As the first round of the NHL playoffs shifts to Washington for Game 5, thought we would take a moment to look at the younger (ages 23 and under) Bruins prospects who had a chance to play in Boston this season, either in a more established role or limited action via call-up. Before we begin, here is the obligatory disclaimer- We’re just calling it as we see it. Understand- this is designed to provide observations and feedback- it is not intended to be the final word on anyone, good or not-as-good. Here’s the review, ranked in order of performance and impact.
Urho Vaakanainen, Oskar Steen and Jack Ahcan are not included in order to focus on the “big 5” instead.
1. Jeremy Swayman, G- No player did more to boost his stock within the organization and across the league the way the rookie goaltender did, appearing in 10 games near the end of the season and going 7-3 with an eye-popping 1.50 GAA and .945 save percentage with a pair of shutouts…in the NHL! Prior to that, he was off to a dominant start to his pro career with the Providence Bruins in the AHL going 8-1 in 9 games with a 1.89 GAA and .933 save percentage. He turned his Boston audition into a spot as Tuukka Rask’s backup in the playoffs, supplanting veteran Jaroslav Halak and essentially staking a claim to a spot on the 2021-22 Boston Bruins.
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 ToreyKrug signed with the St Louis Blues and ZdenoChara 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 MattGrzelcyk 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 BrandonCarlo. To date this season, the Bruins rank second with an 88.0% success rate largely on the backs of Carlo and JeremyLauzon. They are backed up by CharlieMcAvoy and KevanMiller, 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 BruceCassidy 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 TuukkaRask or JaroslavHalak. 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.
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
Jack Studnicka, C/RW
John Beecher, C
Trent Frederic, LW/C
Curtis Hall, C
Trevor Kuntar, LW
Oskar Steen, C
Jakub Lauko, LW
Cameron Hughes, C
Pavel Shen, C
Matt Filipe, C/LW
Zach Senyshyn, RW
Matias Mantykivi, LW
Quinn Olson, LW
Riley Duran, C
Jake Schmaltz, C
Joona Koppanen, C
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.
Mason Lohrei, LD
Urho Vaakanainen, LD
Jeremy Lauzon, LD
Jack Ahcan, LD
Jakub Zboril, LD
Dustyn McFaul, LD
Victor Berglund, RD
Nick Wolff, LD
Roman Bychkov, LD
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.
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.
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.
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.
After a tough Game 5 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Boston Bruins from the 2020 NHL Playoffs thoughts immediately turned to what the roster would look like for the 2020-21 season. Many names have already been tossed about from outside the organization as fans look from their perspectives to who could improve the Bruins and push the team over the top to a Stanley Cup Championship.
With the attention on players coming from outside the Bruins organization, it should be equally of interest who could come from within the organization and have their breakout moments to improve this team.
The forward group will likely see the most potential turnover with Joakim Nordstrom unlikely to be back and questions surrounding the likes of where Nick Ritchie, Chris Wagner & Par Lindholm fit into next year’s lineup, if at all, and the RFA status of Jake DeBrusk.
Zachary Senyshyn – In the Tampa Bay series it became clear that the Bruins needed more size and physical presence in the offensive zone but that it can’t come at the sacrifice of speed. Enter Zach Senyshyn, the controversial 15th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft recorded back to back 40+ goal seasons in the OHL with the Soo Greyhounds but since arriving full time in Providence has made it a mission to become better in his 200-foot game. Although the offensive numbers haven’t jumped off the page in the AHL, Senyshyn combines a 6’3”/193lbs frame with incredible straight line speeds and the knowledge of how to use both. Able to blow by defenders around the outside, Senyshyn brings the willingness to drive straight to goal with the puck and create in the dirty areas. The Bruins could have a breakout, forceful player on their hands as his professional development has come along but could also have a bigger, more physical version of former Merlot-line favourite Dan Paille, either way Senyshyn has earned a long look.
Trent Frederic – A player who just screams Boston Bruin, following in the tradition of the likes of Wayne Cashman, Terry O’Reilly & Stan Jonathan, Frederic loves to mix it up physically but also brings excellent offensive instincts and the knowledge of how to use a 6’2”/203lbs frame to his advantage. The 29th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Frederic has garnered a lot of attention for posting 215 penalty minutes in his last 114 AHL games, becoming one of the more feared players in the American Hockey League. What has gone under the radar is the 57 points (22 goals) the hulking 2nd year pro has posted in the same time frame. Able to control the puck in a phone booth, Frederic’s size, whole ice game and cycle ability would appear to make him a perfect potential match for Charlie Coyle on a 3rd line that could become very hard to handle for bottom pairing defenders.
Jack Studnicka – He may well end up being the steal of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, selected 53rd overall and Jack Studnicka has come a long way in a very short time. The rookie pro suited up in 60 games for the Providence Bruins recording 23 goals & 26 assists for 49 points while turning heads in the process. Playing with a super-computer between his ears it isn’t hard to see why the Windsor native has drawn many comparisons to current Bruins legend and future Hockey Hall of Famer Patrice Bergeron. Studnicka brings a far advanced defensive game for his age and offensive acumen, and showed in his 5-game playoff cameo for the Bruins in 2020 that he clearly belongs in the National Hockey League. Likely to start his career on the right-wing, it won’t be long before Studnicka patrols the middle of the ice as a key player for the Bruins.
On the blueline, the Bruins may not wind up with an obvious opening but do have at least a trio of young players pushing to open one with all three players bringing different styles to the table.
Jakub Zboril – Having spent the last three seasons with the Providence Bruins, the former 13th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft has had injuries derail a potential run with the NHL team on more than one occasion. Despite the potential for frustration, the physical rearguard has kept working, consistently improving his game over his three seasons in the AHL and by the time the 2019-20 season was put on hiatus Zboril was pushing for another opportunity in Boston. Fleet of foot with the ability to move the puck quickly and confidently from his own zone, the left-hand shot defender plays with a mean streak that would make you think he’d just stepped in the wasp’s nest. At 6’0”/200lbs, Zboril brings strength to the back end and would be more than able to move attackers from the front of the net which is what the Bruins came out of their series against Tampa Bay looking for more of. Zboril will also have a running start at the 2020-21 season beginning his year in the Czech Extraliga.
Urho Vaakanainen – Another defender who has seen opportunities to stick in Boston cast aside due to unfortunate injury, the 17th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is a tremendous skater who can get up and down the ice effortlessly while combining with a 6’1”/185lbs frame that allows Vaakanainen to win his share of board and net battles and excellent hockey IQ to see and read the game. While in Finland, Vaakanainen showed an appetite to consistently improve and moved from Blues to JYP to SaIPa to get the kind of ice time he felt he would need to be able to take those steps. Vaakanainen has now played 84 in Providence and an additional 5 in Boston and while his offensive output hasn’t taken a step forward the rest of his game has. An opportunity with the big club combined with some luck on the health side could see the left-hand shot Finnish rearguard become a trusted piece at even strength and the Bruins penalty kill and at just 21 years of age could be a Bruin for a long time to come.
Nick Wolff – As Kirk Luedeke has mentioned on the Amigos Podcast many times before, “Winners Win” and Nick Wolff is a bonafide winner. The towering 6’5”/230lbs left-hander has won 2 NCHC Championships and 2 NCAA National Championship while being a key piece of the on & off ice leadership for the UMD Bulldogs, including serving as the captain for the 2019-20 team. As mean and nasty as they come, Wolff won’t provide the fleet footed skating of a Zboril or Vaakanainen but will remind fans of a new age Adam McQuaid. Able to get by on his skating, uses his off the charts size and strength to make life miserable for opposing attackers and is able to clog both shooting and passing lanes with his massive frame. If the Bruins are just simply looking to get meaner and nastier in their own end, they may uncage a Wolff and let him loose on their opposition.
With Tuukka Rask & Jaroslav Halak both under contract there doesn’t appear to be any room for another goaltender to make his name on the 2020-21 Boston Bruins, however any crack in the window may provide the real opportunity for 1 talented keeper of the cage to make his mark in the NHL.
Daniel Vladar – Originally drafted in the 3rd round, 75th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Vladar has taken his time moving through the Bruins system but the 2019-20 season appeared to be the lightbulb moment for the 6’5”/185 netminder. Over the course of 25 games with the Providence Bruins, Vladar would post an incredible 1.73 GAA & .936 SV%. Thrust into a tough spot in the playoff series against the Lightning, the greater hockey world didn’t get a fair look at the potential Czech star and any injury to Rask or Halak that could allow Vladar an opportunity in the 2020-21 season could see Bruins fans potentially have a look into the future of the crease.
Every year there appears to be a surprise at training camp or at some point in the season when a player seems to find themselves and goes from dark-horse to stud. If the Bruins have a dark-horse in camp it very well could be a talented Slovakian.
Robert Lantosi – An older prospect at 24, Lantosi arrived with the Providence Bruins for the 2019-20 season where he really impressed posting 11 goals & 21 assists for 31 points over 50 games in his rookie season in North America and was rewarded by the Boston Bruins with an NHL contract (albeit 2-way) but with the potential he could see time on the RW for the NHL squad. Leaving Slovakia at 17 for the Vasteras program in Sweden before returning 5 years later and subsequently becoming a star for HK Nitra, Lantosi is well travelled and has blended natural talent with a responsibility to a three-zone game and a very mature outlook for a 24-year old. While he may never be an NHL superstar, Lantosi could provide offense in a bottom-6 role where his talents would make him a solid addition to a Bruins team that likes to roll 4 lines.
Matt Grzelcyk was Boston’s third-round selection at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. (Kirk Luedeke photo)
We’re back with notes and thoughts on the defensemen on the Boston Bruins playoff roster.
Practices are back underway and we’re getting input from multiple sources in attendance, plus our own analysis and even gut feelings about how things will play out when the round robin commences against Philadelphia on August 2.
We’ll continue with a look at the forwards tomorrow. -KL
Brandon Carlo- The first of three second-round picks in the 2015 draft is the most accomplished, having broken into the NHL at the tender age of 19 and now established as a proven defender with size, mobility and reach to keep opponents away from the prime scoring areas. The Colorado native keeps it simple, and he’ll never be a threat to the memory of Bobby Orr, but he’s highly effective and trusted in key defensive situations. He suffered a concussion just before the season got paused, so the B’s are getting Carlo when he’s healthy and clear-headed.
Help coming in the form of Brandon Carlo? Might be too much, too soon (Kirk Luedeke photo)
Zdeno Chara- Entering his 11th playoff season with the Bruins (he’s missed the dance just 3 times since he signed 14 years ago: 2007, 2015 and 2016), the captain is long in the tooth at age 43, but the time off just may have done wonders for his ageless machine. Always in tip-top shape, Chara is not dealing with the typical fatigue and body challenges that he faces as the league’s elder statesman. Now, the future Hall of Famer enters his 15th postseason, he’s rested and will likely have much more jump in his legs than we’re used to seeing each spring.
Even though he’s nowhere near the two-way defender he was in his prime and even 2013, when he established a career-best 15 postseason points at age 36, Chara’s experience, leadership and hardcore mindset make him an important asset for Boston’s blue line.
Connor Clifton- The 25-year old Arizona castoff who emerged a year ago in Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup final played in just 31 regular season games as he battled injuries, but he plays with speed, pace and bite. Although he’s under 6-foot in height, he’s always been a physical defender at every level, looking to level kill shots in open ice and playing like he was born with a chip on his shoulder. Because of his style and lack of natural size/thickness, he’s going to spend time on the IR, but Clifton provides superb depth for the B’s, and come playoff time, he elevates his game as his hypercompetitive drive kicks into high gear.
Matt Grzelcyk- Coming off a career-high 68 regular season games and 21 points, the Charlestown native and former Belmont Hill and BU star keeps getting better in the NHL. Always an elite skater, he’s gotten more adept at using his speed and smarts defensively, while building on his natural strength of moving pucks quickly out of his own end and being a big boon to the transition game. Grzelcyk has proven himself as a smaller D who provides a different dimension than Torey Krug does for the club, but the two have opened a lot of eyes around the league about the effectiveness they bring while not being carbon copies of one another. Grzelcyk’s success and emergence make him a potential expansion draft casualty a year from now, but after a solid 2019 postseason, he’s primed to have another big spring.
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 23: Torey Krug #47 of the Boston Bruins looks on against the New York Rangers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 23, 2013 in New York City. The Rangers won 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Torey Krug- He would’ve been one of the big free agent prizes on July 1st, but the Bruins still have No. 47 on the roster for one more run after he came up short (no pun intended) in two final series appearances as a rookie in 2013 and a year ago. A badger on skates, Krug was denied a fourth consecutive 50+ point season with the pause, but with 49 in 61 games is still one of the top offensive blue liners in pro hockey and a registered lethal weapon with the man advantage. He’s got a cannon of a shot and always has his head up, looking to thread pucks through traffic to teammates in prime scoring areas. It has become vogue to knock Krug’s defensive play, but that’s a lazy argument that does not take into account his experience or smart stick and genuine drive to prove the doubters wrong. True, he won’t match up 1-on-1 the way his D partner Carlo does, but the beauty of it is- he doesn’t have to.
There’s a lot of talk that Krug won’t be wearing a spoked B when the next season kicks off, but for now- he’s fully on board for one last hurrah if that’s what it will be. Those of us who have watched him flourish and grow after being the best college free agent signing of the decade eight years ago tend to believe that the B’s will find a way to bring him back into the fold, but if it is not to be, then Krug will be at his best for this playoffs.
Jeremy Lauzon- One of two defenders drafted in 2015’s second round (Carlo), Lauzon is on the verge of stepping out and into a full-time NHL role going forward. He has been paired with Grzelcyk on the team’s second day of return to play camp, and he’s a good partner for the smaller, more fleet-of-foot veteran. Lauzon can skate and defend and embraces the physical side of things, though he’s not as mobile or skilled as Grzelcyk. He can move pucks effectively enough, but has enough jam to balance the pairing.
Lauzon isn’t going to put up a lot of points, but he’s a smart, capable player who is versatile enough to chip in with a timely goal or assist, but is more valuable as a hard-to-play against defender who led the 2015-16 Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to a .776 regular season winning percentage and captured the QMJHL championship and a Memorial Cup run. He’s a winner.
Charlie McAvoy- Okay, we’re just going to say it: McAvoy is Boston’s best defenseman. He might not be that guy fully completely (to coin a phrase from the Tragically Hip- RIP Gord Downie) but he’s getting there fast. Granted, the critics- and there are a few out there- will point to McAvoy’s lack of high-end production, low contribution to the PP and turnovers as reasons that he’s not a top NHL defender, but we disagree. At age 22, McAvoy is far from a finished product, and we have 100% confidence that he will develop into a franchise cornerstone in the not very distant future. He’s no Ray Bourque, but in the modern age of hockey, he’s a perfect fit as a top 2-way defender because he can motor, has excellent vision but most importantly- has the aggressive mindset to make plays at both ends of the rink. Yes, he’ll push the envelope at times and turn pucks over, but coaches would much rather tame a wild colt than try to paint stripes on a pussycat. McAvoy is a tiger and we think he’s the one x factor on this blue line who could emerge in dramatic fashion this spring.
He’s the one the Bruins are going to have to invest in when his contract is up and he’ll be worth it. The fun part will be in watching him get there, and we’ll all have to take the good with the bad. The good will far outweigh the negatives- we’re positive that’s true. He does so many of the things you just can’t teach, and when you watch the dynamic plays he makes out there that may not look like much at first glance, you realize the B’s have something special on their hands. Brilliant pick at 14th- he’s so much better than most thought he’d be and the best part of all is that he’s only getting better.
John Moore- It’s been a tough couple of seasons for the player the B’s signed at term (five years) and value ($2.75M cap hit) to perhaps mitigate future losses to expansion while rolling the dice on him hitting an extra gear as he entered his prime. So far, that plan has not come to fruition. The former 21st overall pick in 2009 is already with his fifth NHL team and is one of those players who typically gets traded a lot over the course of a pro career: he brings enough value to be wanted, but isn’t impactful enough to be a core guy who establishes himself in one location. He played his best hockey with the moribund New Jersey Devils before signing- a good player on a bad team. Since signing in Boston, Moore hasn’t been able to carve a niche for himself on the B’s blue line and had an injury-plagued 19-20 campaign. He’s good depth at this point, but with his cap hit and others at much lower cap figures like Clifton and Lauzon on the roster, Moore’s future with the B’s is uncertain.
Urho Vaakanainen- The first-round pick in 2017 didn’t have the greatest season in Providence, but will benefit from being around the team for the playoffs and practicing/being immersed in the culture. A mobile, defense-first player, he’s more of a high-floor type, and hopefully, he can overcome the setbacks of an elbow to the face by Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki in 2018-19, and a lackluster 2019-20 campaign to take steps forward in his third North American pro season. It will be interesting to compare his poise and presence at the practices with that of fellow rookie Jakub Zboril.
Jakub Zboril- Boston’s first selection in 2015 has been passed by Carlo and Lauzon, but we’re still holding out hope that he can make the Boston roster in 20-21. With his size and skill package, Zboril is coming off of his most consistent and successful AHL season with Providence. Being around the Bruins as a black ace and extra will set the conditions for him to finally take that next step, but if not, there is probably another team out there willing to give him a shot. Still, given Boston’s time, energy and patience invested, we’d like to see it work out with Zboril in the Black and Gold. He’s not the player they hoped for, but he can still be a serviceable depth guy.
We got the 3 Amigos together again, but full credit to Anthony Kwetkowski of Bruins Network who suggested a joint venture, so we’re proud to unveil our first edition of the 3 Amigos + 1 podcast…4 Amigos…whatever you feel comfortable calling it.
As for us, we’re calling it a good solid near 3 hours’ worth of talk about various subjects from what the NHL playoff format might look like, to Jack Studnicka, everyone’s most interesting B’s prospect and then we answered reader-submitted questions on a host of topics from more expansion draft stuff to Tuukka Rask extension to Torey Krug’s chances of re-signing to Ondrej Kase and what the lines might look like, plus more. It runs long, but it sure felt like about 40 minutes to us.
But don’t take our word for it- give it a listen here:
As always- thanks for listening and thanks to those who provided questions!
Boston’s 1st choice, 13th overall in 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Current Team: Providence Bruins (AHL)
Previous Team: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Strengths: Outstanding, NHL-caliber skater with speed, balance, agility; can get off the mark quickly, has a powerful glide and exhibits nifty foot work to change direction efficiently. Good puckhandler who can make the first pass and uses his feet and stick to break pucks out of his own end consistently. Hard shot- a missile that he can drive from the point through traffic on net. Enjoys the physical aspect of his position: engages with opposing puck carriers and will put his body through their hands to disrupt the rush. A willing hitter who opened eyes in his draft season for his embrace of physicality, and as he gains experience, is getting smarter and more effective in his ability to end plays along the walls.
Weaknesses: Vision/hockey instincts are pretty average; doesn’t always make the right reads/decisions and not an overly creative puck distributor. Play away from puck is a continued work in progress; still developing 360-degree awareness and d-zone coverages to prevent opponents from finding soft seams and exploiting time/space.
Overall analysis: Boston’s top pick five years ago has been slow to develop and might not ever get there (at least with the organization that drafted him), which makes him one of the more polarizing prospects in the system. Like others who have come before him and those who will surely follow, he is a victim more of expectations than out of a failure to perform. While his development has not been as rapid as other 2015 peers who were chosen after he was, Zboril has taken positive steps, even if he’s been unable to do more than play sparingly in just two NHL games with the B’s.
As part of a very strong draft class, Zboril was solidly in the second tier of defensemen available after Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski, all of whom were drafted in the first eight selections and have gone on to become established NHL players. Zboril’s junior teammate, Thomas Chabot, was drafted five spots later at 18th overall, and has emerged as a top tier player, which has added to the disappointment of a slow development process in Providence.
Luckily for the Bruins, Brandon Carlo is the defender from the 2015 draft who has been able to become a staple supporting cast member, and while Zboril doesn’t have Carlo’s size, he’s more of a 2-way threat and hybrid style player that it is hard to account for why things have not come together for him. The irony in the criticism Zboril gets on Internet message boards and Twitter is that at the time he was drafted, he was the one player of Boston’s three first-round selections at 13-15 who was the accepted commodity at his draft slot, while Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn were the players who raised the most controversy given where they were projected.
Five years later, it is obvious that Boston should have gotten more production out of those three selections, with only DeBrusk currently a full-time roster player, while others selected after 15 have gone on to become stars. Having said that, Zboril just turned 23 in February- he has time to establish himself as an NHL player with the B’s, even if time is running out. He just played out the third year of his entry-level contract, and should receive a qualifying offer. He’s been consistent in Providence- posting 19 points in each of his three AHL seasons. The offensive production that looked to translate from junior play probably isn’t going to be there, but he’s shown improvement as a defender since turning pro, and he can leverage that into a decent NHL role in the right situation.
Projection: The days of projecting the left-shot Zboril as a top-3 NHL D are long over, but barring some kind of miracle, he has the tools to be a solid 5/6/7 and role player at the top level. Granted, that’s not going to make many celebrate him given who Boston could’ve had at 13, but he still has it in him to establish himself in the NHL as a solid complementary/depth player who could enhance any defense with his mobility and skills.
His playing style and game reminds us of another heralded junior defenseman who put up points and was expected to be a 2-way NHL star. After being a top-10 pick in his first draft, Nick Boynton had to reinvent himself as more of a defense-first, supporting D, going on to play more than 600 NHL games and raising the Stanley Cup at the end of his career with the Chicago Blackhawks. We’re not saying Zboril is the next Boynton, but there are some similarities here, and at age 23, he’s far from washed up- Boynton was 22 when he finally cracked Boston’s lineup to stay. For a more modern example, Matt Grzelcyk was 23 when he became an NHL regular, but he did it after playing just one full season of pro in the AHL before making the jump to Boston to stay.
Right now- Zboril is at a personal and professional crossroads: can he finally make the cut in his fourth season, or will he go back down to the AHL, and essentially see the window close on a possible Bruins career? When you look at his physical gifts and playing style, there isn’t any clear explanation for why Zboril has failed to develop into an every day NHL player by now, but nevertheless, this is where we are.
At the very least, he’s shown improvement in each of his three seasons, so he’s got a chance to make it in year four- he can absolutely skate, pass and shoot- if he can put it all together, the ability is there to be a player in the NHL.
SportsNet pre-draft clip of Zboril- “expected to go in the middle of the first round”- yes, that was the projection, and that’s where he went.
The Scouting Post is pleased to present a 2-hour and change discussion with Anthony Kwetkowski– Bruins Network on his excellent work as a Boston Bruins prospect analyst.
You can follow his work and observations on Twitter at: @BruinsNetwork
In the podcast, we cover a lot of topics, starting out with a look back at the 2010 NHL draft, where Anthony caught the B’s prospects bug with the Tyler Seguin draft. We then take a macro look at the Boston Bruins’ ability to draft (Jake DeBrusk) and sign impact players as undrafted free agents (Torey Krug, Noel Acciari, Karson Kuhlman), following up with an assessment of the 2019-20 AHL Providence Bruins. We then drill down to key AHL prospects, with AK breaking down detailed notes on Providence players Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, Jakub Zboril,Jeremy Lauzon and Zach Senyshyn.
We also talk about organizational rankings around the NHL- how they are done and why the Bruins are consistently down near the bottom of rankings from the last two years.
Players also covered/analyzed in the podcast: John Beecher, Nick Wolff, Jack Ahcan, Cooper Zech, Victor Berglund and Quinn Olson.
It was a fun discussion and we’ll have him back again- thanks again to him for coming on and providing such depth of knowledge of these players. Here’s the file: