As the first round of the NHL playoffs shifts to Washington for Game 5, thought we would take a moment to look at the younger (ages 23 and under) Bruins prospects who had a chance to play in Boston this season, either in a more established role or limited action via call-up. Before we begin, here is the obligatory disclaimer- We’re just calling it as we see it. Understand- this is designed to provide observations and feedback- it is not intended to be the final word on anyone, good or not-as-good. Here’s the review, ranked in order of performance and impact.
Urho Vaakanainen, Oskar Steen and Jack Ahcan are not included in order to focus on the “big 5” instead.
1. Jeremy Swayman, G- No player did more to boost his stock within the organization and across the league the way the rookie goaltender did, appearing in 10 games near the end of the season and going 7-3 with an eye-popping 1.50 GAA and .945 save percentage with a pair of shutouts…in the NHL! Prior to that, he was off to a dominant start to his pro career with the Providence Bruins in the AHL going 8-1 in 9 games with a 1.89 GAA and .933 save percentage. He turned his Boston audition into a spot as Tuukka Rask’s backup in the playoffs, supplanting veteran Jaroslav Halak and essentially staking a claim to a spot on the 2021-22 Boston Bruins.
The 4 Amigos teamed up to give you the 2021 season ranking of the Boston Bruins prospects as they see it. This is likely the last time you will see Jack Studnicka, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon on the list of prospects here at TSP.
The 4 met up recently via online call to compare their lists and compiled the ranking based on a couple of basic criteria: players must be under age 25, and prospects are ranked and ordered based on long-term potential and impact at the NHL level. That’s pretty much it. A subjective process to be sure, but done based on knowledge, direct and indirect observations and intuitive projection.
Here’s the list, followed by some observations for broader context (not all prospects have follow-up comments, just the ones we felt strongly enough to share some light on).
So, last call for Studnicka and some of his mates- we’ll see how this all looks after this season and in the next several years. -T4A
Jack Studnicka, C/RW
John Beecher, C
Trent Frederic, LW/C
Curtis Hall, C
Trevor Kuntar, LW
Oskar Steen, C
Jakub Lauko, LW
Cameron Hughes, C
Pavel Shen, C
Matt Filipe, C/LW
Zach Senyshyn, RW
Matias Mantykivi, LW
Quinn Olson, LW
Riley Duran, C
Jake Schmaltz, C
Joona Koppanen, C
Jack Becker, RW
1. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think Jack Studnicka is the top prospect in the organization, let alone the top forward. We have been saying it since his draft year – He’s a Patrice Bergeron-lite.
Studnicka isn’t flashy, but he does everything and he does it with an effort that is unmatched by many. Most impressive is his ability to think the game like Bergeron. As Reed likes to say “he has a computer between the ears.” He’s played a 200-foot game since junior and excels in all three zones. He can play the power play, he can kill penalties, he can shut down the opposition’s top players, he can provide offence, he has superb leadership qualities and surprisingly, he’s not afraid to be the first one in to defend a teammate.
All things considered, Studnicka translates into an excellent second line center who you can use in any situation. The only thing preventing him from being a top line pivot in the NHL is that only time will tell if the offense he was able to provide in the OHL and AHL can translate to the big league.– Dominic Tiano
2. After some discussion and debating, the amigos landed on Johnny Beecher for the No. 2 spot behind Studnicka. Beecher, 19, is currently in the middle of his sophomore campaign at the University of Michigan. Beecher, 6’3” — 210lbs, started off slow in terms of production this season, however, he’s remained a top-six center through it all. The context on his slow start can be explained quite simply— he was playing well and just didn’t have many points to show for it.
Following his selection to Team USA for the World Junior tournament this winter, Beecher received an alleged false-positive COVID-19 test, knocking him out of the competition. Beecher, freshly out of quarantine and protocols, has since returned to Michigan and is riding a four-game point streak. He’s right back up to .50 PPG with 4G-2A-6PTS in 12GP and even tucked himself an explosive breakaway goal this past weekend. While it must be noted that Beecher lacks the creativity of a typical, top-six playmaker, he makes up for it in another areas to get the job done.
I’m not the biggest fan of comparisons, however, Beecher draws similarities to that of current Boston Bruins center Charlie Coyle. Like No. 13 in Boston, Beecher has elite skating ability at his height and weight. Quite frankly, his skating and physical tools are NHL-caliber and he should have himself a career on those merits alone. Beecher has incredibly soft hands that you don’t find in many plus-sized forwards, let alone with his weight and power. He’s able to weave in and out of players, driving wide and touring the zone with silky-smooth movements.
Beecher forces more breakaways than essentially any prospect in the NCAA right now and while he’s not a sniper, he’s an elusive, deceptive forward capable of tucking it home. He won’t be batting 1.000 on breakaway goals, but he’s certainly going tuck his fair share moving forward. There just aren’t many forwards out there that skate, accelerate, move and stickhandle like Beecher does at his size. It’s those reasons that made the decision easy for us to place him at No. 2 behind Studnicka.- Anthony Kwetkowski
3. While currently playing in Boston and quickly rising as a fan favorite, Trent Frederic already brings a lot to the bottom-six while still having room for growth. The 22-year-old center is an athletic, rugged player standing at 6’3” and 215 lbs. Frederic has been torching his way though the AHL for two years now, scoring at a .50 PPG clip and fighting anyone who will go with him. His well-rounded game highlights his constant, infuriating style of play which is as aggressive as it is entertaining.
Drafted at the end of the first-round by Boston in 2016, there’s always been some controversy surrounding Frederic. That said, he’s a career .50 PPG player in the AHL and led the league in PIM last year with 148. He’s big, strong, tough, athletic and aggressive night in and night out. Frederic, similar to Beecher, isn’t the most creative forward out there and that’s not really his style. However, he does have an excellent shot and has been beaten goalies clean for a few years now. His impact on the game isn’t limited by his average creativity because he’s effective in many other facets of the game.
Hitting, fighting isn’t exactly what it used to be in the NHL, but Frederic possesses both of those talents in spades. After all, this is the same player who beat the brakes of Brandon Tanev in his NHL debut. Frederic has yet to get on the scoreboard, but if the first two games of the season are any indication, he’s bound to be potting a few goals sooner than later. There’s something to be said for guys who make their presence felt each shift and aren’t afraid to shoot.
Frederic ranks No. 3 for us due to many factors, most importantly are his size, toughness and skill. Sure, he lacks the creativity of a top-six center, however, he’s still a good skater with an excellent shot. There really aren’t many players out there who have the package of tools available to them like Frederic and he’s clearly making an impact in the NHL right now— points or no points.- A.K.
4. It’s a lost season for Curtis Hall, who like so many Ivy League hockey players, saw the year officially cancelled back in November, meaning he’s essentially out a year of development. Not ideal, but there’s still much to like here.
The big, rangy center is smart and has decent skill- even if he projects to be more of a two-way forward (whether he plays up the middle or slides to wing when he turns pro is TBD). The B’s got nice draft value for Hall, who didn’t put up big numbers in junior but has seen his offense blossom more in the NCAA. He won’t lose any of his college eligibility over the 20-21 cancellation, but for the Bruins, not getting the games in could mean his eventual signing to a pro contract could be delayed by a year. It’s still tough to project what he will eventually be in another 4-5 years, but given his natural tools and pro attributes, he broke into the top-5 even without the games to measure him this season by.- K.L.
6. Joining the Providence Bruins for the 2019-20 season after a breakout 2018-19 with Farjestad of the SHL, Oskar Steen took some time to adjust to the North American game. Over the 2nd half of the abbreviated season he really found his stride in the AHL, finishing the season with 7 goals & 16 assists for 23 points in 60 games which placed the talented Swede 8th in Providence scoring. A strong competitor at 5’9” 187lbs, Steen is known for his offensive acumen but won’t shy away from physical contact either. A smart 200 foot player, Steen returned to Sweden with Bjorkloven in the Allsvenskan to open the season recording 12 goals & 3 assists for 15 points in 16 games, Steen’s 12 goals still leads Bjorkloven despite the team having played 14 games without him. Steen’s future at the NHL level may be as a winger but he is an exciting prospect who could bring speed, skill and fire into the middle-6 for the Bruins in the next couple of seasons.– Reed Duthie
10. When the Carolina Hurricanes opted not to sign 2016 third-round pick Matt Filipe after he finished four years in the Hockey East this past spring, the B’s jumped on the local (Lynnfield) and former Malden Catholic HS and Northeastern University product. The rugged, big-bodied center isn’t flashy or dynamic- more of a versatile, Swiss Army Knife-type forward who is intelligent and plays the game the right way. A good north-south skater who is tough to play against, he looks like a solid eventual role player if he makes the NHL. While not having dynamic scoring potential, we feel like Filipe has the potential to be a culture guy who enhances the room, competes hard and is tough to play against, and could eventually develop into a Noel Acciari-kind of forward. It also speaks to the shallow pool of current B’s prospect talent that he’s 10th, but he’s there as a high-motor, high-character type who could beat the standard projections, just like Acciari did.- K.L.
11. This was one of the more debated prospects in the system, at least among forwards. Three of us actually had Zach Senyshyn higher on their list and one had him lower. After the debate, we settled on this spot just outside of the top-10. Before we go on, it must be pointed out that we believe the Bruins have not given up hope of him carving out an NHL career, eventually.
But here’s the issue that was brought up in support of moving him down the list: Instead of judging Senyshyn on NHL potential, we judged him on potential with the Bruins. It’s clear to everyone that David Pastrnak will be the number one right wing on the squad for years to come. Ondrej Kase will be given every opportunity to prove that the Bruins made the right choice in dealing for him. Finally, Craig Smith was brought in to the fold as a right wing for the next three years. He’s also not a 4th line player in the sense that the Bruins like to utilize their 4th line and Chris Wagner is locked in there for 3 seasons. With the season set out to be the way it is, there was virtually no opportunity for Senyshyn to crack the lineup. As for next season, well, it all comes down to Kase and what he can do. For Senyshyn to do it, that’s who he is going to have to beat out.- D.T.
12. On the rise- Finnish prospect Matias Mantykivi has already broken through as a regular in Finland’s SM-Liiga having skated in 59 games at the country’s top level over the past season and a half and continues to improve. A project for the Bruins to monitor, Mantykivi is likely to surpass his rookie pro output in his sophomore season as well as having represented Finland at the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship. Projecting as a 3rd line forward who can bring some offense as well as a rounded 200-ft game, look for the Bruins organization to bring Mantykivi to North America by the 2022-23 season.- R.D.
13. We expected more juice from Quinn Olson, now in his second NCAA season, than we’ve seen to date, which accounts for his being ranked currently in the bottom-5. Good player and still a sneaky-good pick by Boston in 2019, but he’s off to a slow start, and we may not see the projected offense come to the fore until junior or senior seasons for him. He’s fast, smart and can do a little bit of everything, and while he does have more potential on paper than say…Filipe…he’s also fighting more of an uphill battle because the B’s have more Olson type players in the system right now.
Mason Lohrei, LD
Urho Vaakanainen, LD
Jeremy Lauzon, LD
Jack Ahcan, LD
Jakub Zboril, LD
Dustyn McFaul, LD
Victor Berglund, RD
Nick Wolff, LD
Roman Bychkov, LD
Mason Langenbrunner, RD
1. Sitting atop the defenseman rankings at No. 1, Mason Lohrei isn’t a benefactor to the recency bias, instead he’s a blossoming, top-tier defensive prospect playing in a top developmental league. Lohrei, 20*, is the backbone and lifeline for a talented Green Bay Gamblers squad. On any given night, you can find Lohrei quarterbacking the powerplay and racking up points, driving the offense from his zone forward.
Although I addressed it at the start of this review, let me reiterate that Mason Lohrei isn’t No. 1 because of recency bias. The recently converted forward-turned-defenseman (at Culver Military Academy) has simply begun blossoming into a true play-driving defender in his second year. Standing at 6’4” and already 200lbs+, Lohrei has puck-skills that will bring you back to the days of watching Hamilton play in juniors as a Boston prospect.
Although Lohrei might not be a carbon copy of Dougie Hamilton, when you watch him, and I mean really watch him, you’ll see those similar, seamless high-end tools with and without the puck. He’s able to stop on a dime and adjust his direction with ease. He’s able to snap a puck on net (or into the back of it for that matter) from the blue line with accuracy, power and purpose. The second-year USHL defenseman has utilized that shot to maintain his place atop the scoring list for his position with 9G-16A-25PTS in 18GP. An excellent skater, Lohrei is able to utilize his feet and drive play in traditional two-way fashion.
While this ranking might seem controversial, I really don’t believe it is. Boston, while home for many other solid prospects, just doesn’t have many drivers in the system as a result of remaining competitive and graduating talent to the NHL. Lohrei has been exactly that this year in the USHL, by the way. Whether it’s against 2000, 2001 or 2002-birth year players (2003 and 2004 birth years also compete in the league), Lohrei is able to shoot, score, pass and skate through all of the high-end talent his league has to offer. With that said, he’s still a converted defenseman and needs time to develop, round out his game for the next levels. He’ll be at Ohio State next year and is expected to make an immediate impact upon arrival.
At the end of the day, Lohrei ranks No. 1 in the system for us because he has true top-pairing potential. He’s playing in the USHL and dominating on a nightly basis, especially late-night into overtime or period three where he’s good for a league-leading six (5) game-winning goals. Lohrei, the USHL’s top-scoring defenseman, is also in sole possession of sixth place in overall scoring with 25 points. Green Bay captain and fellow Boston prospect, Jake Schmaltz, is three (3) points behind Lohrei with 22 points, for additional context.
Lohrei is the real deal and projects as a future top-pairing option for Boston’s blue line. He’s going to need a few years to get there and I’m sure he’ll have a few blunders along the way. However, it’s time to face the music and tip your cap— Lohrei is a high-end prospect with a potentially bright future ahead of him.- A.K.
3. We had a small debate about where Lauzon belonged on this list but there was no pounding the table on his behalf. The consensus is that Lauzon tops out as a second pair defender. But as of today, he is also the best suited to fill in on the top pair next to Charlie McAvoy. And through camp, it looks like the Bruins will give him every opportunity in that role.
I see Lauzon bringing what teammate Brandon Carlo does to the defensive game except with more physicality and more offensive upside. That’s right, more offensive upside. There has been some misinformation on social media suggesting that Lauzon has never shown any offensive ability. But the fact is that in his 2014-15 draft season, he outscored all QMJHL defensemen selected in the 2015 NHL Draft. And of all the CHL defensemen taken ahead of him in 2015, Ivan Provorov is the only defenseman that scored as many goals as Lauzon (15) did. In his draft plus one year, Lauzon finished 5th among QMJHL defensemen in scoring, ahead of St. John teammates Jakub Zboril and Thomas Chabot.
Whether his offensive game translates to the NHL is yet to be determined. But what he will provide next to McAvoy is a seasoned left-shot defender who can handle the defensive game and allow McAvoy to play his game and start taking more risks in the O-zone. It has often been said that McAvoy had to sacrifice offense to cover up for Zdeno Chara (if you want to believe in that narrative). But with Lauzon, he need not worry about that.- D.T.
4. Similar to former Boston defender Torey Krug, Ahcan is an undersized player fighting an uphill battle. Ahcan, 5’8”, might be undersized, but he’s also one of the most well-rounded defenseman you’ll find. He ranks No. 4 on our list for a few reasons and not a single one of them is because we don’t think he’s capable moving forward. In fact, we all unanimously agreed that he has high-end tools as well, especially in the skating department.
Ahcan, a traditional two-way defenseman, has been driving the play from the backend for St. Cloud State over the course of three seasons. He served as their No. 1 quarterback on the PP and also go-to defenseman at 5-on-5. Notice how I said “defenseman at 5-on-5” and not producer? Well, that’s because he’s actually an extremely good defender who uses his strengths to overcome his main weakness— size. Listen, when we have Ahcan ranked at No. 4 behind Lohrei, Vaakanainen and Lauzon, we’re not saying that he isn’t going to make it or won’t overcome his size. Instead, we’re imply saying that while he’s undeniably talented and electric, he’s also undersized and has more work cut out for him.
What Ahcan lacks in size, however, he more than makes up for in high-end skating, vision, playmaking and defensive ability. He’s able to skate on-par with that of Matt Grzelcyk, but can also deliver extremely powerful hits in a small frame. Actually, come to think of it, Ahcan was widely regarded as the best hitter in his entire college conference. Just search for my twitter (@BruinsNetwork) nd you’ll find many examples. Ahcan, though yet to be seen, has the potential to one day become a driver himself in the NHL. His talent is certainly of that caliber and his attitude is exactly what you want in a player. His electric, all-out style of play is something that’s currently lacking in Boston; he doesn’t take a night off and always wants two things— the puck on his stick and to deliver a big hit.
Ahcan, 23, has his challenges, given that he’s undersized and already in his prime developmental years. That said, his size has always been a question and he chewed up D1 NCAA rosters while making it look easy. He’s decked guys with inches and pounds on him, but he’s also made them look silly on the offensive side of the ice as well. Ahcan has the talent of a top-four defenseman in my opinion. I believe his high-end tools are first-round caliber and he’s been able to overcome his height so far at each level. Will he overcome the next challenge in the AHL and then NHL? We will begin to find out.- A.K.
5. Bruins fans tend to malign the 2015 draft, but one must bear in mind that Jakub Zboril was drafted where he should have been given how the B’s missed out on all of the D in the top tier. At the time, we didn’t question whether Zboril had the skill level to play in the NHL, but rather whether he had the hockey sense and character.
We’re about to find out, as he will finally be given an opportunity to show that he can play in the NHL. His skillset says he belongs on this list, but where on this list? We’re about to find out. We feel that Zboril tops out as a second pair defender who can play the PP and PK.- D.T.
6. This ranking may come as a surprise to fans about one of the least known about Bruins prospects. Half the Amigos had Dustyn McFaul in this spot while the other half had him 1 or 2 spots lower. It didn’t take much convincing to get them to agree to move him up.
I was excited when the Bruins drafted him in the 6th round, 181st overall at the 2018 draft with a warning that McFaul was going to be 5 to 6 years away and that patience was going to be required. But this ranking is based on potential and we believe in the potential McFaul has, even if the draft position and numbers aren’t on the higher end of the spectrum.
At 6’2″ and 200 pounds, McFaul has good size and has added bulk to his frame since being drafted. He skates extremely well with good mobility and edgework. He has a longer than normal reach for a player his size, very efficient in his gap control, does not shy away from the physical game and he is a guy you can keep throwing out against the oppositions best at any time and capable of eating up huge minutes. He learned at a young age how to be a leader. There are some offensive abilities to his game. He’s in his sophomore season with Clarkson University in primarily a shut down role 5 on 5 and getting quality PK time but has shown capable of jumping into the rush and his first NCAA goal was an end-to-end beauty of a rush. He has shown in the past he can QB the powerplay and as he progresses, he will get those opportunities.- D.T.
7. In this author’s opinion the most underrated prospect in the Bruins system is Lulea defenceman Victor Berglund. Hailing from the hockey factory of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden and growing up in the legendary MODO system, Berglund broke through as a professional in the 2016-17 season as a 17-year old showing his promise as a young, offensively gifted defender. Playing the next 3 full seasons with MODO in Allsvenskan, Berglund would improve his output year over year before taking the leap to join Lulea of the SHL for the 2020-21 season. Paired with NHL veteran Erik Gustafsson on Lulea’s top pair, Berglund has upped his game to another level. Scoring 3 goals & 14 assists for 17 points in 30 games, Berglund has shown his incredible ability to move the puck, run a power-play and defend against top talent in one of the world’s best leagues. Berglund’s future could see him on the right side of the Bruins defence as a 2nd – 3rd pair and running the team’s power-play.- R.D.
8. Who’s afraid of the Big, Bad Wolff? Nick Wolff was linked to the B’s for some time, as the former two-time NCAA champion and captain at Minnesota-Duluth attended the last two summer development camps in 2018-19 before he signed as an undrafted free agent when COVID killed the 2019-20 season and ended his college career. An instant fan favorite because he draws natural comparisons to former B’s bruising fan favorite Adam McQuaid; Wolff is a bit more mobile, probably not quite as tough, and will need similar time to get experience in the minors before he’s ready to take a crack at an NHL job. He’s not going to point much if at all at the highest level, but Wolff has shown himself to be a nasty, tenacious defender. After watching Kevan Miller start the 2021 season, you can still see the value in having someone in the lineup who is so difficult to play against, and Wolff brings that kind of future potential, plus- he wanted to be in Boston all along, too.- K.L.
1. Jeremy Swayman took the top spot, but it was close race with Vladar. In the end, it came down to Swayman’s sustained run of excellence in the USHL, NCAA and a top season where he earned top goalie honors with a Hobey Baker-worthy year. He checks all the boxes and seems to have that “it” factor that in what could be a relatively short amount of time, will see him make his Boston debut and go on to be the eventual No. 1 for the Bruins.- K.L.
3. Despite the injury setbacks in 19-20, no one has lost any faith in Kyle Keyser and the belief is that he could have challenged for the number one position. However, here is some context from the conversation:
Keyser’s development took a hit last season not because of his performance, but injuries that cost him valuable development time. And there is a concussion history that must be taken into account. Some of the Amigos believe that Keyser is as good, if not a better technical goaltender then his fellow prospects. He’s always positionally sound, his movements in the crease are always in control, he tracks pucks and plays well and he is so incredibly smart that he sees a play develop before hand that he can direct rebounds to areas that his teammates can get to first. He has the best blocker hand I have ever seen to do that.
Some fans are raising some concerns about his numbers playing for Jacksonville in the ECHL. The only comment I can make is that the are identical to those that Daniel Vladar put up in the ECHL. What is best is to get him on the ice and into game action and allow the development coaches work with him. He’s always in contact with (Bruins goalie coaches) Bob Essensa and Mike Dunham, and he will do whatever is necessary.- D.T.
4. The signing of Callum Booth was an insurance policy for General Manager Don Sweeney. With questions surrounding what the NHL and AHL season was going to look like at the time of the signing, Sweeney needed something in his back pocket. Enter Booth.
Now that we know Vladar will be on the taxi squad, at best he will push Swayman and Keyser and we know how much the Boston GM likes internal competition. Booth only has 14 games of AHL experience, but that’s 8 more games than Keyser and 14 more than Swayman.- D.T.
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.
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.
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:
After a tough Game 5 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Boston Bruins from the 2020 NHL Playoffs thoughts immediately turned to what the roster would look like for the 2020-21 season. Many names have already been tossed about from outside the organization as fans look from their perspectives to who could improve the Bruins and push the team over the top to a Stanley Cup Championship.
With the attention on players coming from outside the Bruins organization, it should be equally of interest who could come from within the organization and have their breakout moments to improve this team.
The forward group will likely see the most potential turnover with Joakim Nordstrom unlikely to be back and questions surrounding the likes of where Nick Ritchie, Chris Wagner & Par Lindholm fit into next year’s lineup, if at all, and the RFA status of Jake DeBrusk.
Zachary Senyshyn – In the Tampa Bay series it became clear that the Bruins needed more size and physical presence in the offensive zone but that it can’t come at the sacrifice of speed. Enter Zach Senyshyn, the controversial 15th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft recorded back to back 40+ goal seasons in the OHL with the Soo Greyhounds but since arriving full time in Providence has made it a mission to become better in his 200-foot game. Although the offensive numbers haven’t jumped off the page in the AHL, Senyshyn combines a 6’3”/193lbs frame with incredible straight line speeds and the knowledge of how to use both. Able to blow by defenders around the outside, Senyshyn brings the willingness to drive straight to goal with the puck and create in the dirty areas. The Bruins could have a breakout, forceful player on their hands as his professional development has come along but could also have a bigger, more physical version of former Merlot-line favourite Dan Paille, either way Senyshyn has earned a long look.
Trent Frederic – A player who just screams Boston Bruin, following in the tradition of the likes of Wayne Cashman, Terry O’Reilly & Stan Jonathan, Frederic loves to mix it up physically but also brings excellent offensive instincts and the knowledge of how to use a 6’2”/203lbs frame to his advantage. The 29th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Frederic has garnered a lot of attention for posting 215 penalty minutes in his last 114 AHL games, becoming one of the more feared players in the American Hockey League. What has gone under the radar is the 57 points (22 goals) the hulking 2nd year pro has posted in the same time frame. Able to control the puck in a phone booth, Frederic’s size, whole ice game and cycle ability would appear to make him a perfect potential match for Charlie Coyle on a 3rd line that could become very hard to handle for bottom pairing defenders.
Jack Studnicka – He may well end up being the steal of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, selected 53rd overall and Jack Studnicka has come a long way in a very short time. The rookie pro suited up in 60 games for the Providence Bruins recording 23 goals & 26 assists for 49 points while turning heads in the process. Playing with a super-computer between his ears it isn’t hard to see why the Windsor native has drawn many comparisons to current Bruins legend and future Hockey Hall of Famer Patrice Bergeron. Studnicka brings a far advanced defensive game for his age and offensive acumen, and showed in his 5-game playoff cameo for the Bruins in 2020 that he clearly belongs in the National Hockey League. Likely to start his career on the right-wing, it won’t be long before Studnicka patrols the middle of the ice as a key player for the Bruins.
On the blueline, the Bruins may not wind up with an obvious opening but do have at least a trio of young players pushing to open one with all three players bringing different styles to the table.
Jakub Zboril – Having spent the last three seasons with the Providence Bruins, the former 13th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft has had injuries derail a potential run with the NHL team on more than one occasion. Despite the potential for frustration, the physical rearguard has kept working, consistently improving his game over his three seasons in the AHL and by the time the 2019-20 season was put on hiatus Zboril was pushing for another opportunity in Boston. Fleet of foot with the ability to move the puck quickly and confidently from his own zone, the left-hand shot defender plays with a mean streak that would make you think he’d just stepped in the wasp’s nest. At 6’0”/200lbs, Zboril brings strength to the back end and would be more than able to move attackers from the front of the net which is what the Bruins came out of their series against Tampa Bay looking for more of. Zboril will also have a running start at the 2020-21 season beginning his year in the Czech Extraliga.
Urho Vaakanainen – Another defender who has seen opportunities to stick in Boston cast aside due to unfortunate injury, the 17th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is a tremendous skater who can get up and down the ice effortlessly while combining with a 6’1”/185lbs frame that allows Vaakanainen to win his share of board and net battles and excellent hockey IQ to see and read the game. While in Finland, Vaakanainen showed an appetite to consistently improve and moved from Blues to JYP to SaIPa to get the kind of ice time he felt he would need to be able to take those steps. Vaakanainen has now played 84 in Providence and an additional 5 in Boston and while his offensive output hasn’t taken a step forward the rest of his game has. An opportunity with the big club combined with some luck on the health side could see the left-hand shot Finnish rearguard become a trusted piece at even strength and the Bruins penalty kill and at just 21 years of age could be a Bruin for a long time to come.
Nick Wolff – As Kirk Luedeke has mentioned on the Amigos Podcast many times before, “Winners Win” and Nick Wolff is a bonafide winner. The towering 6’5”/230lbs left-hander has won 2 NCHC Championships and 2 NCAA National Championship while being a key piece of the on & off ice leadership for the UMD Bulldogs, including serving as the captain for the 2019-20 team. As mean and nasty as they come, Wolff won’t provide the fleet footed skating of a Zboril or Vaakanainen but will remind fans of a new age Adam McQuaid. Able to get by on his skating, uses his off the charts size and strength to make life miserable for opposing attackers and is able to clog both shooting and passing lanes with his massive frame. If the Bruins are just simply looking to get meaner and nastier in their own end, they may uncage a Wolff and let him loose on their opposition.
With Tuukka Rask & Jaroslav Halak both under contract there doesn’t appear to be any room for another goaltender to make his name on the 2020-21 Boston Bruins, however any crack in the window may provide the real opportunity for 1 talented keeper of the cage to make his mark in the NHL.
Daniel Vladar – Originally drafted in the 3rd round, 75th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Vladar has taken his time moving through the Bruins system but the 2019-20 season appeared to be the lightbulb moment for the 6’5”/185 netminder. Over the course of 25 games with the Providence Bruins, Vladar would post an incredible 1.73 GAA & .936 SV%. Thrust into a tough spot in the playoff series against the Lightning, the greater hockey world didn’t get a fair look at the potential Czech star and any injury to Rask or Halak that could allow Vladar an opportunity in the 2020-21 season could see Bruins fans potentially have a look into the future of the crease.
Every year there appears to be a surprise at training camp or at some point in the season when a player seems to find themselves and goes from dark-horse to stud. If the Bruins have a dark-horse in camp it very well could be a talented Slovakian.
Robert Lantosi – An older prospect at 24, Lantosi arrived with the Providence Bruins for the 2019-20 season where he really impressed posting 11 goals & 21 assists for 31 points over 50 games in his rookie season in North America and was rewarded by the Boston Bruins with an NHL contract (albeit 2-way) but with the potential he could see time on the RW for the NHL squad. Leaving Slovakia at 17 for the Vasteras program in Sweden before returning 5 years later and subsequently becoming a star for HK Nitra, Lantosi is well travelled and has blended natural talent with a responsibility to a three-zone game and a very mature outlook for a 24-year old. While he may never be an NHL superstar, Lantosi could provide offense in a bottom-6 role where his talents would make him a solid addition to a Bruins team that likes to roll 4 lines.
Jake Schmaltz closes out the current Bruins prospect series- we started recapping and updating all of the drafted and/or signed prospects back when the COVID-19 quarantines began near the end of March and three months later, we’re caught up. We look forward to analyzing the next wave of Boston prospects- whenever the 2020 NHL Entry Draft happens. Watch for a main page post that will rank and list all of the prospects we’ve covered linked to each of these profiles for ease of reference.
Jake Schmaltz, LW/C- L
Current team: Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
Previous team: Chicago Steel (USHL)
Strengths: Hockey IQ/vision is Schmaltz’s best asset- he’s smart and creative, able to see the play unfolding and get to the point of attack where he can influence things. His natural instincts help him to be a 200-foot player who understands his role and responsibilities in his own end. A quick, agile skater for his height- able to get off the mark quickly, and while he doesn’t possess dynamic open-ice speed/separation, Schmaltz can get to loose pucks with fine small-area skills and burst. Deft touch with the puck- more of a passer/distributor. Good character and work ethic.
Weaknesses: Although possessing good height, Schmaltz is lean and will have to address his functional strength going forward. He’s not all that strong on his skates and tends to be more of an upright skater, making him susceptible to being knocked off the puck when trying to drive through contact while in motion.
Overall analysis: The former Wisconsin high school and Team Wisconsin (AAA) standout’s offense blossomed two years ago and he earned a top NCAA commitment to the Fighting Hawks. A season later, he was a strong two-way forward in his rookie USHL campaign in 2018-19, parlaying that into being Boston’s final selection in Vancouver.
Schmaltz, a cousin of NHL brothers Nick (Arizona) and Jordan (NY Islanders- Bridgeport), isn’t a high-end prospect by any means, but plays a sound three-zone game and has some pro upside with his natural smarts. Like most players his age, he’s got a lot of physical development ahead, and added strength to his lower body will improve his skating in terms of overall power/leg drive. He’s a versatile forward who brings the attributes that coaches value to play an honest, consistent shift. Don’t expect a big point producer at the higher levels, but he does compete hard and finds ways to contribute on both sides of the puck.
Projection: Like Jack Becker, Schmaltz is on the long program in Boston’s system. He’s got a top commitment in the NCHC with University of North Dakota, and could very well play the four full years of his NCAA eligibility before he signs/turns pro. That will obviously depend on how he develops there, but there will be no urgency to get him into the system for the time being.
Given his age and USHL experience, Schmaltz should be one of Green Bay’s top players in 20-21 as long as the plan remains in place for him to return for one more year of junior.
The Bruins prospect series rolls on with 2015 7th-rounder Jack Becker, who skated with John Beecher at Michigan this past season.- KL
Jack Becker, RW/C-R
6-4/200 Born: 24 Jun 97
Current team: University of Michigan (NCAA)
Jack Becker then:
July 18, 2015
Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls (USHL); 6-3, 190
Acquired: 7th round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Lanky Minnesota high school product is about as raw as it gets at this stage, but could bring some long-term boom potential if he continues to progress. Felled by a bout with mononucleosis this season, he came back strong to finish the season at Mahtomedi High and then played a couple of USHL regular season affiliate games with the Clark Cup-winning Sioux Falls Stampede. He lacks initial burst and agility in his skating, but crashes the net hard and scores goals the old fashioned way. Watch for this son of a former NY Islanders draft pick to make noise at Wisconsin eventually.
July 25, 2015
(Here’s a draft day quote on Becker from former colleague Dan Shrader, who is now an area scout with the Winnipeg Jets)
Good friend and Red Line scout Dan Shrader saw Becker multiple times this season and smartly listed him in the RLR final rankings.
“He’s not a facilitator but is a great crash and bang type,” Shrader said. “He’s terrific with the give and go net drives. He’s a bit thorny (in his development) and needs time but could be a player when all is said and done. No one in Minnesota high school hockey crashed the net harder than Becker this year.”
May 5, 2016
Jack Becker, C (2015 draft- 7th round): Minnesota high schooler when drafted went to the USHL this past season with the Sioux Falls Stampede. The Mahtomedi native is a pretty raw product, still growing into his frame and developing his skill set. It will likely take him some time to transition into being an impact performer with the Badgers, but for a seventh-round pick, there is some interesting long-term potential here. Current status: unsigned.
(current note- Becker was no longer committed to Wisconsin by the fall of 2016 and committed to Michigan Tech, before decommitting there and following head coach Mel Pearson to the University of Michigan for the 2017-18 season. See video below the post for more.)
Jack Becker now:
After concluding his junior season in Ann Arbor with the University of Michigan Wolverines, his long-term status with the Bruins is still up in the air. Drafted five years ago, the Bruins still hold his rights as long as he stays in school, and then have until August of 2021 to sign him or he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He skated mostly on the wing with fellow B’s prospect and 2019 first-rounder John Beecher.
With 22 goals and 42 points in three NCAA campaigns, Becker has not been a point producer since playing single-A high school hockey in Minnesota. And even then, Becker wasn’t a driver/creator- he used his size to get to the net, and had the hands/shot to find the twine to the tune of 55 goals.
He’s got a pro-sized frame and is a powerful straight-line skater. Initial steps and small area quickness should see continued improvement. In the offensive zone he uses his size and strength to maintain puck possession and make plays around the net. He’s got a quick release on a hard shot; we’d not be surprised to see him hit the 30-point mark as a senior, and double his goal totals. There has always been an intriguing buzz around his soft hands and ability to finish at the lower levels.
Realistically, Becker is tracking more as journeyman/depth player as a pro. He’s a capable two-way forward who might lack a flashy offensive package, but stands out with his ability to go to the net and protect the puck. Barring a major breakout senior campaign, the B’s may take a wait-and-see approach to see how he looks after he exhausts his NCAA eligibility.
With his natural size, strength and heavy-style game, there’s enough to wonder if he can be a viable pro, even if he tops out at the AHL level. This last collegiate season will be his final exam to see if that raw promise the B’s saw half a decade ago will get a chance to pan out for the organization.
Wolverines YouTube video- Jack Becker on how he ended up at Michigan after commitments to Wisconsin and Tech
Current team: Providence Bruins (AHL) Signed through: 2022
Strengths: Left-shot center with good size is a fluid skater with rapid acceleration and good open-ice speed. He has the agility and balance to make quick cut-backs and is strong on his skates, able to drive through contact and win footraces to loose pucks. Handles the puck well and is a deft passer; able to maintain possession on the cycle or in traffic- protects the puck with a combination of quick hands and an above average frame. Quick release and gets his shot off quickly, often hiding his release point- catches goaltenders unaware…just needs to show more of a willingness to use it versus looking for the extra pass.
Weaknesses: If he was more instinctive and demonstrated better vision and creativity, Shen would be a more highly-regarded prospect. His production reflects limited upside in this regards- skates like he has blinders on and doesn’t always pick up on where the lanes are, costing himself time and space. Doesn’t seem to see the shooting lanes quickly enough, learning that the windows close much faster in the AHL. Needs to show more “want to,” especially in the greasy areas, where a lot of puck battles are won and lost, and isn’t often where he has to be in terms of puck support.
Overall analysis: Shen looks the part of an NHL center: he’s got the size, speed and hands to make plays, but had trouble earning the ice time and role as a rookie to be an impact player. Part of it is the aforementioned limitations he appears to have in terms of his natural hockey sense/on-ice vision, and part of it is certainly his age/lack of experience at the pro level, not to mention he was adjusting to the North American game and smaller ice surface.
Be that as it may, 20-21 will be an important year to see if Shen can take a big step in his development and put himself on a path to be an NHL player. He’s an intriguing seventh-round pick who was nowhere near the sum of some impressive parts when the Bruins drafted him with the 212th overall selection, and has shown that he has some big-time offensive ability in flashes. Having said that. he also demonstrated that he was not ready for prime time, bouncing between center and wing this past season and not seeing an abundance of ice time as a spare part in a limited role under head coach Jay Leach.
Projection: The B’s recently parted ways with winger Peter Cehlarik, who despite putting up decent numbers at the AHL level, could never really get his details and habits in order to hold down a spot with the NHL team. Shen is a similar kind of long shot prospect who has the tools to be a player at the highest level, but has a lot of work to do in terms of rounding out his game to be more of a complete 200-foot player. Of course, Cehlarik had significantly more pro experience when he came over to North America versus Shen, but some of the same hurdles that the Slovak (who recently signed in Switzerland with Lugano) faced await Shen in an organization that has a lot of journeyman-type forwards jockeying for position on the farm but not a lot of high-end talent to break the logjam.
You can’t really argue with a seventh-round pick struggling to establish himself at age 20 in his first year overseas away from home. This is why we’ll reserve judgment on Shen for now and see how much of a step forward he takes as a sophomore. There’s quite a bit to like, but realistically, it’s hard to project where he would fit on the NHL roster based on the limited sample size thus far.
We wouldn’t bet the farm on him materializing into an NHL regular, but he does bring an impressive enough skill set for one drafted so late to remain patient and see what comes next.