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.
JeremySwayman is the future master of the blue paint for the Boston Bruins. Everything he has done in 9 NHL games this season is worthy of phenom status. His numbers to date are even better then the shiny numbers he put up in the AHL through his first 9 games.
Not since FrankBrimsek have the Bruins had such a promising young netminder and I say that with all due respect to TuukkaRask.
The numbers are eye popping: 9 games played, 7 wins, 2 losses, a goals-against-average of 1.44 and a save-percentage of .946 and two shutouts in those 9 matches.
Swayman is having fun. He’s smiling, laughing, engaging in a friendly manner with the on-ice officials and contrary to what any other goalie who has ever played in the shootout era NHL, loves shootouts. The personality is there, the calmness is there and most importantly, the skill is there.
It’s almost a foregone conclusion that if something were to happen to Rask in the playoffs, or if he needs a game off here or there, that Swayman will likely man the net for the Bruins over JaroslavHalak.
But this is where we have to put on the brakes. It may very well be that the business side of hockey is what determines Swayman’s status for the 2021-22 season.
If you are a believer that General Manager DonSweeney will bring Rask back and re-sign him, which this writer believes to be the case, that signing won’t happen until after the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. The reasoning for waiting is a simple one: They wouldn’t have to protect Rask from being selected by Kraken GM RonFrancis and could then protect DanVladar.
The situation is a simple one then with Rask, Vladar and Swayman in the fold for next season. Only one of the three is waiver exempt for the 2021-22 season and that’s Swayman.
I’m not so sure Sweeney wants to risk losing Vladar on the waiver wire – and truth be told, there would be more then a few teams interested. Sweeney took a risk after the Vegas Golden Knights expansion trying to sneak MalcolmSubban through waivers and he lost as the Golden Knights nabbed him. That forced Sweeney to go out and sign undrafted free agent netminder KyleKeyser who I might add, I also believe in.
The only safe bet and protection Sweeney has is to have Rask and Vladar man the net for the Bruins while Swayman gets to be the guy in Providence.
No doubt the general consensus is going to be “Dom has lost his mind.” Maybe so. But I ask you to put yourself in Sweeney’s shoes. Are you going to risk losing a goaltender that you’ve invested 6 years on to develop him to this point? And a goaltender who at worst could be a capable NHL backup and form a tandem with Swayman in the future?
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.
We’re back with a quick hitter on some of the current Bruins on the roster and where we see things as Oliver Ekman-Larsson rumors are picking up steam, Torey Krug appears to be moving on and big changes are on the horizon.
These may constitute unpopular opinions, but what the heck- today’s as good a day as any to shake the trees a bit!
Overrated: Brandon Carlo
OK- we’re not out to dump on the guy, but watching Bruins fans twist themselves into knots over discussions about him being involved in trade talks like he’s some kind of untouchable player is a bit much. He’s a good, solid defensive defenseman. But here’s the thing- can he run a PP? Nope. Not special. In fact, he’s comparable to former Bruin Kyle McLaren– a nice complementary piece, but not a driver you refuse to consider trade offers for. Our fear is that his/his agent’s ask on the next contract negotiation process will shift him from being a good value player to exceeding that current bargain rate/savings, and that’s a problem. By the way- 0 goals, 1 assist in 13 playoff games…sorry, but that’s not worth the wailing and gnashing of teeth we’re seeing on Twitter and elsewhere. Newsflash- Carlo is a good right-shot D with size/mobility and so when Don Sweeney calls teams to talk trade options, his name is going to come up. It doesn’t mean the B’s are shopping him, but it also does not mean the team refuses to consider moving him if the return is right. Besides, relax guys- reports are that the Boston GM has politely but firmly rebuffed the Carlo ask thus far- we don’t expect he’s going anywhere…for now.
Underrated: Jeremy Lauzon
Since the days when Adam McQuaid displaced 2003 1st-rounder Mark Stuart on the Boston roster because his cap hit (at the time) was significantly lower, the Bruins have done a nice job of finding bargain defenders who come in and round out the club’s blue line depth at a low rate, while working their way up in the lineup. Lauzon is the latest ‘D’ to step into the breach, as the 2015 2nd-rounder is a hard-nosed, tough-to-play against type who moves well and has made some skill plays against the backdrop of a modest offensive output. No, he’s not 6-5 like Carlo is, but at some point, if the latter prices himself out of feasibility for the B’s, Lauzon is a player who could come in and assume a similar defensive role. Granted- Carlo is a right-shot and Lauzon is a lefty, but we’ve seen him play on the right side in the past and he’s capable of doing it, even if many coaches prefer to build L-R defensive pairings. Lauzon’s pro production is comparable to that of Carlo, and he comes in at a fraction of the cost. You obviously want to keep both in the lineup, but that’s going to be up to the guy who’s making almost $3M now and will probably be looking for $4.5-5 on his next deal in 2021. Besides, if you’re not crazy about Lauzon being up to the task, don’t forget Connor Clifton, who doesn’t have Carlo’s pure size or shutdown ability, but can fly and plays with real jam. And…he’s a righty.
Overrated: Jake DeBrusk
Look, when he’s on his game and scoring, everyone loves DeBrusk- he plays with a speed and infectious energy that is easy to fall in love with. And there is no denying that he’s scored some pretty big goals for the B’s since he broke in as a full-time player in 2017-18. However, he’s proving to be a streaky scorer and the simple question we would pose to those who don’t agree that he’s overrated is: when he isn’t scoring, what exactly is he doing out there? It’s an old hockey coach’s saw that if a player’s scoring touch dries up, then the one-dimensional guys will be the first to take a seat and ride the pine if they don’t bring something else to the table. This is why players like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are so valuable (and are paid accordingly)- they make an important impact when they aren’t generating offense. Even the most ardent DeBrusk supporter would have a hard time denying that you have to look for him when he’s not scoring (unless they’re a little deluded, that is). So, JDB has got to find a way to expand his game and bring more value to the table when he’s not scoring goals off the rush…especially if he wants to get paid.
Underrated: Cameron Hughes
We think that the B’s are wasting the window of opportunity with Hughes by keeping him at center where there is a logjam and would be much better suited to trying him at wing, where he could use his speed and creativity to generate scoring at a bargain rate. Always smallish, slight and lacking in strength going back to his days with the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints and in the NCAA, the team knew it would be a longer process to get Hughes into the NHL, but he’s been pretty effective in the AHL thus far since turning pro out of the University of Wisconsin in 2018. Hughes isn’t a volume producer offensively, but he’s tallied some pretty unreal goals over the years, and it’s much easier to take a center and make him a wing versus the other way around. With another year on a deal that pays him under $800k, why not try him in the big lineup and see what happens?
Overrated: Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak
$9.25M invested in goaltending should give you more than the Bruins got in the 2020 playoffs.
We know that both can play, but with the way things went with Rask, can the team trust him to be there when they need him? And Halak, as valiant an effort as he gave, simply wasn’t good enough to make a difference against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s a lot of coin to have tied up in goaltending, and the Bruins are right to expect a better ROI. This is why no one should be surprised that trade rumors are starting to pick up around Rask. You can be opposed to the idea of moving him, but given that he’s in the final year of his contract, plus a track record of leaving the team and/or not being available at times, there should not be any kind of shock that his name is coming up at this stage.
Underrated: Jeremy Swayman
Give him some time, and a longer-term solution for the Bruins might be in house.
It would be foolish and unrealistic to think he can come in and challenge for a spot in Boston right away, but his NHL debut may not be that far away and if we’ve learned anything about the NCAA’s top goaltender, he has a proven record of performance at every level thus far, and should make a quick transition to the AHL.
Boston probably needs a temporary bridge in net this year and maybe next if they end up moving on from Rask, but Swayman is a player who should be closely watched going forward, along with dark horse prospect Kyle Keyser.
Bruins prospect Jeremy Swayman capped off his sensational career at the University of Maine by winning the Mike Richter Award, given to player adjudged to be the D1 NCAA Men’s Hockey best goaltender.
The Boston fourth-round selection in 2017 led the nation in save percentage with a .939, but also had the most work of any netminder, facing 1170 shots in 34 appearances.
Swayman succeeds fellow 2017 draft class member and Hockey East goalie Cayden Primeau (Montreal- Northeastern) in winning college hockey’s top award for goalies. He is the second Bruins prospect to earn the award, following Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), who received the Richter in 2015. Additonally, Swayman was named Hockey East Player of the Year and NCAA Men’s Hockey First Team All-American to close out a tremendous individual season.
He is expected to begin his professional career with the AHL’s Providence Bruins in 2020-21.
University of Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Scott Perunovich also was voted the 2019-20 Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner and like Swayman, a First Team All-American. The St. Louis Blues prospect had 40 points for the Bulldogs.
University of Maine junior goaltender Jeremy Swayman along with with University of North Dakota forward Jordan Kawaguchi and University of Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Scott Perunovich were named Hobey Hat Trick finalists for college hockey’s top award- the Hobey Baker.
Swayman, who recently turned pro, signing with the Bruins in March, edged out fellow Hockey East Hobey hopeful John Leonard of UMass for the league’s player of the year honors. Leonard, a dangerous finisher who starred at Springfield Cathedral HS and played in the USHL with Green Bay before becoming a Minuteman, will leave school to sign with the San Jose Sharks.
The last Hobey Baker winner who played for the Bruins was Boston College defenseman Mike Mottau, who took the hardware in 2000, and skated in just eight regular season and playoff games for the B’s in 2011-12.
We recently did a comprehensive review of Swayman on this blog, and while he’s a long shot to come away with the hardware when the 2020 Hobey Baker winner is announced on April 11, he had an amazing season with the Black Bears.
Consistency has been the name of the game with Swayman, as he jumped from midget AAA in Colorado to the USHL to completing three superb NCAA seasons all in the span of just five years. He did it with just one year of junior hockey under his belt, which is a path less travelled for most goalies, who typically need more time developing at the tier 1 and tier 2 junior levels before making the jump to college. Now, with one year of NCAA eligibility remaining, Swayman is ahead of the curve again, signing a 3-year deal with the Bruins and getting his professional apprenticeship underway. This is one more indicator that despite the lack of pre-draft hype, the Bruins did a find job of scouting a player who should have been on more radars, or at least, should have gotten more attention than he did.
There are a lot of things to like about Swayman, but in watching more film, he excels at the concept of transition through SPOT (popularized by Columbus Blue Jackets goalie coach Jim Corsi. Yes, THAT Jim Corsi.)- Square, Prepared and On Time. When it comes to the transition game in net, it’s about the goalie answering one critical question: how can I get there (to the right spot) on time to make the save? Playing an entire hockey game in net is like going SPOT to SPOT over and over again. The best goalies at any level are the ones who are the most skilled, athletic, and aware; consistently able to make the first save, and then at least one more, all while managing the controlled chaos around their net. Sounds easy, right?
At TSP, we tip our caps to the job Swayman has done this season at Maine and over the course of his college career. He’s going out a winner, regardless of who comes away with the big prize.
And also not to be forgotten- Daniel Vladar, who was having a tremendous season with Providence until the rug was pulled out from under him and the rest of his team as the AHL had to shut it down. And there is also Kyle Keyser, just a few months younger than Swayman, whose first pro campaign got derailed by injuries, but is also one of the more impressive in a long line of undrafted free agents the Bruins have signed in recent years.
Yes, when it comes to goaltending and the Bruins, it seems that the kids are all right.
The Boston Bruins announced a couple of NCAA/college player signings this week, coming to terms with 2017 fourth-round selection and University of Maine/Hockey East Player of the Year Jeremy Swayman along with undrafted free agent University of Minnesota-Duluth senior defenseman Nick Wolff on three-year and one-year entry-level contracts.
Going to break the analysis into a then and now, as both players have been talked about on TSP, so we can see what was said before and where we are in the near year since they were both last mentioned in a writeup of Bruins development camp in July.
So here’s the skinny on what we think about Swayman and Wolff, starting with the 111th selection three years ago in Chicago. We’ll follow up with a separate blog post breaking down the Wolff signing and what B’s fans can expect from him going forward.
Jeremy Swayman then:
July 2019- He’s a fourth round pick attending his third development camp, so naturally, more was expected of the Maine Black Bear, and he delivered. We talked to one Hockey East assistant coach whose team has been stymied by Swayman’s play in the last two seasons, so there is a lot here in terms of natural size, ability and the mental toughness to keep his team in games while playing in such a competitive conference. In Boston this past week, Swayman showed that he’s continuing to progress in his development and growing as a goaltender as he gains experience and fills out. Between Swayman and Kyle Keyser, the B’s have a couple of goalie prospects who are not high draft picks. Daniel Vladar was a 3rd-rounder in 2015 and is still hanging around, but his development has been slower and there were always some concerns with Vladar’s overall game, particularly in the areas of how he reads the play/sees the ice. Swayman appears to have the edge right now and it will be interesting to see where he is in his progression when he signs and turns pro.
Truth in lending- no one from TSP was present in Boston, but we’ve talked to a few hockey folks who where. These are just observations meant to supplement what may already be out there in articles, blog posts and message boards from those who saw the action firsthand.
Development camp caveat- you have to take the performances with a grain of salt. B’s player development director Jamie Langenbrunner said it best when asked about 2018 4th-rounder Curtis Hall, when he remarked about liking Hall better in game situations than he does in a skills and drills-centric development camp setting. Some players look like heroes when they just have to showcase their skills and don’t actually have to compete/fight through contact/handle the requirements to play with pace against opponents who are trying to take your head off, and eventually prove they can’t crack the NHL lineup on a full-time basis. Other guys might look less impressive at d-camps, yet become NHL regulars because when it comes to making plays in games, they get it done. This is not to say that it has to be one or the other, but we all have to temper expectations on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to assessing development camp performances from year to year.
Now, on to some notes about players:
Most notable performers
John Beecher, C- Boston’s 1st-rounder wowed onlookers with his pure skating chops, which is not a surprise. As mentioned on this space before, he’s so big and fast that even if he doesn’t evolve into a top scoring threat at the NHL level, he’s going to play for quite a few years because the incoming Michigan freshman has such a high floor at the pro level, and having played behind such dynamic offensive talents at the Program, he might have been denied his due as a scorer. It will be interesting to see how he is employed in Ann Arbor, and one can only wonder if he will be a one-and-done player like Joel Farrabee was at BU this past season. We’re seeing players sign earlier and earlier out of the NCAA, so whether it’s one year or two, the feeling we’re getting is that the B’s will want to bring Beecher into the pro ranks sooner rather than later.
Oskar Steen, F- We talked about him in the first development camp post this week and said we weren’t thrilled when he was drafted. Let’s expound on that: In the 2016 draft, the B’s passed on other smaller/skill forwards like Alex DeBrincat and Vitali Abramov to grab Steen later on. The feeling then was that if you’re going to take a player like that, why not grab the higher-rated guy? Now, hindsight being 20/20- DeBrincat would have been a terrific get for Boston at 29 (Trent Frederic), but to his credit, Steen has developed into an impressive offensive threat in Sweden, finishing 10th in the highest pro league’s scoring, despite being eligible to play junior hockey this past season as a 20-year-old. So, while we (with the exception of 3rd Amigo Reed Duthie, who loved the Steen pick from the get-go) weren’t keen on him on draft weekend, we have seen him evolve as a prospect from a latter-round flyer to a solid NHL prospect who is signed and ready to make his mark in North America. We don’t know where he’ll play this season or what kind of role Steen will have, but with his speed, hands and grit- don’t be surprised to see him play some games in the show at some point. As an older, pro-experienced player, Steen was expected to shine in development camp this week and he did just that…let’s see how he looks against the NHL veterans in September before we get any more hyped on him.
Cooper Zech, D- The slight but speedy defender was signed to an AHL deal and ATO out of Ferris State and made a splash with the Providence Bruins during their playoff run. Now, he might be another of these free agent gems that the B’s scouts seem to be so adept at finding. In 2017, it was Connor Clifton, who after being drafted by Arizona but not coming to terms out of Quinnipiac University, signed a similar deal with Boston and earned a NHL contract. After making a positive impression in his first big league action, Clifton found himself playing in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final…we’re not saying Zech is going to take the exact same glidepath, but he’s doing all the things that point in that direction. Although small, he gets up the ice quickly and puts rocket passes on the tape/has a natural inclination to be aggressive with his play. It’s easier to tame a tiger than try to paint stripes on a pussycat, so Zech is setting himself up to have more opportunities going forward.
Jeremy Swayman, G- He’s a fourth round pick attending his third development camp, so naturally, more was expected of the Maine Black Bear, and he delivered. We talked to one Hockey East assistant coach whose team has been stymied by Swayman’s play in the last two seasons, so there is a lot here in terms of natural size, ability and the mental toughness to keep his team in games while playing in such a competitive conference. In Boston this past week, Swayman showed that he’s continuing to progress in his development and growing as a goaltender as he gains experience and fills out. Between Swayman and Kyle Keyser, the B’s have a couple of goalie prospects who are not high draft picks. Daniel Vladar was a 3rd-rounder in 2015 and is still hanging around, but his development has been slower and there were always some concerns with Vladar’s overall game, particularly in the areas of how he reads the play/sees the ice. Swayman appears to have the edge right now and it will be interesting to see where he is in his progression when he signs and turns pro.
Matt Brown, F- The undrafted UMass-Lowell forward isn’t very big, but he plays bigger- showcasing speed/tremendous puck skills and a natural chip-on-the-shoulder mentality in Boston this week. Unfortunately for the Bruins, if they want him, they will have to sign him as a free agent at some point when he is ready to turn pro, as he is a ’99-born player and therefore ineligible to be selected in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft- the time to do that was in Vancouver. The lack of size and the fact that he was in his final window of eligibility likely contributed to NHL clubs passing on Brown (and in Boston’s case- they grabbed a similar player earlier in Quinn Olson), but he’s one guy to keep an eye on going forward as a player who has always been overlooked coming up through the minor and junior hockey ranks. Like Torey Krug, he feeds off of the snubs and critics/doubters- UML has themselves as a good one.
Quinn Olson, F- The Okotoks Oilers (AJHL) standout isn’t very big right now, but plays a gritty, fearless game. Headed to the twice-defending NCAA champs in Duluth, MN this fall, Olson will be in a perfect place to develop on a gradual timeline. He’s got a lot of room to grow and fill out, but one of the things we like about him is that with his quickness, top-level hands and jam/grit factor, he will be able to play up and down the Bulldogs lineup this season. We expect modest production initially, but Olson will likely really take off in years 2 and 3 as pro teams convince UMD’s top players to sign and turn pro- it’s an inevitable happening for all successful teams at every level, so watch for the Alberta native to become an impact NCAA player and garner notice in due time.
Victor Berglund, D- The late 2017 pick is coming along. He’s always had the mobility and skating that catches the eye, but according to one pro skills coach in attendance, he’s figuring out how to use his stick more effectively in offensive and defensive situations. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with his wheels and eyes, so if the puckhandling and defensive awareness are rounding into form, he’s the kind of underdog prospect who is worth tracking as a dark horse to eventually make contributions in Boston.
Nate Sucese, F- Like Brown, the undrafted camp invite is a smallish, skill forward who really stood out during the drills portions. He’s fast, agile and has superb hands/hockey vision. The Penn State scorer has been productive at every level- starting out in the Buffalo Jr. Sabres minor hockey program, playing a year of prep at the Gunnery and then putting up a point-per-game in the USHL with Dubuque in his second junior season before he headed to Happy Valley. Is he a legitimate NHL prospect or more of a ‘tweener? At 23 years old, he was older than most players here, so that gave him an advantage in the camp setting, but we could see Sucese earning an AHL contract next spring after he completes his NCAA eligibility. We’re thinking 50-60 points and Hobey Baker consideration could be in the offing for the rising Nittany Lions senior, but again- with the number of solid NHL draft picks in the B’s system, Sucese is probably a long shot to be signed.
Jack Studnicka, Jakub Lauko and Kyle Keyser didn’t participate in the on-ice activities, but were in attendance and all made their presence known to varying degrees. Lauko’s outsized personality is a welcome sight- his blistering speed and championship pedigree are showing him to be one of the 2018 NHL draft’s top values where the B’s got him in the third round.
The Bruins may not have a lot of elite/top-level prospects in their system, but they have a lot of solid role player types, some of which have a chance to develop into something more than that. When you’re picking later in the draft each year, that’s going to happen, but overall, the team’s scouts have done a good job of finding value players who have a chance to crack the lineup at some point.
We just scratched the surface here, and the various media outlets that cover prospects and rank them by organization aren’t likely to be all that interested in what the Bruins have in system at present, but it’s a solid, if unspectacular group overall that is probably more middle of the pack than bottom-end, even if others might disagree.
None of us are there, so relying on second hand reports, but the second day of Boston Bruins Development Camp is ongoing and a few prospects are attracting notice from various observers.
Here’s a quick recap:
Oskar Steen, F- We’ll admit we weren’t thrilled with Steen’s selection in the 2016 draft, but the ’98-born forward is coming off an impressive breakout season in his native Sweden’s highest pro league, putting up nearly a point per game and finishing 10th overall in scoring. He played center, but whether he slots in the middle in North America or splits out to the wing remains to be seen. He’s fast, agile, skilled and plays with some p & v. During a camp interview posted on the B’s Twitter feed, Steen says he’s coming in to make the big club, but barring a major run at camp/preseason, he’ll likely begin the year in Providence.
John Beecher, F- Boston’s top selection in Vancouver did not disappoint onlookers with his impressive skating/speed, plus won locals over with his declaration that he and his brother broke with family tradition to root for the Boston Red Sox growing up in a New York Yankees household. The Elmira, NY native was a Buffalo Sabres fan on the hockey side, but he’s hitting the right notes in his first look after being taken 30th overall. He’s big, powerful and can really scoot for one so big- if his offensive skills improve, the B’s could have a real prospect on their hands.
Pavel Shen, F- The 2018 7th-rounder and Russian pro looks the part: decent size, skating and skills. He was a standout for Russia at the 2019 World Jr. Championship tourney last winter and could be a sleeper to develop into a solid NHL player at some point. He can handle the puck in tight spaces and has vision/creativity to make plays. If he pans out, it could be another feather in the cap for a Boston scouting staff that is doing a nice job of finding players from all corners of the globe.
Axel Andersson, D- Boston’s top choice (2nd round) a year ago can really skate- his wheels/footwork is the most impressive asset he brings to the table. The slick Swede checks the boxes for what the Bruins tend to value in their players: highly mobile and sees the ice pretty well. We’re not sure about the overall skill level for Andersson to develop into a top-3 NHL defenseman, but he appears to have the tools to be a role player and special teams asset. Interestingly enough, he was drafted today in the CHL Import Draft 30th overall by the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL- that marks the second year in a row that a CHL team has rolled the dice to select Andersson.
Jeremy Swayman, G- Somewhat of a surprise pick in 2017 simply because there were other more highly-ranked goaltenders in the USHL available when the B’s grabbed him in the 4th round, the University of Maine rising junior has posted two solid seasons in the Hockey East. He’s got the size, athletic ability and production/pedigree to continue to rise up the prospect ladder within the organization. On the downside, fans won’t get to see a head-to-head matchup between Swayman and undrafted free agent Kyle Keyser this week- Keyser is being held off the ice (along with Jakub Lauko and Jack Studnicka) after he got nicked up at some point during his playoff run in the OHL and AHL (plus Black Ace duty with the B’s).
Kudos to the Bruins staff for having an impressive group of current and rising NCAA players here this week who had notable junior hockey careers. Here are a couple:
Matt Brown, F- The smallish but highly skilled ’99 just finished a 30-goal season with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL and will play at UMass-Lowell in the fall. He’s dynamic with the puck on his stick and plays with some real jam as a feisty underdog who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Brown was a key member of the USA squad that captured gold at the World Jr. A Challenge last December, beating pretty much the same Russian team that knocked out the USA NTDP galaxy of all stars in April at the World U18s. Looking back on it, given some of the players who were picked in Vancouver, Brown should have had his name called at some point, even late in the seventh round- that was probably a mistake for the NHL’s 31 clubs.
Nathan Burke, F- The former NAHL standout with the Aberdeen Wings would have been a top USHL player, but went in to the University of Minnesota this past season. He’s a smart playmaking forward who has excellent vision/hockey IQ and works hard on the details of his game. Although still pretty lean for his 6-foot frame, he’s noticeable for the way he tracks back on pucks and finds quiet ice in the offensive zone. Burke was rumored to be a close candidate to be drafted a year ago as a late bloomer in his final window of eligibility but it didn’t happen. Watch for him to be a high-profile NCAA free agent in 1-2 years when he can pick his destination, and fans will catch a glimpse of what could be this week.
Nick Wolff, D- Two-time NCAA champion with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is big and a nasty, tough competitor who helped anchor a suffocating defense in the NCHC last season. He’s massive at 6-4, and the skating isn’t a strength (especially when Scott Perunovich is flying around the same ice), but he’s a smart defender who uses his size, strength and stick effectively. The assistant captain from 2018-19 was rumored to be considering turning pro in the spring, but opted to return for his senior season, and he should sign a pro contract in the spring of 2020. Wolff attended B’s development camp a year ago and despite numerous offers by other teams opted to return to Boston in 2019. He’s a throwback type…if you liked Adam McQuaid, Wolff is a guy you’ll have time for as a defense-first, physical, hard-to-play against glue role D.
Cooper Zech, D- The B’s signed the Michigan native to an AHL deal after just one impressive NCAA season with Ferris State (where his teammates included Boston prospect Cam Clarke), putting up nearly a point per game. Although he never played in the USHL, Zech helped the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild win that league’s championship in 2018 and though he lacks size, is a fast, tenacious player who is already evoking comparisons to Connor Clifton. Zech doesn’t know Torey Krug personally, but according to Conor Ryan of Boston Sports Journal, Zech said that Krug’s dad Kyle once cut him from the Belle Tire 16U midget AAA team. That would put Zech in some pretty exclusive company…the elder Krug is famous for cutting another player back in the day you might have heard of…Mike Modano.