s top-scoring defenseman, is also in sole possession of sixth place in overall scoring with 25 points. Green Bay captain and fellow Boston prospect, Jake Schmaltz, is three (3) points behind Lohrei with 22 points, for additional context.

Lohrei is the real deal and projects as a future top-pairing option for Boston’s blue line. He’s going to need a few years to get there and I’m sure he’ll have a few blunders along the way. However, it’s time to face the music and tip your cap— Lohrei is a high-end prospect with a potentially bright future ahead of him.- A.K.

3. We had a small debate about where Lauzon belonged on this list but there was no pounding the table on his behalf. The consensus is that Lauzon tops out as a second pair defender. But as of today, he is also the best suited to fill in on the top pair next to Charlie McAvoy. And through camp, it looks like the Bruins will give him every opportunity in that role.

I see Lauzon bringing what teammate Brandon Carlo does to the defensive game except with more physicality and more offensive upside. That’s right, more offensive upside. There has been some misinformation on social media suggesting that Lauzon has never shown any offensive ability. But the fact is that in his 2014-15 draft season, he outscored all QMJHL defensemen selected in the 2015 NHL Draft. And of all the CHL defensemen taken ahead of him in 2015, Ivan Provorov is the only defenseman that scored as many goals as Lauzon (15) did. In his draft plus one year, Lauzon finished 5th among QMJHL defensemen in scoring, ahead of St. John teammates Jakub Zboril and Thomas Chabot

Whether his offensive game translates to the NHL is yet to be determined. But what he will provide next to McAvoy is a seasoned left-shot defender who can handle the defensive game and allow McAvoy to play his game and start taking more risks in the O-zone. It has often been said that McAvoy had to sacrifice offense to cover up for Zdeno Chara (if you want to believe in that narrative). But with Lauzon, he need not worry about that.- D.T.

4. Similar to former Boston defender Torey Krug, Ahcan is an undersized player fighting an uphill battle. Ahcan, 5’8”, might be undersized, but he’s also one of the most well-rounded defenseman you’ll find. He ranks No. 4 on our list for a few reasons and not a single one of them is because we don’t think he’s capable moving forward. In fact, we all unanimously agreed that he has high-end tools as well, especially in the skating department.

Ahcan, a traditional two-way defenseman, has been driving the play from the backend for St. Cloud State over the course of three seasons. He served as their No. 1 quarterback on the PP and also go-to defenseman at 5-on-5. Notice how I said “defenseman at 5-on-5” and not producer? Well, that’s because he’s actually an extremely good defender who uses his strengths to overcome his main weakness— size. Listen, when we have Ahcan ranked at No. 4 behind Lohrei, Vaakanainen and Lauzon, we’re not saying that he isn’t going to make it or won’t overcome his size. Instead, we’re imply saying that while he’s undeniably talented and electric, he’s also undersized and has more work cut out for him.

What Ahcan lacks in size, however, he more than makes up for in high-end skating, vision, playmaking and defensive ability. He’s able to skate on-par with that of Matt Grzelcyk, but can also deliver extremely powerful hits in a small frame. Actually, come to think of it, Ahcan was widely regarded as the best hitter in his entire college conference. Just search for my twitter (@BruinsNetwork) nd you’ll find many examples. Ahcan, though yet to be seen, has the potential to one day become a driver himself in the NHL. His talent is certainly of that caliber and his attitude is exactly what you want in a player. His electric, all-out style of play is something that’s currently lacking in Boston; he doesn’t take a night off and always wants two things— the puck on his stick and to deliver a big hit.

Ahcan, 23, has his challenges, given that he’s undersized and already in his prime developmental years. That said, his size has always been a question and he chewed up D1 NCAA rosters while making it look easy. He’s decked guys with inches and pounds on him, but he’s also made them look silly on the offensive side of the ice as well. Ahcan has the talent of a top-four defenseman in my opinion. I believe his high-end tools are first-round caliber and he’s been able to overcome his height so far at each level. Will he overcome the next challenge in the AHL and then NHL? We will begin to find out.- A.K.

5. Bruins fans tend to malign the 2015 draft, but one must bear in mind that Jakub Zboril was drafted where he should have been given how the B’s missed out on all of the D in the top tier. At the time, we didn’t question whether Zboril had the skill level to play in the NHL, but rather whether he had the hockey sense and character.

We’re about to find out, as he will finally be given an opportunity to show that he can play in the NHL. His skillset says he belongs on this list, but where on this list? We’re about to find out. We feel that Zboril tops out as a second pair defender who can play the PP and PK.- D.T.

6. This ranking may come as a surprise to fans about one of the least known about Bruins prospects. Half the Amigos had Dustyn McFaul in this spot while the other half had him 1 or 2 spots lower. It didn’t take much convincing to get them to agree to move him up.

I was excited when the Bruins drafted him in the 6th round, 181st overall at the 2018 draft with a warning that McFaul was going to be 5 to 6 years away and that patience was going to be required. But this ranking is based on potential and we believe in the potential McFaul has, even if the draft position and numbers aren’t on the higher end of the spectrum.

At 6’2″ and 200 pounds, McFaul has good size and has added bulk to his frame since being drafted. He skates extremely well with good mobility and edgework. He has a longer than normal reach for a player his size, very efficient in his gap control, does not shy away from the physical game and he is a guy you can keep throwing out against the oppositions best at any time and capable of eating up huge minutes. He learned at a young age how to be a leader. There are some offensive abilities to his game. He’s in his sophomore season with Clarkson University in primarily a shut down role 5 on 5 and getting quality PK time but has shown capable of jumping into the rush and his first NCAA goal was an end-to-end beauty of a rush. He has shown in the past he can QB the powerplay and as he progresses, he will get those opportunities.- D.T.

7. In this author’s opinion the most underrated prospect in the Bruins system is Lulea defenceman Victor Berglund. Hailing from the hockey factory of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden and growing up in the legendary MODO system, Berglund broke through as a professional in the 2016-17 season as a 17-year old showing his promise as a young, offensively gifted defender. Playing the next 3 full seasons with MODO in Allsvenskan, Berglund would improve his output year over year before taking the leap to join Lulea of the SHL for the 2020-21 season. Paired with NHL veteran Erik Gustafsson on Lulea’s top pair, Berglund has upped his game to another level. Scoring 3 goals & 14 assists for 17 points in 30 games, Berglund has shown his incredible ability to move the puck, run a power-play and defend against top talent in one of the world’s best leagues. Berglund’s future could see him on the right side of the Bruins defence as a 2nd – 3rd pair and running the team’s power-play.- R.D.

8. Who’s afraid of the Big, Bad Wolff? Nick Wolff was linked to the B’s for some time, as the former two-time NCAA champion and captain at Minnesota-Duluth attended the last two summer development camps in 2018-19 before he signed as an undrafted free agent when COVID killed the 2019-20 season and ended his college career. An instant fan favorite because he draws natural comparisons to former B’s bruising fan favorite Adam McQuaid; Wolff is a bit more mobile, probably not quite as tough, and will need similar time to get experience in the minors before he’s ready to take a crack at an NHL job. He’s not going to point much if at all at the highest level, but Wolff has shown himself to be a nasty, tenacious defender. After watching Kevan Miller start the 2021 season, you can still see the value in having someone in the lineup who is so difficult to play against, and Wolff brings that kind of future potential, plus- he wanted to be in Boston all along, too.- K.L.

Goaltender

  1. Jeremy Swayman
  2. Dan Vladar
  3. Kyle Keyser
  4. Callum Booth

1. Jeremy Swayman took the top spot, but it was close race with Vladar. In the end, it came down to Swayman’s sustained run of excellence in the USHL, NCAA and a top season where he earned top goalie honors with a Hobey Baker-worthy year. He checks all the boxes and seems to have that “it” factor that in what could be a relatively short amount of time, will see him make his Boston debut and go on to be the eventual No. 1 for the Bruins.- K.L.

3. Despite the injury setbacks in 19-20, no one has lost any faith in Kyle Keyser and the belief is that he could have challenged for the number one position. However, here is some context from the conversation:

Keyser’s development took a hit last season not because of his performance, but injuries that cost him valuable development time. And there is a concussion history that must be taken into account. Some of the Amigos believe that Keyser is as good, if not a better technical goaltender then his fellow prospects. He’s always positionally sound, his movements in the crease are always in control, he tracks pucks and plays well and he is so incredibly smart that he sees a play develop before hand that he can direct rebounds to areas that his teammates can get to first. He has the best blocker hand I have ever seen to do that.

Some fans are raising some concerns about his numbers playing for Jacksonville in the ECHL. The only comment I can make is that the are identical to those that Daniel Vladar put up in the ECHL. What is best is to get him on the ice and into game action and allow the development coaches work with him. He’s always in contact with (Bruins goalie coaches) Bob Essensa and Mike Dunham, and he will do whatever is necessary.- D.T.

4. The signing of Callum Booth was an insurance policy for General Manager Don Sweeney. With questions surrounding what the NHL and AHL season was going to look like at the time of the signing, Sweeney needed something in his back pocket. Enter Booth.

Now that we know Vladar will be on the taxi squad, at best he will push Swayman and Keyser and we know how much the Boston GM likes internal competition. Booth only has 14 games of AHL experience, but that’s 8 more games than Keyser and 14 more than Swayman.- D.T.

B’s, Marchand top Devils in shootout to begin 2021 season

The Boston Bruins took a 3-2 shootout victory in Newark, NJ Thursday night to open the the 2021 regular season.

The B’s got goals from Brad Marchand and Nick Ritchie in regulation, along with some big saves from Tuukka Rask in regulation and OT, before Marchand scored a walk-off shootout goal on Devils top player and goalie Mackenzie Blackwood. Miles Wood and rookie defenseman Ty Smith scored for New Jersey.

Observations:

Marchand was the game’s first star with a goal and assist, plus the shootout winner. He accomplished this after offseason hernia surgery that originally put his opening night availability in doubt. If you want to know why he was named a permanent assistant captain, there you go. Although he’s on the wrong side of 30 now, he still shows off his explosive, dynamic offensive element and has multiple years of excellence left in him so long as he stays healthy. His goal happened when he went right to the net and fired home a David Krejci pass on the PP. Marchand then returned the favor to Ritchie with Wood in the box a second time, firing a cross-ice pass at the top of the crease that Ritchie was able to corral and elevate. He finished off the game by going straight at Blackwood and smoking a low laser right by him. Three cheers for 63.

The B’s got a nice lift from veteran defenseman Kevan Miller, who was playing his first NHL game for the Bruins since April of 2019. He impacted the game with some big hits, tenacious defense and a good veteran presence, paired up with Jakub Zboril on the third pairing. Miller’s long road back through multiple injuries and surgeries shows a dedication to hockey that is to be commended, and you couldn’t ask for a better opening night from him. Teammates respect and adore him, and “Killer” showed real leadership by example last night.

Rask wasn’t tested often, but had to be good when he was. He surrendered a couple of leads in the third period, but stood tall in the OT and shootout periods. When he plays like that, he gives the Bruins a chance to win each and every night.

Trent Frederic slotted into the lineup after Craig Smith was unable to go with a lower body injury he tweaked this week, and showed signs of why the B’s drafted him 29th overall in 2016. He played well with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner, bringing speed and physicality, not to mention a couple of solid scoring chances. He’s big, athletic and tough- a real good fit for the bottom-2 lines in Boston and based on last night’s performance, the coaches should figure out how to keep him in the lineup.

Zboril and Lauzon, as expected this season as full-time NHLers, did some good things and also showed that they’ll have some down times as well. They were solid, and neither performed poorly (though Lauzon was on the ice for both goals against), but the lack of experience showed in moments, and against a better, more skilled/dangerous team up front, there are going to be turnovers and blown coverages. However, for the first game in the post-Zdeno Chara era, they were fine. They’re going to make plays going forward, but they’re also going to have their hands full, too. It’s all a part of the learning process.

Matt Grzelcyk showed that he is going to see a good amount of minutes each night, getting 1st crack on the B’s PP, and on the ice for both goals.

Blackwood was outstanding for the Devils. Had he been off his game, the B’s would have blown them out, as the Black and Gold had the territorial advantage and better scoring chances for most of regulation. The home team turned the tables in OT, but Blackwood made a superb save on the one key scoring chance Boston generated. He was a difference-maker.

Wood, a Nobles prep and Boston College product, was a contributor both good and bad, for the Devils. He was flying around the ice, driving the net, agitating, but also drew a couple of goalie interference calls that the Bruins made him pay for, scoring on both. He also forced a Kuraly turnover and scored off the rush, tying the game at 1-1 in the third period. The son of former NHLer Randy Wood, a NY Islanders and Buffalo Sabres supporting cast member (Yale University) during the late 80’s/early 90’s, he’s more rugged than his old man and is the type of player who would fit in well with the Bruins.

Mason Lohrei: Legit

Another game, another multi-point effort (his seventh in 15 contests) for Boston’s top choice in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

Defenseman Mason Lohrei tallied his second goal of the game with just seconds to spare against the Muskegon Lumberjacks Friday night, sending it to overtime, though the Green Bay Gamblers could not secure the extra point.

In just 15 games, Lohrei has eclipsed his single-season goal totals with 9 in 33 fewer games from a year ago (his goals and 22 points lead all USHL defensemen), and has a chance at the league scoring record by a D, set by Tri-City Storm’s Ronnie Attard (Flyers) two seasons back (30 goals, 64 points). And for the record, what Attard did in 2018-19 was tremendous…he accomplished all of that and parlayed it into a 3rd-round selection in Vancouver…all at the same age as Lohrei is this season, but in his third full USHL campaign vs second for Lohrei. The point of this? Production is production. The USHL is a top league and it doesn’t have the same age demographic as the various major junior circuits do. What Lohrei is accomplishing should be lauded, not diminished.

A converted forward while at Culver, Lohrei is driving the offense and plays a solid defensive game. While not what you would consider a “shutdown” defensive player, he uses his size, mobility and reach effectively and has the experience to make quick decisions and transition from defense to offense rapidly. However, it’s his vision, puck skills and shot that are allowing him to thrive in his second full season in the USHL.

At some point, you have to call a spade a spade and at least acknowledge that the Boston staff were onto something.

Lohrei is legit. Along with Jack Studnicka, he is one B’s prospect we feel confident in saying projects as a “driver” and expect that he will be well set up to enter Ohio State next season and have the opportunity for big minutes right away and potentially signing on with the Bruins within 1-2 years after that. Now, Lohrei will have to show that he can play top minutes in the B1G Ten with the Buckeyes next season and beyond, but based on his superb two-way play and pro-caliber tools, he’s up near Studnicka on the organization’s prospect depth chart.

For more on Lohrei, check out the work of TSP amigo Anthony Kwetkowski on Twitter: @BruinsNetwork- he has a lot of current videos and analysis on the B’s prospect and what makes him successful.

NESN Broadcast Crew Breaks Down Bruins’ Second-Round Pick Mason Lohrei – YouTube

4 Amigos Answer 5 Burning Training Camp Questions for the Boston Bruins

We’re a couple of days into the 2021 season training camp and for a change of pace, we got the amigos (KL, Dom Tiano, Anthony Kwetkowski and Reed Duthie) together to answer 5 questions about the Boston Bruins going into the new season.

1. What does the defense look like on opening night?

And that is the million-dollar question. I’m not a traditionalist when it comes to naming your number one defenceman, then number two, and so on. I prefer first pair, second pair and third pair.

The right-side seams to be set with Charlie McAvoy anchoring your first pair, Brandon Carlo the second pair and a healthy Kevan Miller on the third pair. All three can kill penalties but I think you’ll see Carlo and Miller get the bulk of that saving McAvoy for more 5 on 5 duty and powerplay time.

But where the questions on the blue line are is on the left side. I’d be tempted to try Jeremy Lauzon with McAvoy. It appears Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins brain trust are at least willing to give that a look on the first day of camp. Lauzon has shown he is a capable penalty killer.

Joining Carlo on the second pair would be Matt Grzelcyk. They’ve spent some time together and have shown some great chemistry when paired. Gryz can also kill penalties and like McAvoy, will be given powerplay minutes.

I think Jakub Zboril will be given every opportunity to grab that third pair minutes alongside Miller. Zboril can also kill penalties, but a bulk of that time should go to Lauzon and Grzelcyk. If he were to reach his potential, he could one day quarterback the powerplay. If Zboril falters, John Moore can fill that spot.

Each pair gives you a puck mover along with a guy capable of taking on the defensive responsibilities should his partner decide to “go with it.”- Dominic Tiano

No matter how promising young, unproven talent might be, coaches and general managers are in business to win hockey games, so you’ll likely see the NHL/pro veteran defenders get first crack at rotational play, with the less-experienced blue liners seeing more spot duty unless injuries or preseason play forces the staff to rethink the depth chart.

McAvoy is Boston’s top defender now, and he’ll be given every opportunity to log the top minutes in all situations and see where that leads. He’s ready to be an anchor, but the question remains as to how productive he will be both at even strength and on the power play. The left side of that top pairing is currently open, with fellow BU Terrier product Matt Grzelcyk an option, though the Charlestown native might be better suited to slot down to the second pairing if, as Dom mentioned (and the early practices have shown), the B’s want to give Lauzon’s defense-first approach with some bite/jam a chance out of the gate.

This is where the departures of Krug and Chara hurt the B’s in the short term, but another option could be to try Brandon Carlo on the left or his “off” side to give the team more experience and defensive acumen on that top pair with McAvoy, but it would probably mean that Kevan Miller would have to play on the second pair in Carlo’s spot on the right side with Grzelcyk- not ideal. Moore is the other defender with the most NHL experience, and while he’s a fan favorite whipping boy, he’s at least mobile and keeps things simple enough. I like the idea of a Moore-Miller third pairing or Moore-Connor Clifton duo.

Zboril and/or Urho Vaakanainen will likely have to break in more gradually and have their roles and time managed at least initially- both lack the experience to be the kind of player you can count on to play 15+ minutes a night right away, but you could see a revolving door of left-shot D moving in and out of the rotational pairings based on their game play and how practices go…at least until they prove they can or can’t play. The B’s have much riding on the success of both of Zboril and Vaakanainen, so now is the time for them to establish themselves as roster regulars.- Kirk Luedeke

Well, like Dom said above, isn’t this the million dollar question? I think there’s a lot of ways that this could play out, but using the benefit of training camp pairings, it would appear that Jeremy Lauzon could ride shotgun with Charlie McAvoy. I know, I know— but, but, but what about Grzelcyk?! Well, there’s definitely merit behind the idea of a Grzelcyk-McAvoy pairing, especially when considering their mutual time at Boston University together. 

With that said, I’m still not sure that Grzelcyk is the long-term solution for Boston’s top defensive pairing. Yes, the metrics and underlying numbers grade heavily in their favor. However, I think Lauzon-McAvoy, which also carries short-sample size positives, is much more natural to what the Bruins need to replace. Zdeno Chara, Boston’s 14-year captain and top-pair defender, signed with Washington and left the reins to to McAvoy. Lauzon, 6’3”, has more size, reach and coverage than Grzelcyk. 

The dynamic of Lauzon-McAvoy, on paper, is much more similar to what McAvoy has been playing with since entering the NHL compared to that of Grzelcyk-McAvoy. With Lauzon as his partner, McAvoy can do his own thing as a two-way threat as the bigger, rangier, tougher Lauzon stays defense-first on the backend. 

The rest of the pairings would then fall into place as follows:

Lauzon-McAvoy

Grzelcyk-Carlo

Zboril-Clifton 

Again, there’s also some issues with this setup given that it doesn’t account for John Moore or newly resigned Kevan Miller. These are some obstacles that Bruce Cassidy will have to answer for himself one way or another. – Anthony Kwetkowski

With the changes over the off-season on to the Bruins defense corps and young players knocking on the door for spots, opening night will look different on the back end than any season in recent memory.

Lauzon – McAvoy: It’s Charlie McAvoy’s defense now and the now veteran rearguard picks up the 6’2’’ 196lbs rugged Jeremy Lauzon, it will take some time for McAvoy to adjust to a new regular partner and although Lauzon isn’t 6’9” he brings the same attitude to the defensive zone and will allow McAvoy to get up ice and contribute to 5-on-5 offense.

Grzelcyk – Carlo: Brandon Carlo is used to being the defensive minded member of his pair and now picks up the developing Matt Grzelcyk. Although Grzelcyk hasn’t been the offensive force that Torey Krug is, he is a better skater and advanced metrics have shown in a 3rd pairing role that he could likely handle more. Much like with Lauzon & McAvoy, Carlo’s defensive acumen and speed for his massive frame will allow the smooth skating Grzelcyk to get up ice 5-on-5.

Zboril – Miller: The maligned 2015 1st round pick teams up with a defender who’s missed 21 months due to injury. That could sound crazy, however, Jakub Zboril has found the chip on his shoulder and is using it as motivation. A revelation in Providence for the 2019-20 season, Zboril took that momentum and was the best defenceman in the Czech Extraliga to open up the season and looks ready to take on a serious NHL role. Kevan Miller meanwhile, is a warrior, coming back from injury in what’s been described as the best shape of his career, his size and physicality will be an asset in a sprint of a season, making life miserable for any who step past his blueline.- Reed Duthie

 2. Did the team do enough to shore up the forwards in the offseason?

I was happy about the Craig Smith signing and think he will fit in well. But when it comes to the forwards there are a lot of questions that can only be answered in time. How will the surgeries to David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand affect them? Can Jake DeBrusk finally find his consistency? Will Anders Bjork finally break out? Does father time slow down David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron? Will Ondrej Kase be Kase with a full camp in Boston? Jack Studnicka has proven he is ready for the NHL and will get his chance while Pastrnak is recovering, but can he stick on the roster for the full season and who comes out when No. 88 returns?

We don’t know what the taxi squad will look like, but how will guys like Trent Frederic or Zach Senyshyn handle it if the need arises to insert them into the lineup? Are they even going to be on the taxi squad?

In a best-case scenario, I think the forwards are fine, maybe even an improvement over last season. But it’s 2021 and if we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s to expect the unexpected.– D.T.

In a word, no. There isn’t enough depth and a safety net to counterbalance the significant changes in the defense, at least on paper.

Smith was the team’s marquee free agent signing and it evokes some memories of Steve Begin in 2009, after the B’s were coming off a great regular season only to lose in the second round of the playoffs. While Smith is not a direct comparison to Begin the player, but more to the situation in 2009, Smith is a good complementary winger and will provide a stable presence playing alongside Charlie Coyle. The Bruins are mainly counting on a few things to happen: Marchand’s hernia surgery to bring him back to 100%, Bergeron and Krejci to have another strong season without any major offensive fall-off (or injuries to test the thin depth chart), Kase to provide more production given his skill/shot and Studnicka to seamlessly slot into a top-six wing spot until Pastrnak returns to the lineup. If all of that happens, the Bruins will be fine. If not, there isn’t a lot of depth to bail them out. I’m not all that keen on Kase- I want to see results and production…in an admittedly small sample size, we haven’t gotten that from him. Don’t talk to me about potential- the B’s need scoring from Kase right now.

In getting back to Begin, the B’s took a big step back in 2009-10 and barely squeaked into the playoffs, upsetting Buffalo in R1 on the back of Rask before dropping the 3-0 lead in R2 to the Flyers. We all know what happened in 2011, but this offseason is reminiscent of that one- not much new talent in, but counting on the pieces in place to carry them for another year. Only thing is- the 2021 Bruins don’t have a still-in-his-prime Zdeno Chara on the back end to help cover up for deficiencies elsewhere.- K.L.

Contrary to what the doom and gloom brigade on Twitter has been saying for months now, I think the Bruins did well with forwards recently. No, they didn’t land a “big fish” like Taylor Hall or even Mike Hoffman, however, they landed exactly what they needed— enter Craig Smith. Being one of the top play-driving forwards at 5-on-5 in the entire NHL, Smith, 31, is exactly the kind of contagious forward that Boston needs. Smith is someone who has wheels, density and a killer shot. He’s a North-South forward and can play anywhere needed in the top-nine, though being the right-wing on the third-line is most ideal. 

Something the Bruins have been lacking recently, especially in the RTP bubble, is selfish players who want to shoot the puck. Smith is the type of player to take matters into his own hands and shoot from wherever he deems fit. This type of play and attitude will also be contagious amongst the younger Boston forwards like Bjork, DeBrusk, Studnicka and even Kase.

Speaking of Ondrej Kase, let’s not forget about him. Limited to a handful of games after being acquired for David Backes, Axel Andersson and a first-round pick, Kase is another play-driving winger who likes to shoot and generate offense. Like Smith, Kase is exactly the type of forward this team was missing. Unfortunately, he was injured before being acquired and then the COVID-19 shutdown kind of derailed the season for him. When he returned, he played rather well alongside Krejci and DeBrusk, but the numbers were never posted. 

Moving forward with a full season under his belt, I think Kase will be a great addition for the Bruins provided he can remain healthy. These two right-shot forwards are exactly what this team needed and I don’t think they’ve received nearly enough credit as roster additions. – A.K.

Much has been made about the Bruins chase of Taylor Hall or Mike Hoffman in the off-season, and while those are the “sexy” names that fans clamoured for, they already had more than enough up front to improve where the team needed it most, 5-on-5 offense. Ondrej Kase arriving last year from Anaheim will go a long way and has the track record of NHL offence with a previous 20 goal season and 30 goal pace season. Due to injury and illness we didn’t get to see the best of Kase in 19-20 but with a full camp next to David Krejci & Jake DeBrusk they should be able to build on the chemistry we saw really begin in the Carolina series.

Additionally, Craig Smith steps in as the major off-season acquisition from Nashville having averaged over 20 goals a season since the 13-14 campaign, with only two seasons below the 20 mark (16-17 and the pandemic shortened 19-20) over that time. Comparing to where the Bruins forward group was on opening night for the 19-20 season compared to the 2021 season, this year’s group is far, far improved.- R.D.

3. What is the next phase of Boston’s goaltending situation?

This is the hardest Bruins related question one could ask.

Both of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak are unrestricted free agents after the season and will turn 34 and 36 years of age respectively. Rask certainly has more game in him if he wishes to sign an extension with the Bruins. It may be time to move on from Halak considering Dan Vladar will require waivers beginning with the 2021-22 season.

But it’s Jeremy Swayman who looks to have that future number 1 status. I would have said the same thing about Kyle Keyser, but injuries last season have derailed his development for the time being.

For the Bruins to have success in the blue paint for the short-term future, they absolutely need to lock Rask into an extension until Vladar or Swayman are ready. Otherwise, they may be forced to look at the free agent pool or seek a trade.– D.T.

The Rask and Halak tandem goes one more round this season and will likely see more rubber than they did in the previous two campaigns. The clock is ticking on both players. Rask will be 34 in March, but it looks like his workload will increase with the shortened season and travel schedule. Halak turns 36 in May, and is a capable player, though not a No. 1 as evidenced by the 2020 playoffs. Look for the Bruins keep one of their veterans in net with an extension, but not both going forward in 21-22.

Vladar was drafted with a third-round selection in 2015, and he’s gotten his development firmly on track after some early pro hiccups. Is he capable of being an NHL No. 1? He certainly looks the part with his size and has a pedigree for it, even though Swayman has enjoyed more consistent excellence at the lower levels. The B’s are probably hoping to groom either player as their future top option in net, but Keyser is the wild card who we hope can get back on track and playing again after regaining his health.- K.L.

Another interesting question with many moving parts, one of In thwhich is the outcome of this season. If the Bruins win it all this season, I could certainly see a situation where they’re heading into a rebuild-like era whether drastic or not. Given that Tuukka Rask is in the final year of his $7m AAV contract, I think Don Sweeney would be okay with moving on following ultimate victory. However, I think this is something that they’ll realistically face when they get to it this summer. 

Rask, who’s had his ups and downs in Boston including a recently opted out playoffs, has remained Boston’s go-to net minder for essentially the last decade. His backup, Jaroslav Halak, is also an aging player who’s on the back nine of his career. I think it makes sense for the Bruins to possibly explore having Rask back on short-term contracts if mutual interest is there. Otherwise, they’ll be turning to the system. 

Leading the professional charge in that regard is Dan Vladar— Providence’s standout goalie from last year. As someone who watched every game he played in, some multiple times, I can tell you he’s turned into a legitimate NHL prospect. Goalies are weird, man, you know? Vladar, selected in 2015 by Boston, is still in his prime developmental years for a goalie. He was also lights-out last year in Providence where he posted a 1.79 GAA and .936 SV% in 25 games. Vladar needs another full-year in Providence before we can fairly evaluate him further, but that might be tough. 

Provided that two of Providence’s top-four defenders and multiple top-nine forwards are slated to potentially be in Boston, the P-Bruins might have to ice a non-optimized roster in front of their netminder. This is going to be a weird season, but also a good one because we get to see Jeremy Swayman in Providence as well. Swayman is coming off an exceptional year playing for UMaine in the NCAA. He has been the back bone of the Black Bears while playing behind a shoddy defense and structure. 

Swayman, in my opinion, is as legitimate a number one goalie prospect as anyone else around the league. He’s tall, lanky, athletic and skilled. Swayman is a competitor and capable of making the tough and easy saves— all night long. I think Swayman is going to be the future of Boston goaltending in a few years from now. Another intriguing prospect is Kyle Keyser, currently shaking off some post-injury rust in the ECHL this season. 

Keyser is a prospect that Dom, is very familiar with and high on after following him extensively throughout his OHL career. That said, although Keyser has struggled with injuries and concussions, I also believe he has the skill set and intangibles of a number one goalie. Unfortunately, he’s had some bad luck and will take more time than probably anticipated. Let’s see how he does this year seeing a ton of rubber in the ECHL and Providence next year. – A.K.

With the Tuukka Rask & Jaroslav Halak aging, the question of where will the Bruins go in net has loomed large.

Digging in to the future of the crease, the Bruins appear to be in solid shape. Despite an ugly outing in his emergency NHL debut, Dan Vladar has been incredible over the last year sporting a 1.79 GAA / .936 SV% with 3 shutouts over 25 games with Providence last season, Vladar continued his momentum in the Czech Extraliga to open this season with an eye-popping 1.29 GAA / .965 SV% over 6 starts for Dynamo Pardubice before returning to Boston. With another season at the professional level under his belt the towering Czech keeper of the crease will be ready for the NHL jump, likely serving as backup to Tuukka Rask in 2021-22. Meanwhile, behind Vladar, NCAA star Jeremy Swayman will step into a major role in Providence, coming off a year which saw him garner a laundry list of accolades including the Mike Richter award as the NCAA’s top goaltender. Finally- Kyle Keyser, who actually might be the most naturally talented of the trio, appears to have put concussions problems behind and the former Oshawa General who has stolen not just games but playoff series at the junior level looks prepared to start his pro ascent.- R.D.

4. How will key departures (Chara, Krug) and injuries (Pastrnak) impact the team in the immediate and longer-terms?

Short term, I think they will all hurt. Especially Pastrnak and Torey Krug on the powerplay. And if Pastrnak doesn’t come back 100%, that’ll really hurt.

Zdeno Chara I am torn on. I think the transition game will improve as a team without him. Certainly, everyone is questioning how much their defence will hurt without him. With the defensive system the Bruins deploy, I think eventually it will be fine, but there will be growing pains and there will be nights Rask and Halak will have to bail them out. Where it will hurt the most is on the penalty kill. No one can replace the wingspan of Chara’s to be able to take away passing lanes with little movement. Miller can replace some of the net front strength required on the PK and Carlo will really need to step up that part of his game. But let’s face reality, there is no one like Chara in the NHL who can match up physically with anyone the way he can.

Krug’s departure will hurt in both transition and the powerplay. His ability to transition by either skating or making a great first pass will surely be missed, as well as his vision and how he can process the game quickly. McAvoy will surely further develop those things and Grzelcyk will be asked to take on a bigger role. Gryz will also turn 27 on January 5th so there isn’t much room for development at that stage. Whether the tools he possesses for the expanded role are enough to take up some of the slack is yet to be determined.

The departure of Krug and Chara also means the leadership will take a hit. I believe there are enough leaders in the group that in time, they can overcome that. Many of the players on the roster learned from one of the greatest captains in the history of the game and what it takes to be a great teammate and leader. They won’t forget that overnight.– D.T.

The Bruins lost a lot of experience and production (especially on the PP) with the key departures on defense, and Pastrnak is one of the NHL’s best young players under 25, and would have been Boston’s first 50-goal scorer since Cam Neely in 1994 if not for the season being paused when it was. Replacing his production (especially on the PP) won’t be easy, so fans should be ready for it.

The B’s will need top-shelf performances from the goaltending- Rask and Halak will almost certainly see an increase in volume shots on goal and shot quality as well, so they will need to hold the fort. The Boston forwards are experienced enough to counter the weaker defense, but this isn’t a team that can win a lot of games if they become track meets, so key to Boston’s success will be in the coaching staff managing the players and getting the most out of the lineup while handling the various in-game situations and adjustments appropriately to mitigate the losses until Pastrnak returns and some of the younger players in the lineup can get their feet under them. Tall order, but the B’s are still a good team, even with the departures. Good teams don’t win the Stanley Cup, however…great teams do. – K.L.

In the present, I think the departures of Chara and Krug will have an impact that’s both good and bad. For sake of readability and time, please forgive my brevity when discussing the departure of the 14-year captain, but I think we’re going to see younger players on the roster respond by bringing energy and providing some sparks. 

Players like McAvoy, Carlo and Grzelcyk have already been here for several years behind Chara and will know that they need to turn it up a notch without him. Lauzon, who was around last year, will now be tasked with the bearing the weight of “replacing” Chara in some capacity as well. This is a good thing for someone like Lauzon as he’s got a natural chip on his shoulder as it is. Jakub Zboril, who’s had his ups and downs, also falls into the same category. 

The same goes for Torey Krug, as McAvoy and Grzelcyk will look to replace his offense from the backend at both even strength and the power play. Granted it won’t be as easy as it sounds, replacing someone like Krug that is, but the Bruins still have plenty of talent around to make it work. Even if things are a little different, I think there’s potential for newer structures and game plans that emphasizes the youth and in some cases, more size on the roster.

On the flip side, the loss of Chara and Krug will definitely be felt. We’re going to see more mistakes and growing pains from the younger defensive core. We’re going to see nights where this team is outmatched and overpowered. Replacing the 14-year captain on top of the longtime PP QB is quite the task, even if the Bruins have plenty of talent to step in and take the next step.– A.K.

The departures for the Bruins will have an effect in both the immediate and long-term but it may not all be negative. While the majority of Bruins fans will agree its not the way they would have liked to see Zdeno Chara leave the Bruins and there will be a learning curve for the young defenders, it creates a massive opportunity for the likes of Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, etc. to step forward and make their claim to an NHL spot. Torey Krug will be the hardest to replace, his ability to QB the PP and move the puck isn’t obviously replaced by any member of the current Bruins defense group, but the additions of players like Ondrej Kase & Craig Smith should up the 5-on-5 offense for the team, hopefully covering for the loss of Krug in a different fashion. The injury to David Pastrnak is another potential opportunity, although the Bruins lose their leading goal-scorer, even for a short length of time, it does allow Jack Studnicka to step to the Bergeron line and potentially begin to realize some of his massive potential at the NHL level and in a long-term thought, allow the Bruins to see the type of player they can hopefully build around for years to come.- R.D.

5. Who will be the surprise performers who elevate themselves early and earn an opportunity to contribute right away?

I’m going to pick a defenceman and a forward here.

On defence I am going with Lauzon. He got a taste of the NHL and I believe the Bruins brass really like him. At camp, he was given the first opportunity on the top pair with McAvoy and if he sticks to his game, he can succeed there. The only question I have is whether he can sustain it over a condensed 56-game season. It’s probably too much to ask.

Up front I am going with everyone’s choice to replace Pastrnak while he recovers – Jack Studnicka. I think Studnicka is going to make it extremely difficult to take him out of the lineup once Pastrnak returns and an even more difficult decision on who to take out of the lineup. I’ll go out on a limb and say Studnicka even gets some Calder votes. He won’t win it, but he’ll get some votes.– D.T.

I would like to see John Moore emerge as a solid middle-of-the-roster option, as he’s been much-maligned since signing with the Bruins in 2018. The former first-round pick in 2009 has over 500 games of NHL experience, can wheel and is a better player than he’s gotten credit for. His $2.75M cap hit through 2023 is a reasonable figure for what he can provide and the feeling here is that with a bigger role, he can take some of the pressure off the younger players at least in the short term. No one is ever going to confuse him with Chara or Krug with the impact he’s likely to make, but this team needs Moore to be a stabilizing presence right off the bat. Whether retrieving pucks and moving them up and out in quick transition or keeping it simple defensively, if he does that, fans might gain a new appreciation for him. Of course, there is always that segment of folks who aren’t going to like Moore no matter what he does, and that’s the world we live in.- K.L.

Players to step up and make an impact immediately this season include Bjork, Studnicka, Kase, Frederic and Lauzon. I think Studnicka is ready and able to contribute right now whether he’s at wing or center. The dynamic, Jack of all trades type (see what I did there?) forward is exactly the type of player Bruins fans have wanted to see for years now. He’s finally going to get his shot and it’s well deserved to boot. 

Trent Frederic saw time in the NHL with Boston, but not after his excellent run he went on towards the end of the year in Providence. Frederic is faster, more agile and aggressive than he was during that ~15-game sample we saw him in. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and I think he’s the type of player to really own the moment and do whatever it takes to stick around this season. – A.K.

In looking at a player who will surprise and take the next step for the Bruins, I believe Jakub Zboril will be a breakout player. Long known as a great skater through his junior career Zboril is also an underappreciated puck mover having led the Czech Republic in scoring at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship and posting 41 points in 50 games in his last season in the QMJHL, Zboril became more of a defensive player at the pro level. Growing into and learning how to use his now 6’1” 196lbs frame took time but the always mean Czech defender appears to have figured that part of his game out and has grown into his skill set. Taking a big step forward as a top defenceman in the AHL a season ago and opening this season as the best defenceman in the Czech Extraliga, it appears the mountain sized chip on Zboril’s shoulder is working in his favour and now looks to be an imposing figure on the Bruins blueline who is right on the cusp of a breakout at the NHL level. – R.D. 

On Zdeno Chara signing with the Capitals

Zdeno Chara returns for his tenth season as the captain of the Boston Bruins (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

As 2020 came to a merciful end, (many) Boston Bruins fans were greeted with one more bit of unwelcome news this week as captain Zdeno Chara’s 14-season run with the team came to an end with news he accepted a one-year offer from the Washington Capitals at age 43.

It seems both unimaginable and inevitable that the greatest free agent signing in team history would end in a whimper the way it did with a sudden announcement that after months of little to no movement on the renewal of a contract that most supporters felt was sure to happen. Like former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield at the end of his major league career, it appeared as if the team and player had an unofficial deal to stay in Boston until both agreed that Chara’s playing days were over.

Clearly, that was not the case, as initial news brought anger and disbelief, especially when the base salary of $795,000 for the new season to exchange the black and gold for red, white and blue, came out. Chara’s deal calls for performance bonuses that would bring his total compensation to a $1.5 million AAV (per CapFriendly.com), but it was understandable that most fans would think it ridiculous that the Bruins weren’t willing to find the money to re-sign their captain, a player who had inked four separate contracts in Boston since he first came to town at age 29 in 2006.

However, as things are often the case with Hall of Fame-caliber players, and let’s be clear- four years after Chara calls it a career, whether in 2021 or later, he will be enshrined in Toronto- the truth of the matter is rarely black and white.

As the news has settled and more has come out on the negotiations that took place between Boston and Chara, both have said complimentary things and it appears that the following are both true:

  1. The Bruins wanted Chara back for a 15th season as captain, but with caveats.
  2. Chara was not willing to return to the team he cemented his legendary status with in a reduced role.

The purpose of this post is not to defend the organization for what did or didn’t happen to facilitate an icon’s departure, but to add context and provide food for thought to those fair-minded observers who are interested in what might have happened and why the team and player took positions they did. We weren’t there, so while we have been given some information based on sources familiar with the negotiations, this is merely one view on what might have happened.

It is fair to be disappointed that Chara and the team his greatest collective and individual accomplishments happened with couldn’t find a way to keep him until age 44 or when he finally calls it a stellar career. It is also fair to be okay with the realization that Chara is no longer the player he was and that his lack of mobility and inability to play in all situations like he once did means that the organization had to make a tough choice about answering the player’s questions about how he would be employed should he sign a fifth contract and third one-year extension since 2018.

The biggest challenge the Bruins face right now is with expectations for 2021. The team is coming off of a President’s Trophy as top regular season club in 2019-20 until COVID-19 forced the campaign’s pause in March. Prior to that, they took the St. Louis Blues to a seventh game of what would have been a second Stanley Cup championship team under Chara’s captaincy out of three trips to the final series. Given Torey Krug’s departure to those very Blues via free agency, fans have a right to be concerned about how the B’s power play and penalty kill special teams units will fare without two key anchors from a season ago.

From this view in the saddle, the issue so much isn’t Chara’s departure due to a fundamental disagreement between player and team over usage going forward and how to better manage the development other players in the organization, but more of a realization that without Chara and Krug, the Boston defense as a unit is almost certain to take steps backwards in 2021. In a few short months, we’ve gone from a team many thought might win a championship after the COVID pause resumed, to one that is on the outside looking in right now and in the immediate future.

Even if one or more of Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon and even Jack Ahcan were all primed to step in and fill those roles vacated by Chara and Krug with much more certainty than what we’re currently dealing with, there would still be questions about their basic experience and ability to replicate the x-factor that such battle-tested veterans provided Boston over the last 5-7 years. That, in our view, is what is really at the heart of the negativity surrounding Chara’s departure. More than anything else, it’s a harbinger of darker times and a window that has essentially closed after the team watched other teams around the league get better while Boston’s biggest name addition in the offseason was complementary forward Craig Smith.

Boston lost the opportunity for a second championship in three years when they dropped a six-game series to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, the dawn of Krug’s era as a PP staple in Boston, while Chara was still at the height of his two-way productivity as an all-situations stalwart. The B’s followed up that disappointment with a President’s Trophy in 2014, then lost in the second round of the playoffs to their hated rival Montreal Canadiens and subsequently missed the playoffs for two years before a renaissance largely sparked by Patrice Bergeron’s continued excellence, plus the emergence of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak as offensive forces from 2017-20 brought the team back into contention. Charlie McAvoy is the heir apparent on defense as potentially the next top/franchise cornerstone defenseman in Boston.

And it is right for those who see the parallels between the B’s teams from 2013-14 and 2019-20 to point out that by allowing Chara to leave like this, things are setting up for another precipitous fall like the one we witnessed in 2015 and 2016.

Five years hence, the 2015 draft was a major missed opportunity. Though all three first-round picks are still in the fold and Jake DeBrusk has become a solid complementary scorer with the B’s, the chance to draft three driver-types didn’t happen, and has exacerbated the concerns surrounding the club’s current fortunes. We’ll not open that can of worms in the Chara piece at present, as the 2015 draft’s failings deserves its own treatment at some point soon, but the reality is- as the 2021 season dawns, the B’s have far more question marks on the left side of their defense corps than answers at present, and that is at the heart of the angst surrounding Chara’s exit.

Also at issue is the captain’s legacy and how things should have ended in Boston. One can certainly argue that he deserved better- a final curtain call in Boston and the ability to close out a two-plus decade career in the NHL that saw him endure as the league’s tallest player who evolved into a curious project into a dominant, Norris Trophy-winning, franchise icon who helped the Bruins organization to its first championship in nearly four decades, the first such accomplishment since Bobby Orr manned the Boston blue line. On several levels, it doesn’t make sense that the Bruins as a whole- whether you’re talking Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, Bruce Cassidy or even ownership as a collective brain trust, wouldn’t see the black clouds gathering on the horizon and know that they would take a major PR hit by not closing the deal to keep Chara in the fold.

At the same time, we have to admire the team’s courage for looking at the situation and deciding that simply offering him a new contract to maintain a status quo in Boston and turn 44 in the midst of the new season without addressing what has been a declining return on investment, was a bridge too far. Right or wrong, what is always lost on fans and media members, no matter how well sourced they may be, are the team dynamics of what goes on behind the scenes. They are not sitting in the meetings that take place when leaders lay out the depth chart and talk through the myriad scenarios of player usage combined with future financial constraints and contract negotiations. No one is privy to the discussions that talk about who the team is likely to lose when the NHL’s newest expansion club, the Seattle Kraken gets to leverage the changed rules to build a far more competitive roster than all of the other NHL’s expansion clubs in history. We all watched the Las Vegas Golden Knights create a blue print for in 2017, and the Bruins are trying to manage the challenge of not losing a driver-type of player to Seattle because they didn’t know what they had in order to make the right decision when it comes to whom they protect and those who get exposed in the impending expansion draft.

Sound like excuse making? Perhaps. But, ask yourselves this: If Chara returned and continued to log key minutes in the rotation and on the PK and another player further down the depth chart departed either to Seattle or other club only to blossom as a top performer there, many of those same people unhappy about Chara’s departure would also savage the Bruins organization for allowing an aging veteran to hang on for so long and hindering the development of others in the system or at least- camouflaging their potential and preventing the B’s from making an informed decision on who to protect.

Building a winning team is a never-ending master-level jigsaw puzzle. It isn’t just about acquiring talent and skill but supplementing those stars with the right kinds of players who can come together and embrace a team’s structure and organizational values. Some fans might scoff at this quaint notion of the herculean task managers face at all meaningful levels, but the reality is- that’s why they’re fans. They might build a successful Twitter following, but they’ll never be part of a high-level team, nor will they understand the constant challenges of juggling the many dynamics needed to build a winning, championship team. For them, it is more about pointing fingers and playing to a crowd of like-minded toadies and sycophants in a social media echo chamber than thoughtful analysis and a fair-minded approach to what is going on. Like barking, clapping seals, they speak in absolutes they know nothing about. And that’s fine- it’s the world we live in, but it is also completely fair to point this out and call out some of the mind-numbing nitwits who have the loudest voices on matters they haven’t earned a shred of credibility to comment on.

What does seem to be playing out is this: the Bruins have put themselves at a disadvantage by selling off draft capital to remain competitive for playoff runs in recent years, but the time has come for them to start accruing picks and looking at building a better system. Prospects like Jack Studnicka and Mason Lohrei show significant promise as two of Boston’s most likely candidates to be drivers one day, but unlike many other teams around the league, Boston lacks the volume/depth of star power and pure skill/dynamic upside players in other systems who are on their way to the NHL in the next 3-5 years. The B’s have long done pretty well with savvy undrafted free agent signings to help bolster their draft misses and disappointments, but this puts tremendous pressure on the organization to find the rare players everyone else has not identified, and causes the GM to expend assets and capital on talent acquisition via trades and the bloated unrestricted free agent market.

Losing Chara to Washington stings, because he had so many amazing moments as a Bruin and was in many cases, the face of a franchise that had fallen on hard times when he was signed, and played a major role in a resurrection that ended with the Stanley Cup five years later and a near 10+ year run of sustained success. Just about everyone who rooted heart and soul for the Boston Bruins should be sad to see him go and appreciate what he did when he was here. But nothing, especially those lives spent in professional sports, lasts forever. Et tu, Tom Brady?

Those who are upset that Chara and the current core didn’t bring more championships to Boston have a point. Those who feel that Chara should have been treated a little differently so that he wouldn’t have felt the need to take his game elsewhere in the twilight of a tremendous career are also right. But so are those who understand that the business side of hockey sometimes means that you lose these battles and teams have to make highly unpalatable decisions because they truly feel that those are in the best interest of the club. No one has a crystal ball…sometimes, those tough decisions pay off and sometimes they don’t. But the Bruins felt that keeping the status quo for another year without addressing it with the captain was the wrong thing to do. Even if they had agreed to give him the role he was used to, would fans have demanded a change if he was unable to keep up, unable to make the plays needed for success at age 44? It’s easy to say that the team *should* have done what it took to keep him, but remember- Chara himself had a choice to stay and perform in the role that the team had for him. He chose a different path. It’s not just on the Bruins for that.

In the end, it may be precisely true that the Bruins take steps backwards in 2021. It seems a certainty in fact, that they will. But even if that happens, it does not stand as proof that the leadership lacks a plan or vision. Sweeney and his staff dug the club out of the malaise of 2015 and 2016 and built a squad that was three periods away from a championship just 1.5 years ago. History is never kind to those who are unable to close it out and attain ultimate victory, and those with an agenda to do so will almost certainly continue to overlook that or harp on the failures of the 2015 draft (without ever citing the multiple successes of 2014), but just because you feel strongly about something does not make it true.

We wish Zdeno Chara the best as he embarks on what could be one last hurrah with a new team. It’s a shame that he couldn’t finish his storied run in Boston, but like Ray Bourque before him, the show will go on.

Thanks for everything, Big Z- You were everything we thought you would be when you signed 14+ years ago…and then some.

Dominic Tiano: Undrafted Free Agents- Supplementing the Draft’s Successes and Failures

Dominic Tiano returns for a pre-2021 look at undrafted free agents and the NHL teams who have made hay outside of the traditional entry draft process, and those who, well, haven’t. – KL

Every season as the National Hockey League’s trade deadline approaches, teams sacrifice future draft picks and prospects in the hopes they can make a run at the Holy Grail.

But how do those NHL squads replenish a prospect pool when they’ve dealt away those prospects and picks? Well, one way is to sign undrafted free agents and hope that you can find capable NHL players in that pool.

Several NHL teams have gone on to find great success, others have failed and there’s a few that shy away from the undrafted free agent market.

Today, we take a look at NHL teams that have signed undrafted free agents from 2010 through 2020. We define a player having success as those that went on to play in a minimum of 100 NHL games. We’ll also hand out four awards named after the 4 Amigos here at The Scouting Post just for some humor on a cold winter day.

Kirk Luedeke Award: Awarded to the team deemed most successful. The nominees are: Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning

And the winner is: Chicago

Although Tampa has been more successful in signing players to go on to reach 100 games with 45.5% reaching the mark compared to Chicago at 40.9%, we give the nod to the Hawks because they’ve signed twice as many players and have won 3 Stanley Cups in that period.

Anthony Kwetkowski Award: Awarded to the team that tries the hardest. The nominees are: San Jose Sharks, and really no one else.

No team comes close to signing undrafted free agents like the Sharks with their 32 players. The Hawks come in second with 22. Problem for the Sharks is that Chicago has found more success while signing 10 fewer players.

Reed Duthie Award: Awarded to the runner up. The nominees are: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets.

And the winner is: Boston

Winnipeg is on the list because of their success rate at 33.3%, but like Tampa, don’t use the free agent market all that often. Buffalo (36.4%) finished with a higher percentage then Boston (35.5%) but here’s why we chose the Bruins: In 2017 they signed Kyle Keyser as an undrafted free agent. Keyser went on to play another season in the OHL and even if he played in every game in 2019-20, he couldn’t possibly play 100 games. If we had left Keyser off the list, the Bruins percentage would be 38.5%

Dominic Tiano Award: Awarded to the team that falls asleep at the wheel. The nominees are: Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, St Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.

And the winner is: St Louis

The Blues have won a Stanley Cup in this period. But they have only signed 4 undrafted free agents in that time and none of them have reached the benchmark.

In a cap world, when teams are forced to move on from players because of the cap, or are trading picks and prospects to make a playoff run, you need to find these types of players under an entry level contract to help you fill out your roster while also remaining competitive.

Below you will see a chart showing each team and the number of signings they’ve made by year along with how many went on to play in 100 or more NHL games. You’ll also see the total signed and the total that meet the benchmark as well as the team’s success rate in percentage. Note that I have included 2019 and 2020, but they are not included in the totals as it was impossible for them to have played in 100 games. They are a reference for you to use in the future.

While we take great care in accumulating the numbers, this is not an official source. Your best source for contract information is CapFriendly.

Dominic Tiano: Mason Lohrei and the Evolution of the NHL Draft

Dominic Tiano is back with a new piece on Boston Bruins prospect Mason Lohrei and how he represents a trend for NHL clubs who are investing more and more entry draft selections on second- and third-year eligible players. Dom has watched a lot of the criticisms of Boston’s selection of Lohrei center around the misconception that he’s older- and somehow inferior- to the 2002 and late 2001-born players who were eligible for the first time this past October. This is food for thought- if you learn something new in the piece and it changes your perspective, then we’ll consider it mission accomplished. If not, that’s okay too.- KL

Before I begin my deep dive, let me preface things with this: When the Boston Bruins selected Mason Lohrei in the second round with the 58th overall pick in the 2020 National Hockey League Draft, I readily admit, he wasn’t my first choice. However, he is now, a member of the Bruins organization and I wish him nothing but the best. There will be no comparing him to what could have been, no sulking, and no excuses. Just a simple eye test on what he is and might be when he is ready to turn pro after junior and college hockey at Ohio State University.

I’m surprised yet I shouldn’t be, by some of the comments being made on social media, especially now that Lohrei has gotten off to such a good start with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. At the time of this article, Lohrei, a forward turned defenceman, has 5 goals and 10 assists in just 10 games.

But comments such as: “he’s an ‘overager’ so he’s just going up against younger players” or “he was picked in his second draft year so there must be something wrong”, or “how many players picked in their second drafts make it to the NHL?” and the one that really gets under my skin “comparing him to a CHL player” (I can say that because I cover the OHL exclusively), should be kept to one’s self unless you are prepared to provide some context and willing to accept some criticism.

In reality, and I am trying to be polite here, what it shows is a lack of knowledge of the changing methodology NHL teams employ, differences and nuances in the demographics of the various junior leagues or even a lack of effort to obtain the knowledge to know what that really means. I hope to bring you some context and maybe, just maybe shed some light on things and you can change your opinion (or not).

Let me begin with the term that gets thrown around a lot these days: ‘overager’. Many fans think Lohrei is an older player in the USHL and should be piling up points because he has a significant advantage in terms of physical maturity and experience. The fact is, Lohrei is 19 years of age (turns 20 on January 17, 2021). Considering that 16 and 17-year old players are a minority in the USHL and teams are limited to just 4 twenty-year old players (2000 birth year) on the roster for the current season, Lohrei isn’t much older than the majority of players he faces every single night on the ice. The USHL does require each member club to keep a minimum of three 16- or 17-year-old players on every roster to ensure that there is a developmental path for the youngest players on the junior spectrum, but the majority of the average ages of each USHL club is 18+. Lohrei is on the higher side of that average this season, but it isn’t like he is a 2000 birth year competing against a league full of 2003 and 2004-born players. In fact, the 2001 and 2002 birth years comprise the bulk of USHL rosters this season.

The mistake some casual observers make is in asserting that the demographics between the CHL, which comprises the three major junior leagues in Canada, and the USHL plus other Tier 2 junior leagues like the North American (NAHL) and Canadian British Columbia (BCHL), Alberta (AJHL), Manitoba (MJHL), Ontario (OJHL) and Quebec (QJHL) and other regional T2 subset leagues are the same, when in fact, they are not. Because the NCAA track tends to develop players over a longer timeline, whereas CHL-drafted players must be signed within two years/before June 1 of the season they turn 20 (and one year to receive a bona fide offer), those Tier 2 feeder leagues tend to have older rosters on average than CHL clubs.

I ask you to replace the word overager with experience for some context. Lohrei was playing high school/prep hockey at Culver Military Academy until the age of 18, and is now in his second full season in the USHL. That compares to a 17 or mostly 18-year old players in the CHL, their first year of draft eligibility. Let’s take it a step further. In 2017, the Bruins selected a QMJHL rookie in the name of Cedric Pare (an 18-year-old in his draft year) with not even a full season of Major Junior experience. It wasn’t until Pare’s fourth season that he broke out with 37 goals and 51 assists in 64 contests. The Bruins didn’t sign Pare and he is now playing in the East Coast Hockey League without an NHL contract.

To be fair, Pare was a seventh-round pick, and as I mentioned, didn’t have a season worthy of being drafted until his fourth season. I suggest you ask yourself this question: If Pare had been skipped over in his first draft, would he have been selected in his second draft? And you could ask yourself the same question about any player selected in rounds two through seven. Obviously, the Bruins (and maybe others) saw something in his first year to think he was worthy of selection his second time around.

Because Lohrei was passed over in 2019 does not mean he should not have been selected in 2020. You might be surprised to find out that in fact, statistics show he should have been selected the second time around, and that second-year players being selected in the NHL draft is becoming more and more prevalent going back a decade.

I looked at the six NHL Drafts from 2010 to 2015 to measure NHL success. I didn’t use 2016 or later as a lot of those players are still at the developmental stage. To measure success, I used 100 NHL games or more as the benchmark and included all players, even goaltenders. I think you’ll be surprised by what you find.

In the chart below, you’ll see I’ve broken down each draft by round. In each round you will see the number of picks used to select first time draft eligible players and those picked in their second or third drafts as well as how many went on to play 100+ games in the NHL. At the bottom, you’ll see the total number of players selected as well as the total number that went on to play 100+ games in the NHL and the success rate by percentage. At the far right, you will notice the total picks by draft year and those that went on to play 100+ games in the NHL and the success rate by percentage.

The numbers are a bit skewed because only one player from 2010 to 2016, who was a draft re-entry, was selected in the first round when the Los Angeles Kings selected Tanner Pearson with the 30th pick in 2012. Still, only 76% of first round picks selected have played in 100 or more contests. Do I need to remind everybody that 3 of those first round picks not to play 100 games all belong to the Bruins? Malcolm Subban in 2012, Jakub Zboril and Zachary Senyshyn in 2015.

Beyond the first round however, statistically speaking, there is a greater chance for success at the NHL level if you are a draft re-entry player, and in some cases a drastically better chance. And there are a greater number of draft re-entry players approaching the 100-game plateau then first-time eligible players. But we had to draw the line somewhere.

That said, in the second round where Lohrei was selected, there have only been seven players selected that have re-entered the draft. Still, they’ve shown to have a 42.9% success rate as opposed to 38.4% of first timers. Although 177 first timers were selected in those 6 years, 61.6% did not have the success. So, I ask you, which gives you the better chance of finding a successful player?

These are just statistics and are no indication of success. Maybe it suggests a trend. More radically, maybe it suggests the NHL change the draft and allow 18-year-old players be selected in only the first round, maybe the second round.

But to me, it suggests that we as fans, are too quick to jump to conclusions. We do after all, have a fast-food mentality when it comes to our beloved Bruins. Everything has to be served up on a black and gold platter- hot, fresh and now. There is for lack of a better term, no patience. No patience to wait and see how a player who isn”t on a public list around where the Bruins were supposed to select him actually plays and develops.

As I said in the opening, Lohrei is a member of the Bruins organization. The only comparisons we should be making is to Mason Lohrei from a season ago and asking ourselves how far has he come in regards to his development? Shouldn’t we be asking what his strengths are and what areas does he need to improve on more than what other player who is one year younger the Bruins could have chosen instead?

There is a very small group out there that wants to see a player fail just so they can say “I told you so.” That’s sad, yet but true. I know because some people have actually come out and say it to me. While its just noise on the internet, it is a reflection of where some are as fans- the new class of self-appointed pundits who think they know far more than they actually do and find it more important to be validated on social media by other low-information people. Rather than educate themselves on the evolving nature of the NHL draft and how the changing CBA has caused teams do things differently than were done in the past when a hard salary cap did not exist, some are stuck relying on inaccurate perceptions about junior league demographics to justify their own disappointment that the player(s) of choice based on public lists that bear no resemblance to those generated by the NHL teams themselves, were not drafted by the B’s.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I will only cheer for a prospect in the organization and hope they find success. No harping on who could have been, as that ship has sailed. Time will tell on Lohrei, but given that his two-way game has taken positive strides in one of the top junior leagues in the world, things are setting up for him to be an impact player in the Big-10 conference and beyond when the time comes for him to turn pro.