The 2020 NHL Entry Draft is in the books, and without a first-round pick, many observers expected that the Boston Bruins’ effort in an unprecedented October event due to COVID would be relatively quiet.
Picking at 58th overall, the B’s once again did things their way by not selecting one of the top remaining first-year draft eligible players, but by taking a late-blooming defenseman out of the USHL. With only five total draft choices (no 1st- Ondrej Kase, no 4th- Marcus Johansson) due to trades, the team dealt its final seventh-round pick (213th overall) to the Toronto Maple Leafs for that club’s seventh in 2021.
Here’s a quick look at Boston’s four selections, with more to follow as there will be prospect profiles developed for all.
Rd. 2/58 Mason Lohrei, LD 6-5/210 Green Bay (USHL)- Ohio State (2021-22)
Pronounced: LOHR-eye. January 2001 birth date left-shot D was passed over in 2019 after spending his second season at Culver Military Academy, but obviously impressed the Boston scouting staff as a USHL rookie in 2019-20 with Green Bay.
A big, long, rangy defender who can get up the ice with a smooth, powerful stride, Lohrei is a very good passer/puck-mover who led the league in assists by a blue liner with 29. He has the physical tools to be a top-4 defenseman in the NHL, but does not have the junior hockey experience of a lot of his peers. Good defensive awareness and plays with some jam.
Upside: You can’t teach this kid’s pure size and reach- he’ a good skater who plays the prototypical modern defensive NHL style with the ability to handle pucks under pressure. Has improved significantly in the past several years, and puts in the work/plays with bite. He’s definitely a Boston Bruins-type player and while he wasn’t on our radar largely because he was a second-year eligible who wasn’t a serious draft prospect in 2019, he should have been this time around- he demonstrated a fine 2-way game in his first USHL season, and will be even better in his second campaign before heading to the Big Ten and OSU.
Downside: Did the B’s have to make the selection at 58? How many other teams were seriously on Lohrei there, and with some highly-regarded first-year draft players still on the board like Will Cuylle, Daemon Hunt, Ty Smilanic, Jean-Luc Foudy, Jeremie Poirier and even local prep star D Ian Moore, the decision to spend the first pick on Lohrei was a curious one. All of those players were drafted within 17 spots after the B’s took Lohrei.
Did you know: The B’s had another former Culver Military Academy (Indiana) standout in defenseman Barry Richter, who played parts of several seasons in Boston in the mid-90’s.
Rd. 3/89 Trevor Kuntar, C-LW 6-1/203 Boston College (Youngstown- USHL)
Solid pick, and one we previewed this week before the draft.
Like Lohrei, Kuntar is a 2001 who was passed up a year ago. Unlike Lohrei, Kuntar played three full years of junior hockey before moving on to BC this season and is a lot more refined and experienced.
A USHL tender player out of the Buffalo Jr. Sabres organization in 2017, Kuntar had to pay his dues and did not immediately meet expectations in the league for his first two seasons before blossoming last year and finishing in the top-10 scorers. Kuntar is the second Youngstown Phantom to be drafted by Boston in the last 3 drafts (Curtis Hall– 2018)
With a thick build and natural strength, Kuntar can bull his way to the net, but also possesses the speed and puck skills to create offense in space. He competes hard and was clearly stung by not being drafted a year ago, as he played the 2019-20 campaign with a burr under his saddle and established himself as one of the league’s top players.
Upside: With about 150 games of junior experience, he should be able to make an impact right away with the Eagles. He has a tremendous shot- a pinpoint, lightning release with a heaviness that he can blow by goalies from the outside. He also has soft enough/nifty mitts to score goals in tight. He was a lethal weapon on the PP, and has some nastiness to his game that the B’s love, with the versatility to play both center and wing, though he’s probably more likely to be a winger in the pros.
Downside: Kuntar may not be much more than a solid 3rd-line NHL player at his best, with the potential to be a Sean Kuraly-like 4th-liner. High floor, which is good, but don’t expect him to evolve into a major scorer- he’s more of a three-zone forward with jam.
Did you know: His dad, Les, was a pro goalie and Montreal Canadiens draft pick in 1987 who played at St. Lawrence Academy and had a cup of coffee in the NHL in the early 90’s.
Rd 5/151 Mason Langenbrunner, RD Eden Prairie HS (MN)- Harvard (2021-22)
The son of B’s player development director and 2-time Stanley Cup winner Jamie Langenbrunner, the 2017 Boston draft runner gets his own team jersey after a solid Minnesota high school season. He left Cloquet HS for the Twin Cities powerhouse Eden Prairie team and is slated to be back for his senior year of HS, unless COVID wipes out the season in Minnesota. His USHL rights are held by Sioux City.
Just making the 2020 draft cutoff age with a Sep 14 2002 birth date, Langenbrunner can really skate and has a good head for the game with solid details typical for the sons of former pro players.
Upside: With good size, mobility and puck game, he’s a right-shot D to complement Lohrei and is a long-term project type of player, but there is some promise here as a 2-way guy with a pro-style game.
Downside: The B’s do have a history of picking players related to members of the organization, which tends to raise eyebrows. In 2012, they selected Matt Benning (nephew of then assistant GM Jim Benning) and a year later, grabbed forward Mitch Dempsey (then assistant GM Don Sweeney’s nephew) in the final round. Benning worked out, though with another team as he exercised his free agent rights to sign with Edmonton (was not qualified this week), while Dempsey did not. Time will tell here, but Langenbrunner looks the part of a NHL prospect.
Did you know: Langenbrunner played two seasons in the Upper Midwest Elite League, the top amateur proving ground in Minnesota for top high school players in that state, plus Wisconsin and the Dakotas. It’s the tune-up circuit that begins in August and runs up through October before all the players return to their high schools for the scholastic hockey season, and an indicator that he is one of the top talents at that level.
Rd. 6/182 Riley Duran, C Youngstown Phantoms- USHL (Lawrence Academy)- Providence College (2021-22)
Boston closed out its draft with another Youngstown player and local prep standout from Woburn, Mass.
Lawrence Academy’s top scorer (22 goals, 44 points in 27 games) has a nice 6-2 frame and can really skate and score. He oozes pro potential, and will get the opportunity to demonstrate his potential in the USHL this season before he joins a top Hockey East program next fall.
Upside: Duran has the talent to develop into an eventual pro player and could be more than the sum of some impressive parts. He’s got superb wheels and acceleration, and can handle pucks at speed with a pro-caliber release.
Downside: He’s raw and coming out of prep, so he’ll have a steep learning curve ahead. If Duran makes it in Boston, it will be a years-long process.
The Bruins do things their way.
You can understand the criticisms when they go off the board like they did with Lohrei, but in fairness- he’s an accomplished player at a high level. They may have been bidding against themselves to take him as early as they did, but you take the player you want where you want him, and they weren’t willing to roll the dice and wait. He’s committed to a top hockey program and all signs point to him at least being a solid/serviceable pro one day.
The issue the B’s are facing is that they aren’t drafting much in the way of higher-end talent because of where they are picking each year. 2015 was an obvious missed opportunity for the team now five years later, but when you look at first glance what teams like Minnesota, Ottawa, Los Angeles etc. did over the past couple of days, the Bruins are facing an uphill slog down the road as their veteran core continues to age, and there isn’t a whole lot of true play-making top talents in their system.
Sure, the Jack Studnickas, John Beechers, Jeremy Swaymans, Jack Ahcans, and Jakub Laukos of the world look promising, but the lack of picks and pick position is going to put a tremendous strain on Boston’s ability to keep up with the teams who are able to underwrite any draft misses with multitudes of other quality players and prospects. It is not unfair or being negative to point out that neither of Jakub Zboril or Urho Vaakanainen look like top-4 NHL players, and that since 2018, the Bruins have drafted just one player in the top-30- Beecher.
At some point, Sweeney and Company probably need to avoid the temptation to deal away picks and start figuring out how to get assets back/start being more aggressive at the draft so that they can land some more premium prospects. Thinking that they can draft someone like Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci in the second round or later every year is easy in theory, but much harder to pull off.
In the end, the B’s have their process and they put in the work. All four of the players they drafted have the size, skating and skills to be pro players, even if they might not have a readily apparent high-end projection. That could change going forward, or they could fall short. Solid is about the best way to describe each of the four players, but is “solid” going to allow the Bruins to continue to be among the league’s top teams in the next five years?
When it comes to pedigree and boom factor, it looks like Boston’s Class of 2020 is a lot more of the same of what they’ve been doing for about four years now, and that means we won’t know for quite some time.