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.
Another game, another multi-point effort (his seventh in 15 contests) for Boston’s top choice in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Defenseman Mason Lohrei tallied his second goal of the game with just seconds to spare against the Muskegon Lumberjacks Friday night, sending it to overtime, though the Green Bay Gamblers could not secure the extra point.
In just 15 games, Lohrei has eclipsed his single-season goal totals with 9 in 33 fewer games from a year ago (his goals and 22 points lead all USHL defensemen), and has a chance at the league scoring record by a D, set by Tri-City Storm’s Ronnie Attard (Flyers) two seasons back (30 goals, 64 points). And for the record, what Attard did in 2018-19 was tremendous…he accomplished all of that and parlayed it into a 3rd-round selection in Vancouver…all at the same age as Lohrei is this season, but in his third full USHL campaign vs second for Lohrei. The point of this? Production is production. The USHL is a top league and it doesn’t have the same age demographic as the various major junior circuits do. What Lohrei is accomplishing should be lauded, not diminished.
A converted forward while at Culver, Lohrei is driving the offense and plays a solid defensive game. While not what you would consider a “shutdown” defensive player, he uses his size, mobility and reach effectively and has the experience to make quick decisions and transition from defense to offense rapidly. However, it’s his vision, puck skills and shot that are allowing him to thrive in his second full season in the USHL.
At some point, you have to call a spade a spade and at least acknowledge that the Boston staff were onto something.
Lohrei is legit. Along with Jack Studnicka, he is one B’s prospect we feel confident in saying projects as a “driver” and expect that he will be well set up to enter Ohio State next season and have the opportunity for big minutes right away and potentially signing on with the Bruins within 1-2 years after that. Now, Lohrei will have to show that he can play top minutes in the B1G Ten with the Buckeyes next season and beyond, but based on his superb two-way play and pro-caliber tools, he’s up near Studnicka on the organization’s prospect depth chart.
For more on Lohrei, check out the work of TSP amigo Anthony Kwetkowski on Twitter: @BruinsNetwork- he has a lot of current videos and analysis on the B’s prospect and what makes him successful.
We’re a couple of days into the 2021 season training camp and for a change of pace, we got the amigos (KL, Dom Tiano, Anthony Kwetkowski and Reed Duthie) together to answer 5 questions about the Boston Bruins going into the new season.
1. What does the defense look like on opening night?
And that is the million-dollar question. I’m not a traditionalist when it comes to naming your number one defenceman, then number two, and so on. I prefer first pair, second pair and third pair.
The right-side seams to be set with Charlie McAvoy anchoring your first pair, Brandon Carlo the second pair and a healthy Kevan Miller on the third pair. All three can kill penalties but I think you’ll see Carlo and Miller get the bulk of that saving McAvoy for more 5 on 5 duty and powerplay time.
But where the questions on the blue line are is on the left side. I’d be tempted to try Jeremy Lauzon with McAvoy. It appears Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins brain trust are at least willing to give that a look on the first day of camp. Lauzon has shown he is a capable penalty killer.
Joining Carlo on the second pair would be Matt Grzelcyk. They’ve spent some time together and have shown some great chemistry when paired. Gryz can also kill penalties and like McAvoy, will be given powerplay minutes.
I think Jakub Zboril will be given every opportunity to grab that third pair minutes alongside Miller. Zboril can also kill penalties, but a bulk of that time should go to Lauzon and Grzelcyk. If he were to reach his potential, he could one day quarterback the powerplay. If Zboril falters, John Moore can fill that spot.
Each pair gives you a puck mover along with a guy capable of taking on the defensive responsibilities should his partner decide to “go with it.”- Dominic Tiano
No matter how promising young, unproven talent might be, coaches and general managers are in business to win hockey games, so you’ll likely see the NHL/pro veteran defenders get first crack at rotational play, with the less-experienced blue liners seeing more spot duty unless injuries or preseason play forces the staff to rethink the depth chart.
McAvoy is Boston’s top defender now, and he’ll be given every opportunity to log the top minutes in all situations and see where that leads. He’s ready to be an anchor, but the question remains as to how productive he will be both at even strength and on the power play. The left side of that top pairing is currently open, with fellow BU Terrier product Matt Grzelcyk an option, though the Charlestown native might be better suited to slot down to the second pairing if, as Dom mentioned (and the early practices have shown), the B’s want to give Lauzon’s defense-first approach with some bite/jam a chance out of the gate.
This is where the departures of Krug and Chara hurt the B’s in the short term, but another option could be to try Brandon Carlo on the left or his “off” side to give the team more experience and defensive acumen on that top pair with McAvoy, but it would probably mean that Kevan Miller would have to play on the second pair in Carlo’s spot on the right side with Grzelcyk- not ideal. Moore is the other defender with the most NHL experience, and while he’s a fan favorite whipping boy, he’s at least mobile and keeps things simple enough. I like the idea of a Moore-Miller third pairing or Moore-Connor Clifton duo.
Zboril and/or Urho Vaakanainen will likely have to break in more gradually and have their roles and time managed at least initially- both lack the experience to be the kind of player you can count on to play 15+ minutes a night right away, but you could see a revolving door of left-shot D moving in and out of the rotational pairings based on their game play and how practices go…at least until they prove they can or can’t play. The B’s have much riding on the success of both of Zboril and Vaakanainen, so now is the time for them to establish themselves as roster regulars.- Kirk Luedeke
Well, like Dom said above, isn’t this the million dollar question? I think there’s a lot of ways that this could play out, but using the benefit of training camp pairings, it would appear that Jeremy Lauzon could ride shotgun with Charlie McAvoy. I know, I know— but, but, but what about Grzelcyk?! Well, there’s definitely merit behind the idea of a Grzelcyk-McAvoy pairing, especially when considering their mutual time at Boston University together.
With that said, I’m still not sure that Grzelcyk is the long-term solution for Boston’s top defensive pairing. Yes, the metrics and underlying numbers grade heavily in their favor. However, I think Lauzon-McAvoy, which also carries short-sample size positives, is much more natural to what the Bruins need to replace. Zdeno Chara, Boston’s 14-year captain and top-pair defender, signed with Washington and left the reins to to McAvoy. Lauzon, 6’3”, has more size, reach and coverage than Grzelcyk.
The dynamic of Lauzon-McAvoy, on paper, is much more similar to what McAvoy has been playing with since entering the NHL compared to that of Grzelcyk-McAvoy. With Lauzon as his partner, McAvoy can do his own thing as a two-way threat as the bigger, rangier, tougher Lauzon stays defense-first on the backend.
The rest of the pairings would then fall into place as follows:
Again, there’s also some issues with this setup given that it doesn’t account for John Moore or newly resigned Kevan Miller. These are some obstacles that Bruce Cassidy will have to answer for himself one way or another. – Anthony Kwetkowski
With the changes over the off-season on to the Bruins defense corps and young players knocking on the door for spots, opening night will look different on the back end than any season in recent memory.
Lauzon – McAvoy: It’s Charlie McAvoy’s defense now and the now veteran rearguard picks up the 6’2’’ 196lbs rugged Jeremy Lauzon, it will take some time for McAvoy to adjust to a new regular partner and although Lauzon isn’t 6’9” he brings the same attitude to the defensive zone and will allow McAvoy to get up ice and contribute to 5-on-5 offense.
Grzelcyk – Carlo: Brandon Carlo is used to being the defensive minded member of his pair and now picks up the developing Matt Grzelcyk. Although Grzelcyk hasn’t been the offensive force that Torey Krug is, he is a better skater and advanced metrics have shown in a 3rd pairing role that he could likely handle more. Much like with Lauzon & McAvoy, Carlo’s defensive acumen and speed for his massive frame will allow the smooth skating Grzelcyk to get up ice 5-on-5.
Zboril – Miller: The maligned 2015 1st round pick teams up with a defender who’s missed 21 months due to injury. That could sound crazy, however, Jakub Zboril has found the chip on his shoulder and is using it as motivation. A revelation in Providence for the 2019-20 season, Zboril took that momentum and was the best defenceman in the Czech Extraliga to open up the season and looks ready to take on a serious NHL role. Kevan Miller meanwhile, is a warrior, coming back from injury in what’s been described as the best shape of his career, his size and physicality will be an asset in a sprint of a season, making life miserable for any who step past his blueline.- Reed Duthie
2. Did the team do enough to shore up the forwards in the offseason?
I was happy about the Craig Smith signing and think he will fit in well. But when it comes to the forwards there are a lot of questions that can only be answered in time. How will the surgeries to David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand affect them? Can Jake DeBrusk finally find his consistency? Will Anders Bjork finally break out? Does father time slow down David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron? Will Ondrej Kase be Kase with a full camp in Boston? Jack Studnicka has proven he is ready for the NHL and will get his chance while Pastrnak is recovering, but can he stick on the roster for the full season and who comes out when No. 88 returns?
We don’t know what the taxi squad will look like, but how will guys like Trent Frederic or Zach Senyshyn handle it if the need arises to insert them into the lineup? Are they even going to be on the taxi squad?
In a best-case scenario, I think the forwards are fine, maybe even an improvement over last season. But it’s 2021 and if we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s to expect the unexpected.– D.T.
In a word, no. There isn’t enough depth and a safety net to counterbalance the significant changes in the defense, at least on paper.
Smith was the team’s marquee free agent signing and it evokes some memories of Steve Begin in 2009, after the B’s were coming off a great regular season only to lose in the second round of the playoffs. While Smith is not a direct comparison to Begin the player, but more to the situation in 2009, Smith is a good complementary winger and will provide a stable presence playing alongside Charlie Coyle. The Bruins are mainly counting on a few things to happen: Marchand’s hernia surgery to bring him back to 100%, Bergeron and Krejci to have another strong season without any major offensive fall-off (or injuries to test the thin depth chart), Kase to provide more production given his skill/shot and Studnicka to seamlessly slot into a top-six wing spot until Pastrnak returns to the lineup. If all of that happens, the Bruins will be fine. If not, there isn’t a lot of depth to bail them out. I’m not all that keen on Kase- I want to see results and production…in an admittedly small sample size, we haven’t gotten that from him. Don’t talk to me about potential- the B’s need scoring from Kase right now.
In getting back to Begin, the B’s took a big step back in 2009-10 and barely squeaked into the playoffs, upsetting Buffalo in R1 on the back of Rask before dropping the 3-0 lead in R2 to the Flyers. We all know what happened in 2011, but this offseason is reminiscent of that one- not much new talent in, but counting on the pieces in place to carry them for another year. Only thing is- the 2021 Bruins don’t have a still-in-his-prime Zdeno Chara on the back end to help cover up for deficiencies elsewhere.- K.L.
Contrary to what the doom and gloom brigade on Twitter has been saying for months now, I think the Bruins did well with forwards recently. No, they didn’t land a “big fish” like Taylor Hall or even Mike Hoffman, however, they landed exactly what they needed— enter Craig Smith. Being one of the top play-driving forwards at 5-on-5 in the entire NHL, Smith, 31, is exactly the kind of contagious forward that Boston needs. Smith is someone who has wheels, density and a killer shot. He’s a North-South forward and can play anywhere needed in the top-nine, though being the right-wing on the third-line is most ideal.
Something the Bruins have been lacking recently, especially in the RTP bubble, is selfish players who want to shoot the puck. Smith is the type of player to take matters into his own hands and shoot from wherever he deems fit. This type of play and attitude will also be contagious amongst the younger Boston forwards like Bjork, DeBrusk, Studnicka and even Kase.
Speaking of Ondrej Kase, let’s not forget about him. Limited to a handful of games after being acquired for David Backes, Axel Andersson and a first-round pick, Kase is another play-driving winger who likes to shoot and generate offense. Like Smith, Kase is exactly the type of forward this team was missing. Unfortunately, he was injured before being acquired and then the COVID-19 shutdown kind of derailed the season for him. When he returned, he played rather well alongside Krejci and DeBrusk, but the numbers were never posted.
Moving forward with a full season under his belt, I think Kase will be a great addition for the Bruins provided he can remain healthy. These two right-shot forwards are exactly what this team needed and I don’t think they’ve received nearly enough credit as roster additions. – A.K.
Much has been made about the Bruins chase of Taylor Hall or Mike Hoffman in the off-season, and while those are the “sexy” names that fans clamoured for, they already had more than enough up front to improve where the team needed it most, 5-on-5 offense. Ondrej Kase arriving last year from Anaheim will go a long way and has the track record of NHL offence with a previous 20 goal season and 30 goal pace season. Due to injury and illness we didn’t get to see the best of Kase in 19-20 but with a full camp next to David Krejci & Jake DeBrusk they should be able to build on the chemistry we saw really begin in the Carolina series.
Additionally, Craig Smith steps in as the major off-season acquisition from Nashville having averaged over 20 goals a season since the 13-14 campaign, with only two seasons below the 20 mark (16-17 and the pandemic shortened 19-20) over that time. Comparing to where the Bruins forward group was on opening night for the 19-20 season compared to the 2021 season, this year’s group is far, far improved.- R.D.
3. What is the next phase of Boston’s goaltending situation?
This is the hardest Bruins related question one could ask.
Both of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak are unrestricted free agents after the season and will turn 34 and 36 years of age respectively. Rask certainly has more game in him if he wishes to sign an extension with the Bruins. It may be time to move on from Halak considering Dan Vladar will require waivers beginning with the 2021-22 season.
But it’s Jeremy Swayman who looks to have that future number 1 status. I would have said the same thing about Kyle Keyser, but injuries last season have derailed his development for the time being.
For the Bruins to have success in the blue paint for the short-term future, they absolutely need to lock Rask into an extension until Vladar or Swayman are ready. Otherwise, they may be forced to look at the free agent pool or seek a trade.– D.T.
The Rask and Halak tandem goes one more round this season and will likely see more rubber than they did in the previous two campaigns. The clock is ticking on both players. Rask will be 34 in March, but it looks like his workload will increase with the shortened season and travel schedule. Halak turns 36 in May, and is a capable player, though not a No. 1 as evidenced by the 2020 playoffs. Look for the Bruins keep one of their veterans in net with an extension, but not both going forward in 21-22.
Vladar was drafted with a third-round selection in 2015, and he’s gotten his development firmly on track after some early pro hiccups. Is he capable of being an NHL No. 1? He certainly looks the part with his size and has a pedigree for it, even though Swayman has enjoyed more consistent excellence at the lower levels. The B’s are probably hoping to groom either player as their future top option in net, but Keyser is the wild card who we hope can get back on track and playing again after regaining his health.- K.L.
Another interesting question with many moving parts, one of In thwhich is the outcome of this season. If the Bruins win it all this season, I could certainly see a situation where they’re heading into a rebuild-like era whether drastic or not. Given that Tuukka Rask is in the final year of his $7m AAV contract, I think Don Sweeney would be okay with moving on following ultimate victory. However, I think this is something that they’ll realistically face when they get to it this summer.
Rask, who’s had his ups and downs in Boston including a recently opted out playoffs, has remained Boston’s go-to net minder for essentially the last decade. His backup, Jaroslav Halak, is also an aging player who’s on the back nine of his career. I think it makes sense for the Bruins to possibly explore having Rask back on short-term contracts if mutual interest is there. Otherwise, they’ll be turning to the system.
Leading the professional charge in that regard is Dan Vladar— Providence’s standout goalie from last year. As someone who watched every game he played in, some multiple times, I can tell you he’s turned into a legitimate NHL prospect. Goalies are weird, man, you know? Vladar, selected in 2015 by Boston, is still in his prime developmental years for a goalie. He was also lights-out last year in Providence where he posted a 1.79 GAA and .936 SV% in 25 games. Vladar needs another full-year in Providence before we can fairly evaluate him further, but that might be tough.
Provided that two of Providence’s top-four defenders and multiple top-nine forwards are slated to potentiallybe in Boston, the P-Bruins might have to ice a non-optimized roster in front of their netminder. This is going to be a weird season, but also a good one because we get to see Jeremy Swayman in Providence as well. Swayman is coming off an exceptional year playing for UMaine in the NCAA. He has been the back bone of the Black Bears while playing behind a shoddy defense and structure.
Swayman, in my opinion, is as legitimate a number one goalie prospect as anyone else around the league. He’s tall, lanky, athletic and skilled. Swayman is a competitor and capable of making the tough and easy saves— all night long. I think Swayman is going to be the future of Boston goaltending in a few years from now. Another intriguing prospect is Kyle Keyser, currently shaking off some post-injury rust in the ECHL this season.
Keyser is a prospect that Dom, is very familiar with and high on after following him extensively throughout his OHL career. That said, although Keyser has struggled with injuries and concussions, I also believe he has the skill set and intangibles of a number one goalie. Unfortunately, he’s had some bad luck and will take more time than probably anticipated. Let’s see how he does this year seeing a ton of rubber in the ECHL and Providence next year. – A.K.
With the Tuukka Rask & Jaroslav Halak aging, the question of where will the Bruins go in net has loomed large.
Digging in to the future of the crease, the Bruins appear to be in solid shape. Despite an ugly outing in his emergency NHL debut, Dan Vladar has been incredible over the last year sporting a 1.79 GAA / .936 SV% with 3 shutouts over 25 games with Providence last season, Vladar continued his momentum in the Czech Extraliga to open this season with an eye-popping 1.29 GAA / .965 SV% over 6 starts for Dynamo Pardubice before returning to Boston. With another season at the professional level under his belt the towering Czech keeper of the crease will be ready for the NHL jump, likely serving as backup to Tuukka Rask in 2021-22. Meanwhile, behind Vladar, NCAA star Jeremy Swayman will step into a major role in Providence, coming off a year which saw him garner a laundry list of accolades including the Mike Richter award as the NCAA’s top goaltender. Finally- Kyle Keyser, who actually might be the most naturally talented of the trio, appears to have put concussions problems behind and the former Oshawa General who has stolen not just games but playoff series at the junior level looks prepared to start his pro ascent.- R.D.
4. How will key departures (Chara, Krug) and injuries (Pastrnak) impact the team in the immediate and longer-terms?
Short term, I think they will all hurt. Especially Pastrnak and Torey Krug on the powerplay. And if Pastrnak doesn’t come back 100%, that’ll really hurt.
Zdeno Chara I am torn on. I think the transition game will improve as a team without him. Certainly, everyone is questioning how much their defence will hurt without him. With the defensive system the Bruins deploy, I think eventually it will be fine, but there will be growing pains and there will be nights Rask and Halak will have to bail them out. Where it will hurt the most is on the penalty kill. No one can replace the wingspan of Chara’s to be able to take away passing lanes with little movement. Miller can replace some of the net front strength required on the PK and Carlo will really need to step up that part of his game. But let’s face reality, there is no one like Chara in the NHL who can match up physically with anyone the way he can.
Krug’s departure will hurt in both transition and the powerplay. His ability to transition by either skating or making a great first pass will surely be missed, as well as his vision and how he can process the game quickly. McAvoy will surely further develop those things and Grzelcyk will be asked to take on a bigger role. Gryz will also turn 27 on January 5th so there isn’t much room for development at that stage. Whether the tools he possesses for the expanded role are enough to take up some of the slack is yet to be determined.
The departure of Krug and Chara also means the leadership will take a hit. I believe there are enough leaders in the group that in time, they can overcome that. Many of the players on the roster learned from one of the greatest captains in the history of the game and what it takes to be a great teammate and leader. They won’t forget that overnight.– D.T.
The Bruins lost a lot of experience and production (especially on the PP) with the key departures on defense, and Pastrnak is one of the NHL’s best young players under 25, and would have been Boston’s first 50-goal scorer since Cam Neely in 1994 if not for the season being paused when it was. Replacing his production (especially on the PP) won’t be easy, so fans should be ready for it.
The B’s will need top-shelf performances from the goaltending- Rask and Halak will almost certainly see an increase in volume shots on goal and shot quality as well, so they will need to hold the fort. The Boston forwards are experienced enough to counter the weaker defense, but this isn’t a team that can win a lot of games if they become track meets, so key to Boston’s success will be in the coaching staff managing the players and getting the most out of the lineup while handling the various in-game situations and adjustments appropriately to mitigate the losses until Pastrnak returns and some of the younger players in the lineup can get their feet under them. Tall order, but the B’s are still a good team, even with the departures. Good teams don’t win the Stanley Cup, however…great teams do. – K.L.
In the present, I think the departures of Chara and Krug will have an impact that’s both good and bad. For sake of readability and time, please forgive my brevity when discussing the departure of the 14-year captain, but I think we’re going to see younger players on the roster respond by bringing energy and providing some sparks.
Players like McAvoy, Carlo and Grzelcyk have already been here for several years behind Chara and will know that they need to turn it up a notch without him. Lauzon, who was around last year, will now be tasked with the bearing the weight of “replacing” Chara in some capacity as well. This is a good thing for someone like Lauzon as he’s got a natural chip on his shoulder as it is. Jakub Zboril, who’s had his ups and downs, also falls into the same category.
The same goes for Torey Krug, as McAvoy and Grzelcyk will look to replace his offense from the backend at both even strength and the power play. Granted it won’t be as easy as it sounds, replacing someone like Krug that is, but the Bruins still have plenty of talent around to make it work. Even if things are a little different, I think there’s potential for newer structures and game plans that emphasizes the youth and in some cases, more size on the roster.
On the flip side, the loss of Chara and Krug will definitely be felt. We’re going to see more mistakes and growing pains from the younger defensive core. We’re going to see nights where this team is outmatched and overpowered. Replacing the 14-year captain on top of the longtime PP QB is quite the task, even if the Bruins have plenty of talent to step in and take the next step.– A.K.
The departures for the Bruins will have an effect in both the immediate and long-term but it may not all be negative. While the majority of Bruins fans will agree its not the way they would have liked to see Zdeno Chara leave the Bruins and there will be a learning curve for the young defenders, it creates a massive opportunity for the likes of Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, etc. to step forward and make their claim to an NHL spot. Torey Krug will be the hardest to replace, his ability to QB the PP and move the puck isn’t obviously replaced by any member of the current Bruins defense group, but the additions of players like Ondrej Kase & Craig Smith should up the 5-on-5 offense for the team, hopefully covering for the loss of Krug in a different fashion. The injury to David Pastrnak is another potential opportunity, although the Bruins lose their leading goal-scorer, even for a short length of time, it does allow Jack Studnicka to step to the Bergeron line and potentially begin to realize some of his massive potential at the NHL level and in a long-term thought, allow the Bruins to see the type of player they can hopefully build around for years to come.- R.D.
5. Who will be the surprise performers who elevate themselves early and earn an opportunity to contribute right away?
I’m going to pick a defenceman and a forward here.
On defence I am going with Lauzon. He got a taste of the NHL and I believe the Bruins brass really like him. At camp, he was given the first opportunity on the top pair with McAvoy and if he sticks to his game, he can succeed there. The only question I have is whether he can sustain it over a condensed 56-game season. It’s probably too much to ask.
Up front I am going with everyone’s choice to replace Pastrnak while he recovers – Jack Studnicka. I think Studnicka is going to make it extremely difficult to take him out of the lineup once Pastrnak returns and an even more difficult decision on who to take out of the lineup. I’ll go out on a limb and say Studnicka even gets some Calder votes. He won’t win it, but he’ll get some votes.– D.T.
I would like to see John Moore emerge as a solid middle-of-the-roster option, as he’s been much-maligned since signing with the Bruins in 2018. The former first-round pick in 2009 has over 500 games of NHL experience, can wheel and is a better player than he’s gotten credit for. His $2.75M cap hit through 2023 is a reasonable figure for what he can provide and the feeling here is that with a bigger role, he can take some of the pressure off the younger players at least in the short term. No one is ever going to confuse him with Chara or Krug with the impact he’s likely to make, but this team needs Moore to be a stabilizing presence right off the bat. Whether retrieving pucks and moving them up and out in quick transition or keeping it simple defensively, if he does that, fans might gain a new appreciation for him. Of course, there is always that segment of folks who aren’t going to like Moore no matter what he does, and that’s the world we live in.- K.L.
Players to step up and make an impact immediately this season include Bjork, Studnicka, Kase, Frederic and Lauzon. I think Studnicka is ready and able to contribute right now whether he’s at wing or center. The dynamic, Jack of all trades type (see what I did there?) forward is exactly the type of player Bruins fans have wanted to see for years now. He’s finally going to get his shot and it’s well deserved to boot.
Trent Frederic saw time in the NHL with Boston, but not after his excellent run he went on towards the end of the year in Providence. Frederic is faster, more agile and aggressive than he was during that ~15-game sample we saw him in. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and I think he’s the type of player to really own the moment and do whatever it takes to stick around this season. – A.K.
In looking at a player who will surprise and take the next step for the Bruins, I believe Jakub Zboril will be a breakout player. Long known as a great skater through his junior career Zboril is also an underappreciated puck mover having led the Czech Republic in scoring at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship and posting 41 points in 50 games in his last season in the QMJHL, Zboril became more of a defensive player at the pro level. Growing into and learning how to use his now 6’1” 196lbs frame took time but the always mean Czech defender appears to have figured that part of his game out and has grown into his skill set. Taking a big step forward as a top defenceman in the AHL a season ago and opening this season as the best defenceman in the Czech Extraliga, it appears the mountain sized chip on Zboril’s shoulder is working in his favour and now looks to be an imposing figure on the Bruins blueline who is right on the cusp of a breakout at the NHL level. – R.D.
As 2020 came to a merciful end, (many) Boston Bruins fans were greeted with one more bit of unwelcome news this week as captain Zdeno Chara’s 14-season run with the team came to an end with news he accepted a one-year offer from the Washington Capitals at age 43.
It seems both unimaginable and inevitable that the greatest free agent signing in team history would end in a whimper the way it did with a sudden announcement that after months of little to no movement on the renewal of a contract that most supporters felt was sure to happen. Like former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield at the end of his major league career, it appeared as if the team and player had an unofficial deal to stay in Boston until both agreed that Chara’s playing days were over.
Clearly, that was not the case, as initial news brought anger and disbelief, especially when the base salary of $795,000 for the new season to exchange the black and gold for red, white and blue, came out. Chara’s deal calls for performance bonuses that would bring his total compensation to a $1.5 million AAV (per CapFriendly.com), but it was understandable that most fans would think it ridiculous that the Bruins weren’t willing to find the money to re-sign their captain, a player who had inked four separate contracts in Boston since he first came to town at age 29 in 2006.
However, as things are often the case with Hall of Fame-caliber players, and let’s be clear- four years after Chara calls it a career, whether in 2021 or later, he will be enshrined in Toronto- the truth of the matter is rarely black and white.
As the news has settled and more has come out on the negotiations that took place between Boston and Chara, both have said complimentary things and it appears that the following are both true:
The Bruins wanted Chara back for a 15th season as captain, but with caveats.
Chara was not willing to return to the team he cemented his legendary status with in a reduced role.
The purpose of this post is not to defend the organization for what did or didn’t happen to facilitate an icon’s departure, but to add context and provide food for thought to those fair-minded observers who are interested in what might have happened and why the team and player took positions they did. We weren’t there, so while we have been given some information based on sources familiar with the negotiations, this is merely one view on what might have happened.
It is fair to be disappointed that Chara and the team his greatest collective and individual accomplishments happened with couldn’t find a way to keep him until age 44 or when he finally calls it a stellar career. It is also fair to be okay with the realization that Chara is no longer the player he was and that his lack of mobility and inability to play in all situations like he once did means that the organization had to make a tough choice about answering the player’s questions about how he would be employed should he sign a fifth contract and third one-year extension since 2018.
The biggest challenge the Bruins face right now is with expectations for 2021. The team is coming off of a President’s Trophy as top regular season club in 2019-20 until COVID-19 forced the campaign’s pause in March. Prior to that, they took the St. Louis Blues to a seventh game of what would have been a second Stanley Cup championship team under Chara’s captaincy out of three trips to the final series. Given Torey Krug’s departure to those very Blues via free agency, fans have a right to be concerned about how the B’s power play and penalty kill special teams units will fare without two key anchors from a season ago.
From this view in the saddle, the issue so much isn’t Chara’s departure due to a fundamental disagreement between player and team over usage going forward and how to better manage the development other players in the organization, but more of a realization that without Chara and Krug, the Boston defense as a unit is almost certain to take steps backwards in 2021. In a few short months, we’ve gone from a team many thought might win a championship after the COVID pause resumed, to one that is on the outside looking in right now and in the immediate future.
Even if one or more of Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon and even Jack Ahcan were all primed to step in and fill those roles vacated by Chara and Krug with much more certainty than what we’re currently dealing with, there would still be questions about their basic experience and ability to replicate the x-factor that such battle-tested veterans provided Boston over the last 5-7 years. That, in our view, is what is really at the heart of the negativity surrounding Chara’s departure. More than anything else, it’s a harbinger of darker times and a window that has essentially closed after the team watched other teams around the league get better while Boston’s biggest name addition in the offseason was complementary forward Craig Smith.
Boston lost the opportunity for a second championship in three years when they dropped a six-game series to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, the dawn of Krug’s era as a PP staple in Boston, while Chara was still at the height of his two-way productivity as an all-situations stalwart. The B’s followed up that disappointment with a President’s Trophy in 2014, then lost in the second round of the playoffs to their hated rival Montreal Canadiens and subsequently missed the playoffs for two years before a renaissance largely sparked by Patrice Bergeron’s continued excellence, plus the emergence of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak as offensive forces from 2017-20 brought the team back into contention. Charlie McAvoy is the heir apparent on defense as potentially the next top/franchise cornerstone defenseman in Boston.
And it is right for those who see the parallels between the B’s teams from 2013-14 and 2019-20 to point out that by allowing Chara to leave like this, things are setting up for another precipitous fall like the one we witnessed in 2015 and 2016.
Five years hence, the 2015 draft was a major missed opportunity. Though all three first-round picks are still in the fold and Jake DeBrusk has become a solid complementary scorer with the B’s, the chance to draft three driver-types didn’t happen, and has exacerbated the concerns surrounding the club’s current fortunes. We’ll not open that can of worms in the Chara piece at present, as the 2015 draft’s failings deserves its own treatment at some point soon, but the reality is- as the 2021 season dawns, the B’s have far more question marks on the left side of their defense corps than answers at present, and that is at the heart of the angst surrounding Chara’s exit.
Also at issue is the captain’s legacy and how things should have ended in Boston. One can certainly argue that he deserved better- a final curtain call in Boston and the ability to close out a two-plus decade career in the NHL that saw him endure as the league’s tallest player who evolved into a curious project into a dominant, Norris Trophy-winning, franchise icon who helped the Bruins organization to its first championship in nearly four decades, the first such accomplishment since Bobby Orr manned the Boston blue line. On several levels, it doesn’t make sense that the Bruins as a whole- whether you’re talking Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, Bruce Cassidy or even ownership as a collective brain trust, wouldn’t see the black clouds gathering on the horizon and know that they would take a major PR hit by not closing the deal to keep Chara in the fold.
At the same time, we have to admire the team’s courage for looking at the situation and deciding that simply offering him a new contract to maintain a status quo in Boston and turn 44 in the midst of the new season without addressing what has been a declining return on investment, was a bridge too far. Right or wrong, what is always lost on fans and media members, no matter how well sourced they may be, are the team dynamics of what goes on behind the scenes. They are not sitting in the meetings that take place when leaders lay out the depth chart and talk through the myriad scenarios of player usage combined with future financial constraints and contract negotiations. No one is privy to the discussions that talk about who the team is likely to lose when the NHL’s newest expansion club, the Seattle Kraken gets to leverage the changed rules to build a far more competitive roster than all of the other NHL’s expansion clubs in history. We all watched the Las Vegas Golden Knights create a blue print for in 2017, and the Bruins are trying to manage the challenge of not losing a driver-type of player to Seattle because they didn’t know what they had in order to make the right decision when it comes to whom they protect and those who get exposed in the impending expansion draft.
Sound like excuse making? Perhaps. But, ask yourselves this: If Chara returned and continued to log key minutes in the rotation and on the PK and another player further down the depth chart departed either to Seattle or other club only to blossom as a top performer there, many of those same people unhappy about Chara’s departure would also savage the Bruins organization for allowing an aging veteran to hang on for so long and hindering the development of others in the system or at least- camouflaging their potential and preventing the B’s from making an informed decision on who to protect.
Building a winning team is a never-ending master-level jigsaw puzzle. It isn’t just about acquiring talent and skill but supplementing those stars with the right kinds of players who can come together and embrace a team’s structure and organizational values. Some fans might scoff at this quaint notion of the herculean task managers face at all meaningful levels, but the reality is- that’s why they’re fans. They might build a successful Twitter following, but they’ll never be part of a high-level team, nor will they understand the constant challenges of juggling the many dynamics needed to build a winning, championship team. For them, it is more about pointing fingers and playing to a crowd of like-minded toadies and sycophants in a social media echo chamber than thoughtful analysis and a fair-minded approach to what is going on. Like barking, clapping seals, they speak in absolutes they know nothing about. And that’s fine- it’s the world we live in, but it is also completely fair to point this out and call out some of the mind-numbing nitwits who have the loudest voices on matters they haven’t earned a shred of credibility to comment on.
What does seem to be playing out is this: the Bruins have put themselves at a disadvantage by selling off draft capital to remain competitive for playoff runs in recent years, but the time has come for them to start accruing picks and looking at building a better system. Prospects like Jack Studnicka and Mason Lohrei show significant promise as two of Boston’s most likely candidates to be drivers one day, but unlike many other teams around the league, Boston lacks the volume/depth of star power and pure skill/dynamic upside players in other systems who are on their way to the NHL in the next 3-5 years. The B’s have long done pretty well with savvy undrafted free agent signings to help bolster their draft misses and disappointments, but this puts tremendous pressure on the organization to find the rare players everyone else has not identified, and causes the GM to expend assets and capital on talent acquisition via trades and the bloated unrestricted free agent market.
Losing Chara to Washington stings, because he had so many amazing moments as a Bruin and was in many cases, the face of a franchise that had fallen on hard times when he was signed, and played a major role in a resurrection that ended with the Stanley Cup five years later and a near 10+ year run of sustained success. Just about everyone who rooted heart and soul for the Boston Bruins should be sad to see him go and appreciate what he did when he was here. But nothing, especially those lives spent in professional sports, lasts forever. Et tu, Tom Brady?
Those who are upset that Chara and the current core didn’t bring more championships to Boston have a point. Those who feel that Chara should have been treated a little differently so that he wouldn’t have felt the need to take his game elsewhere in the twilight of a tremendous career are also right. But so are those who understand that the business side of hockey sometimes means that you lose these battles and teams have to make highly unpalatable decisions because they truly feel that those are in the best interest of the club. No one has a crystal ball…sometimes, those tough decisions pay off and sometimes they don’t. But the Bruins felt that keeping the status quo for another year without addressing it with the captain was the wrong thing to do. Even if they had agreed to give him the role he was used to, would fans have demanded a change if he was unable to keep up, unable to make the plays needed for success at age 44? It’s easy to say that the team *should* have done what it took to keep him, but remember- Chara himself had a choice to stay and perform in the role that the team had for him. He chose a different path. It’s not just on the Bruins for that.
In the end, it may be precisely true that the Bruins take steps backwards in 2021. It seems a certainty in fact, that they will. But even if that happens, it does not stand as proof that the leadership lacks a plan or vision. Sweeney and his staff dug the club out of the malaise of 2015 and 2016 and built a squad that was three periods away from a championship just 1.5 years ago. History is never kind to those who are unable to close it out and attain ultimate victory, and those with an agenda to do so will almost certainly continue to overlook that or harp on the failures of the 2015 draft (without ever citing the multiple successes of 2014), but just because you feel strongly about something does not make it true.
We wish Zdeno Chara the best as he embarks on what could be one last hurrah with a new team. It’s a shame that he couldn’t finish his storied run in Boston, but like Ray Bourque before him, the show will go on.
Thanks for everything, Big Z- You were everything we thought you would be when you signed 14+ years ago…and then some.
Dominic Tiano returns for a pre-2021 look at undrafted free agents and the NHL teams who have made hay outside of the traditional entry draft process, and those who, well, haven’t. – KL
Every season as the National Hockey League’s trade deadline approaches, teams sacrifice future draft picks and prospects in the hopes they can make a run at the Holy Grail.
But how do those NHL squads replenish a prospect pool when they’ve dealt away those prospects and picks? Well, one way is to sign undrafted free agents and hope that you can find capable NHL players in that pool.
Several NHL teams have gone on to find great success, others have failed and there’s a few that shy away from the undrafted free agent market.
Today, we take a look at NHL teams that have signed undrafted free agents from 2010 through 2020. We define a player having success as those that went on to play in a minimum of 100 NHL games. We’ll also hand out four awards named after the 4 Amigos here at The Scouting Post just for some humor on a cold winter day.
Kirk Luedeke Award: Awarded to the team deemed most successful. The nominees are: Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning
And the winner is: Chicago
Although Tampa has been more successful in signing players to go on to reach 100 games with 45.5% reaching the mark compared to Chicago at 40.9%, we give the nod to the Hawks because they’ve signed twice as many players and have won 3 Stanley Cups in that period.
Anthony Kwetkowski Award: Awarded to the team that tries the hardest. The nominees are: San Jose Sharks, and really no one else.
No team comes close to signing undrafted free agents like the Sharks with their 32 players. The Hawks come in second with 22. Problem for the Sharks is that Chicago has found more success while signing 10 fewer players.
Reed Duthie Award: Awarded to the runner up. The nominees are: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets.
And the winner is: Boston
Winnipeg is on the list because of their success rate at 33.3%, but like Tampa, don’t use the free agent market all that often. Buffalo (36.4%) finished with a higher percentage then Boston (35.5%) but here’s why we chose the Bruins: In 2017 they signed Kyle Keyser as an undrafted free agent. Keyser went on to play another season in the OHL and even if he played in every game in 2019-20, he couldn’t possibly play 100 games. If we had left Keyser off the list, the Bruins percentage would be 38.5%
Dominic Tiano Award: Awarded to the team that falls asleep at the wheel. The nominees are: Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, St Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.
And the winner is: St Louis
The Blues have won a Stanley Cup in this period. But they have only signed 4 undrafted free agents in that time and none of them have reached the benchmark.
In a cap world, when teams are forced to move on from players because of the cap, or are trading picks and prospects to make a playoff run, you need to find these types of players under an entry level contract to help you fill out your roster while also remaining competitive.
Below you will see a chart showing each team and the number of signings they’ve made by year along with how many went on to play in 100 or more NHL games. You’ll also see the total signed and the total that meet the benchmark as well as the team’s success rate in percentage. Note that I have included 2019 and 2020, but they are not included in the totals as it was impossible for them to have played in 100 games. They are a reference for you to use in the future.
While we take great care in accumulating the numbers, this is not an official source. Your best source for contract information is CapFriendly.
Dominic Tiano is back with a new piece on Boston Bruins prospect Mason Lohrei and how he represents a trend for NHL clubs who are investing more and more entry draft selections on second- and third-year eligible players. Dom has watched a lot of the criticisms of Boston’s selection of Lohrei center around the misconception that he’s older- and somehow inferior- to the 2002 and late 2001-born players who were eligible for the first time this past October. This is food for thought- if you learn something new in the piece and it changes your perspective, then we’ll consider it mission accomplished. If not, that’s okay too.- KL
Before I begin my deep dive, let me preface things with this: When the Boston Bruins selected Mason Lohrei in the second round with the 58th overall pick in the 2020 National Hockey League Draft, I readily admit, he wasn’t my first choice. However, he is now, a member of the Bruins organization and I wish him nothing but the best. There will be no comparing him to what could have been, no sulking, and no excuses. Just a simple eye test on what he is and might be when he is ready to turn pro after junior and college hockey at Ohio State University.
I’m surprised yet I shouldn’t be, by some of the comments being made on social media, especially now that Lohrei has gotten off to such a good start with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. At the time of this article, Lohrei, a forward turned defenceman, has 5 goals and 10 assists in just 10 games.
But comments such as: “he’s an ‘overager’ so he’s just going up against younger players” or “he was picked in his second draft year so there must be something wrong”, or “how many players picked in their second drafts make it to the NHL?” and the one that really gets under my skin “comparing him to a CHL player” (I can say that because I cover the OHL exclusively), should be kept to one’s self unless you are prepared to provide some context and willing to accept some criticism.
In reality, and I am trying to be polite here, what it shows is a lack of knowledge of the changing methodology NHL teams employ, differences and nuances in the demographics of the various junior leagues or even a lack of effort to obtain the knowledge to know what that really means. I hope to bring you some context and maybe, just maybe shed some light on things and you can change your opinion (or not).
Let me begin with the term that gets thrown around a lot these days: ‘overager’. Many fans think Lohrei is an older player in the USHL and should be piling up points because he has a significant advantage in terms of physical maturity and experience. The fact is, Lohrei is 19 years of age (turns 20 on January 17, 2021). Considering that 16 and 17-year old players are a minority in the USHL and teams are limited to just 4 twenty-year old players (2000 birth year) on the roster for the current season, Lohrei isn’t much older than the majority of players he faces every single night on the ice. The USHL does require each member club to keep a minimum of three 16- or 17-year-old players on every roster to ensure that there is a developmental path for the youngest players on the junior spectrum, but the majority of the average ages of each USHL club is 18+. Lohrei is on the higher side of that average this season, but it isn’t like he is a 2000 birth year competing against a league full of 2003 and 2004-born players. In fact, the 2001 and 2002 birth years comprise the bulk of USHL rosters this season.
The mistake some casual observers make is in asserting that the demographics between the CHL, which comprises the three major junior leagues in Canada, and the USHL plus other Tier 2 junior leagues like the North American (NAHL) and Canadian British Columbia (BCHL), Alberta (AJHL), Manitoba (MJHL), Ontario (OJHL) and Quebec (QJHL) and other regional T2 subset leagues are the same, when in fact, they are not. Because the NCAA track tends to develop players over a longer timeline, whereas CHL-drafted players must be signed within two years/before June 1 of the season they turn 20 (and one year to receive a bona fide offer), those Tier 2 feeder leagues tend to have older rosters on average than CHL clubs.
I ask you to replace the word overager with experience for some context. Lohrei was playing high school/prep hockey at Culver Military Academy until the age of 18, and is now in his second full season in the USHL. That compares to a 17 or mostly 18-year old players in the CHL, their first year of draft eligibility. Let’s take it a step further. In 2017, the Bruins selected a QMJHL rookie in the name of Cedric Pare (an 18-year-old in his draft year) with not even a full season of Major Junior experience. It wasn’t until Pare’s fourth season that he broke out with 37 goals and 51 assists in 64 contests. The Bruins didn’t sign Pare and he is now playing in the East Coast Hockey League without an NHL contract.
To be fair, Pare was a seventh-round pick, and as I mentioned, didn’t have a season worthy of being drafted until his fourth season. I suggest you ask yourself this question: If Pare had been skipped over in his first draft, would he have been selected in his second draft? And you could ask yourself the same question about any player selected in rounds two through seven. Obviously, the Bruins (and maybe others) saw something in his first year to think he was worthy of selection his second time around.
Because Lohrei was passed over in 2019 does not mean he should not have been selected in 2020. You might be surprised to find out that in fact, statistics show he should have been selected the second time around, and that second-year players being selected in the NHL draft is becoming more and more prevalent going back a decade.
I looked at the six NHL Drafts from 2010 to 2015 to measure NHL success. I didn’t use 2016 or later as a lot of those players are still at the developmental stage. To measure success, I used 100 NHL games or more as the benchmark and included all players, even goaltenders. I think you’ll be surprised by what you find.
In the chart below, you’ll see I’ve broken down each draft by round. In each round you will see the number of picks used to select first time draft eligible players and those picked in their second or third drafts as well as how many went on to play 100+ games in the NHL. At the bottom, you’ll see the total number of players selected as well as the total number that went on to play 100+ games in the NHL and the success rate by percentage. At the far right, you will notice the total picks by draft year and those that went on to play 100+ games in the NHL and the success rate by percentage.
The numbers are a bit skewed because only one player from 2010 to 2016, who was a draft re-entry, was selected in the first round when the Los Angeles Kings selected Tanner Pearson with the 30th pick in 2012. Still, only 76% of first round picks selected have played in 100 or more contests. Do I need to remind everybody that 3 of those first round picks not to play 100 games all belong to the Bruins? Malcolm Subban in 2012, Jakub Zboril and Zachary Senyshyn in 2015.
Beyond the first round however, statistically speaking, there is a greater chance for success at the NHL level if you are a draft re-entry player, and in some cases a drastically better chance. And there are a greater number of draft re-entry players approaching the 100-game plateau then first-time eligible players. But we had to draw the line somewhere.
That said, in the second round where Lohrei was selected, there have only been seven players selected that have re-entered the draft. Still, they’ve shown to have a 42.9% success rate as opposed to 38.4% of first timers. Although 177 first timers were selected in those 6 years, 61.6% did not have the success. So, I ask you, which gives you the better chance of finding a successful player?
These are just statistics and are no indication of success. Maybe it suggests a trend. More radically, maybe it suggests the NHL change the draft and allow 18-year-old players be selected in only the first round, maybe the second round.
But to me, it suggests that we as fans, are too quick to jump to conclusions. We do after all, have a fast-food mentality when it comes to our beloved Bruins. Everything has to be served up on a black and gold platter- hot, fresh and now. There is for lack of a better term, no patience. No patience to wait and see how a player who isn”t on a public list around where the Bruins were supposed to select him actually plays and develops.
As I said in the opening, Lohrei is a member of the Bruins organization. The only comparisons we should be making is to Mason Lohrei from a season ago and asking ourselves how far has he come in regards to his development? Shouldn’t we be asking what his strengths are and what areas does he need to improve on more than what other player who is one year younger the Bruins could have chosen instead?
There is a very small group out there that wants to see a player fail just so they can say “I told you so.” That’s sad, yet but true. I know because some people have actually come out and say it to me. While its just noise on the internet, it is a reflection of where some are as fans- the new class of self-appointed pundits who think they know far more than they actually do and find it more important to be validated on social media by other low-information people. Rather than educate themselves on the evolving nature of the NHL draft and how the changing CBA has caused teams do things differently than were done in the past when a hard salary cap did not exist, some are stuck relying on inaccurate perceptions about junior league demographics to justify their own disappointment that the player(s) of choice based on public lists that bear no resemblance to those generated by the NHL teams themselves, were not drafted by the B’s.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I will only cheer for a prospect in the organization and hope they find success. No harping on who could have been, as that ship has sailed. Time will tell on Lohrei, but given that his two-way game has taken positive strides in one of the top junior leagues in the world, things are setting up for him to be an impact player in the Big-10 conference and beyond when the time comes for him to turn pro.
Dominic Tiano is on fire, and brings us another intriguing piece laying out a scenario in which the Boston Bruins could potentially work a 1-year contract with unrestricted free agent Mike Hoffman into their current cap crunch (while also making a Zdeno Chara extension work). No one does cap maneuvering like Dom does, so sit back and enjoy his latest. -KL
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us individually in one form or another. It has also affected the arts, entertainment and the sports world.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 9 months, there is no need for me to explain how the pandemic has affected the National Hockey League, your favorite team, or your favorite player so, we won’t go there.
When it comes to unrestricted free agents in the NHL, maybe no one has been more negatively impacted then one Mike Hoffman. While the likes of Taylor Hall, Alex Pietrangelo and others signed contracts relatively quickly, Hoffman waited. It’s not that there weren’t offers on the table for him.
But why wait in a world with as many financial question marks as the NHL has? Were there only one-year offers being thrown his way? Was he adamant that any contract be a long-term deal? Not according to his agent Robert Hooper who made it clear they’d be willing to accept a one-year offer. (By the way, it must be noted that Hooper is also the agent for David Krejci.)
Could we see the two Hooper clients skating side-by-side on TD Garden ice (or wherever they may be playing) for the 2021 NHL season? When free agency began, Hoffman was being linked to the Bruins by many in the hockey world. Over the last couple of days, those links to Boston have been resurrected. As they say “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
As free agency moved along, we saw the cap space the Bruins had begin to evaporate after signing Kevan Miller, Matt Grzelcyk, Craig Smith and Jake DeBrusk all while waiting on a decision by Captain and future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara and his plans.
The independent website CapFriendly currently shows the Bruins with $2,982,686 in cap space for the upcoming season. So how could the Bruins possibly fit a player of Hoffman’s caliber with the little wiggle room they have? It’s doable. And they could even fit Zdeno Chara in.
At the top of the list is what the Chara decides to do. You could almost bet that if Chara was to return, that he would eat up the majority of the cap space the Bruins have remaining. Would Chara be open to returning on a deal with a $1.5 million cap hit with performance bonuses? (I believe we’ll have an answer to the Chara questions before the holidays, if not sooner.)
Assume that he would. Would Hoffman agree to a one-year deal with a $5 million cap hit?
Under normal circumstances, the answer would be a resounding no. And I will be the first to admit that is a lowball offer for Hoffman. But we’ve seen in these uncertain times, players take less money on short term deals and wait out the ugly financial uncertainty that sits over the NHL’s head.
Many players took pay cuts. Braden Holtby, Justin Schultz, Tyson Barrie, Craig Smith, Tyler Toffoli, just to name a few. Not that they are on the same level as Hoffman but it’s the sign of the times. Under normal circumstances, most, if not all those players would have earned more.
What about term? Of the 278 non-entry level contracts signed since October 8, 2020: 167 were one-year deals (60%), 76 were two-year deals (27.3%), 21 were three-year deals (7.5%), 8 were 4 years deals (2.8%) and 6 were for 5 or more years (2.1%).
How does that compare to the 2019 free agency period beginning on July 1, 2019 through to October 1, 2019? There were 265 contracts through the free agency period, just 13 less than the current period. That breaks down as follows: 159 were 1-year deals (60%), 63 were 2-year deals (23.8%), 15 were 3-year deals (5.7%), 8 were 4-year deals (3.0%) and 20 were 5+ year deals (7.5%).
While 1-year contracts went unchanged percentage wise, there is a clear trend that suggests players and owners both moved away from long term deals in favor of 2-year deals, suggesting financial uncertainty plays a role.
Even if Chara and Hoffman did accept those terms, the Bruins would still be short roughly $3.5 million. Where could they possibly make that up?
In the short term, Long Term Injury Reserve could be an answer as they await the status of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Miller. That would at least buy them some time to get the cap in order.
But what about long term?
Since CapFriendly is the most trusted resource available when it comes to the NHL’s salary cap. Let’s continue by working off of their numbers.
Firstly, we need to add a defenceman in the form of Jakub Zboril if the Bruins are serious about giving him an opportunity. That reduces the cap space available to $2,257,686.
Secondly, we remove the Anton Blidh ($700,000) and Par Lindholm ($850,000) cap hits by sending them to Providence. That cap space now becomes $3,807,686 and a roster that resembles this:
Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
DeBrusk – Krejci – Kase
Bjork – Coyle – Smith
McKegg/Ritchie – Kuraly – Wagner
Grzelcyk – McAvoy
Moore – Carlo
Lauzon – Miller
Zboril – Clifton
The most obvious answer if you ask Bruins fans in general would be to move Nick Ritchie and John Moore via trade. Combined, that would clear $4,248,925 in cap space but likely would require taking a salary back in return.
That brings us to Anders Bjork. Signed for three more seasons and a controllable $1.6 million cap hit, he would be more enticing to other teams since he would still be a restricted free agent when his deal expires and much easier to move without having to take salary back in the return.
That would leave a roster that would look like this:
Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
Hoffman – Krejci – Kase
DeBrusk – Coyle – Smith
McKegg/Ritchie – Kuraly – Wagner
Grzelcyk – McAvoy
Moore – Carlo
Lauzon – Miller
Zboril – Clifton
That roster would leave the Bruins with $407,686 in cap space. So, how would you fit Chara in while still adding Hoffman?
It’s likely that any Chara contract would come with some sort of performance bonus. Here’s the issue: Both Jaroslav Halak and Kevan Miller deals include performance bonuses with easily attainable numbers totalling $2 million. The Bruins could use the bonus overage and defer that to the 2021-22 season when David Backes’$1.5 million retained cap hit comes off the books. That’s just replacing Backes’ “dead money” with even more “dead money”. A Chara performance bonus just makes that even greater. And they’re already deferring $964,222 from the 2019-20 season.
No one really knows which direction Bruins cap genius Evan Gold will take. One thing I have faith in is that he will figure it all out. Back to the subject at hand.
Unless the Bruins plan on moving out one of their core players with big cap hits, the only viable solution to these eyes is moving Moore. And to move him without taking any salary back may just mean that you are going to have to move a prospect or a pick to entice a team. That’s where I look at a team like Detroit, who are rebuilding, stockpiling draft picks and prospects and have cap space. And Detroit only has two defencemen signed beyond this upcoming season, and just five if you’re counting prospects. Maybe you could package Bjork and Moore together to a team like Detroit. Bjork would certainly fit into what Steve Yzerman is trying to accomplish in Motown.
If the Bruins can make that happen then we have a roster that will look like this:
Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
Hoffman – Krejci – Kase
DeBrusk – Coyle – Smith
McKegg/Ritchie – Kuraly – Wagner
Grzelcyk – McAvoy
Chara – Carlo
Lauzon – Miller
Zboril – Clifton
That would leave the Bruins with $1,657,686 in cap space and a 23-man roster. That space can be used to eat up performance bonuses, or be used at trade deadline or more likely to get Chara and Hoffman signed to deals they could likely get somewhere else. Especially Hoffman as $5 million is going to be on the light side. Then again, no other contender can afford much more than that.
The purpose here isn’t intended to suggest any or all of this is going to happen. Its intention is to suggest that there are options and that financially, the Bruins could make it work. There’s been plenty of negativity on social media about the handling of the cap when it comes to the Bruins, especially after GM Don Sweeney signed Miller to his contract.
Time after time after time we’ve seen NHL GM’s work themselves out of a cap issue. We’ve even seen Sweeney do it himself with Matt Beleskey and Backes. Hindsight is 20/20 but he was able to do what he needed to do to rid himself of those deals. Yes, of course, they came at a cost. At the same time, Sweeney recognized it was a misjudgement and did what was best for the Boston Bruins.
It’s been a while, but Dominic Tiano is back with a timely piece on the next expansion draft as it applies to the newest NHL franchise, the Seattle Kraken and how that eventuality will impact the Boston Bruins. Settle in and read what Dom has to say on the matter- KL
As the NHL and the NHLPA move closer and closer to reaching an agreement on the 2020-21 season (from this moment forward we will refer to it as the 2021 season), NHL General Mangers will certainly move forward looking to clear cap space, while others will look to add to their roster in the form of free agent signings and bailing out those teams that need to move out dollars.
But every move they make will be done with one eye kept on the expansion draft as the Seattle Kraken are set to join the NHL for the 2021-22 season.
Thirty of the thirty-one current NHL teams (Vegas is exempt) have the option of protecting 7 forwards, 3 defencemen and 1 goaltender or 8 skaters and 1 goaltender. Bruins GM Don Sweeney will no doubt be looking to add whether it’s prior to the season beginning or a trade deadline.
We take a look here at where the Bruins stand, some of the rules and how the Bruins roster sits.
UNSIGNED DRAFTED PROSPECTS ARE EXEMPT This Is pretty straight forward. Prospects that have yet to sign an NHL entry level contract are exempt from the draft. For the Bruins, that means Linus Arnesson, Jack Becker, John Beecher, Roman Bychkov, Riley Duran, Curtis Hall, Trevor Kuntar, Mason Langenbrunner, Mason Lohrei, Matias Mantykivi, Dustyn McFaul, Quinn Olson, and Jake Schmaltz are untouchable.
FIRST- AND SECOND-YEAR PLAYERS ARE EXEMPT For players just completing their first or second year of professional hockey (this includes the American Hockey League – which is the only other professional league in this situation) it’s the same situation – they are exempt from the draft. For the Bruins this includes Matt Filipe, Oskar Steen, Pavel Shen, Jack Studnicka, Jakub Lauko, Robert Lantosi, Jack Ahcan, Urho Vaakanainen, Victor Berglund, Nick Wolff, Jeremy Swayman and Kyle Keyser.
PLAYERS WITH NO MOVEMENT CLAUSES MUST BE PROTECTED Unless a player waives his no movement clause, he must be protected by his squad. For the Bruins that means Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Charlie Coyle will be protected. It must be noted that players that are about to become unrestricted free agents with no movement clauses do not have to be protected. The Bruins have no player under those circumstances at the moment. But let’s say Zdeno Chara signs a one-year deal with the Bruins, likely with a no movement clause, the Bruins would not be required to protect him.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS Technically, in a non-COVID 19 year, a player is still under contract when the expansion draft takes place. Should a team leave a pending unrestricted free agent unprotected from the expansion draft, the Kraken would have a 3-day window of exclusivity to sign the player. Should the Kraken sign such a player, that pick will count as the player selected from the team. For the Bruins, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak, Sean Kuraly, Par Lindholm, Gregg McKegg, Kevan Miller and Steven Kampfer fall into this category.
WHAT THE BRUINS MUST MAKE AVAILABLE TO THE KRAKEN
The Bruins must make available one goaltender who is under contract for 2021-22 or, if they choose to expose a restricted free agent, that goaltender must receive his qualifying offer. And they can only protect 1 goaltender. As mentioned earlier, Swayman and Keyser are exempt so they are out of the picture. Rask and Halak are pending unrestricted free agents. If they choose to protect Rask and re-sign him, they would need to make a qualifying offer to Dan Vladar and Callum Booth, but both would be left for the Kraken to choose from. However, the Bruins could protect Vladar and gamble that Rask would not sign with Seattle and try to sign him once free agency opens up.
The Bruins must make available to Seattle one defenceman who has played in at least 40 games in the 2021 season or, 70 games combined in the 2019-20 and the 2021 season and is under contract for the 2021-22 season. Currently, the Bruins only have 3 defencemen that meet those requirements: Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk. Others that are close to reaching the minimum requirement (games required in brackets) are: Connor Clifton (31), Jeremy Lauzon (40), John Moore (40), Kevan Miller (40), Jakub Zboril (40) and Steven Kampfer (40). It must be noted that Seattle does not have to pick a player who meets minimum requirements, but can choose any player left unprotected. It must also be noted that just being on the active roster does not equal a game played. The player must actually play in the game. In a season that is expected to have 52 to 56 games, with many back-to-backs and the chance of injuries or, heaven forbid, a positive COVID-19 test, are the Bruins willing to risk the chance at any of those players playing in 40 games?
The Bruins must make available to Seattle two forwards who has played in at least 40 games in the 2021 season or, 70 games combined in the 2019-20 and the 2021 season and is under contract for 2021-22. With Bergeron, Marchand and Coyle protected because of no movement clauses, the Bruins appear to be in excellent shape here as David Krejci, Chris Wagner, Sean Kuraly, David Pastrnak, Craig Smith and Jake DeBrusk meet the minimum requirements. Ondrej Kase (4), Anders Bjork (2), Nick Ritchie (14), Greg McKegg (14) and Par Lindholm (24) are close. The remaining forwards will require 40 games to be played to meet minimum exposure requirements and they include: Karson Kuhlman, Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic and Zach Senyshyn. As with the defencemen, Seattle does not have to pick a player that meets minimum requirements and can choose any player exposed.
Now that all of that is out of the way, you would have to figure that, with a reduced schedule, there are going to be changes made to the 40/70 rule right? That is going to require some negotiations between the NHL, the NHLPA and the Seattle Kraken. But if you’re Seattle, how open are you going to be to change considering you paid $650 million in franchise fees and were promised the same opportunity as Vegas? Is it even negotiable since it is written into the expansion agreement between the league and the Kraken?
As I said in the opening, I don’t believe Don Sweeney is finished adding at some point in the offseason or during the season. But with the roster as it stands today, what options are there for the Bruins in the expansion draft? I believe the Bruins will protect 7 forwards, 3 defencemen and 1 goaltender. This is my stab at it.
Protect: Dan Vladar
Expose: Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak and Callum Booth
I never in a million years would have suggested protecting Vladar over Rask. But considering the season Vladar had a year ago in the AHL and his more than impressive start in Europe this season, you would think he’d be intriguing to both the Kraken and the Bruins. It’s a huge gamble doing this with hopes on being able to re-sign Rask once free agency comes. It’s a gamble I’d be willing to take. To meet minimum exposure requirements all Sweeney would have to do is give Booth his qualifying offer as an RFA.
Protect: Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk
Expose: John Moore, Kevan Miller, Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril and Steven Kampfer
Only Kampfer and Miller don’t meet the contractual status to meet the minimum requirements for exposure and all of them have a long way to go to meet the games played requirements.
Protect: Patrice Bergeron (NMC), Brad Marchand (NMC), Charlie Coyle (NMC), David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Trent Frederic and Craig Smith.
Expose: David Krejci, Ondrej Kase, Anders Bjork, Nick Ritchie, Sean Kuraly, Par Lindholm, Cameron Hughes, Karson Kuhlman, Anton Blidh, Zach Senyshyn, Paul Carey, Peter Cehlarik and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson
I take the same path here with Krejci as I do with Rask. Again, a huge gamble, but we know how much Krejci likes it in Boston and I have no fear that he would go finish his career in Seattle.
On this exposure list Wagner and Bjork are the only two on my unprotected list that meet the minimum contractual requirements. Wagner also meets the minimum games required and Bjork would have to play just two games and Kase 4 to meet them. It appears the exposure requirements will be met easily by the Bruins.
Once Sweeney makes a move on the roster, most of this still stands, but the names will be different.
Anthony Kwetkowski of the superb Bruins Network hockey prospect platform is writing profiles on all of the Boston Bruins’ 2020 draft choices and leads off with second-rounder Mason Lohrei. Anthony is the “4th Amigo” on the Scouting Post podcasts and does excellent work at http://www.bruinsnetwork.com/ He can also be heard on the Bruins Diehards podcasts and his influence is growing on multiple social media channels for his insightful commentary and analysis of B’s prospects and Boston Bruins hockey in general.
Mason Lohrei, left-shot, left-side defender
1st selection, 58th overall in 2020 NHL Entry Draft
Current team: Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
Future team: Ohio State University (NCAA)
Previous team: Culver Military Academy (USHS-P), Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
Strengths: Standing at 6’4” and 200lbs, Lohrei’s biggest strength is having the rare combination of size, mobility, speed and skating all in one frame. And speaking of his frame, Lohrei is able to edge defenders out of the play with little to no effort against his current USHL competition— even the high-end prospects and players around the league. The term “fleet-footed” is usually reserved for speedy, small forward prospects around the NHL, however, it definitely applies to Lohrei despite his 6’4” frame. Stopping on a dime, he’s able to quickly and precisely change his direction on the ice when needed, giving him an advantage even against the smaller, more agile players on the opposite faction.
Lohrei is more of a two-way defender than he is a defensive defenseman or puck-mover because of his offensive instincts and ability to seamlessly join the rush or even better— jumpstart it from the backend. He’s shifty when carrying the puck and smart when selecting whether to pass or shoot. Great offensive awareness and IQ, which is to be expected from a forward turned defenseman. Lohrei is the type of defender to jump into the play, with the puck on his stick while saying “watch me.” He can defend at the level of a top-four defensemen, but also play the offensive game with the same authority.
Weaknesses: While Lohrei is undeniably smooth, silky and efficient, his skills sometimes get the better of him. In one-on-one contests, he’ll sometimes make one too many moves and commit an unforced turnover by attempting to be too fancy. Now, before people get all fired up over that assessment— chill. With high-skill players comes high-risk plays that sometimes wont be pulled off. It’s on Lohrei, however, to figure out his limits, timing and execution moving forward so that he’s still reliable on top of rewarding.
Now, it’s been stated before that Lohrei is a forward turned defenseman and that lines up in certain showings. Lohrei, while reading the play and defending very well, occasionally takes a somewhat weird approach on the back check. He’s able to keep up with the play due to his sheer range and mobility, but sometimes instead of pivoting and skating backwards, he’ll turn and skate parallel to the opposing player through center. This isn’t a big deal now, but in the NCAA (he’s committed to Ohio State for next season) and beyond, that could cause him to be exposed if he’s not careful. Pivoting and transitioning to back-skating is crucial for a defenseman’s gap-control and overall efficiency.
Overall analysis: Lohrei was undoubtedly “off the board” when selected at No. 58th OA by Boston, but that could be due to a number of reasons. One being his age as he’s already 19, turning 20 in January of 2021. There were definitely better options for Boston in terms of value at No. 58 OA, however, if there’s one thing clear it’s that Boston just doesn’t care about value, optics or perception. They identify their players and simply call their names in the draft when available.
Lohrei was the second-highest scoring defender in the USHL last season as a rookie in the league, so that’s very encouraging right away. He’s a tough out who provides size, mobility, skill, balance and excellent skating on the backend. Though he’s 6’4” — 200lbs and already a 19-year-old, he’s not winning battles or making plays based off those physical traits. Why does that matter? Simple, because he’s not a good defenseman in the USHL due to his size and age, instead he’s a good defenseman in the USHL because he’s a good defenseman.
He’s going to be dragged down a bit by the relentless critics on Twitter because of wher he’s drafted, but make no mistake— at 6’4” — 200lbs, Mason Lohrei can play and think the game at a high-level. I assume he wasn’t the shining star to many scouts and outlets given his age and their assignments to watch other high-profile draft eligibles, but maybe they should have paid more attention.
Projection: Mason Lohrei looks to fit the build of a modern, smooth, fleet-footed top-four defenseman. He already proved to be that much as a freshman in the USHL and is on track to be in the NCAA next year. I have no issues saying his projection that of a through and trough top-four defender in the NHL if he so makes it there. There simply aren’t many defensemen available outside of the first-round of the draft with this combination of speed, size, skating, skill and overall mobility. I mean, let alone defenders, but how many forwards fit that build at that size? Not too many.
Given the age of Lohrei and his trajectory to be playing in college, I don’t believe he’s going to do a four-year bid in college. Instead, I think after two seasons or so in the NCAA, he will be signing with Boston and climbing the ranks of the professional organization starting in providence. He’s a bit unrefined, but the skills and intangibles are there and that’s quite important for prospects, especially defensemen who usually take a little bit longer.
Lohrei might never be a big-time star in the NHL and I’m not suggesting that. However, I am projecting that after another year in the USHL and time in college, he could definitely blossom into a top-four defensemen capable of eating minutes and playing both sides of the puck. In closing, I really believe Bruins fans and media alike should start paying closer attention to his development instead of dwelling where he was ranked or drafted. The kid can flat-out play and he’s on pace to demonstrate that in the NCAA and beyond.
Here’s his post-draft interview with Boston sports media:
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. 2/58Mason 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.
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.