Dominic Tiano continues to carry the TSP blog with his tremendous insight and knowledge. Here’s his latest in looking at potential additions to a Bruins group that is among the best in the NHL right now.– KL
With respect to the post’s titular question, our answer at TSP is: Absolutely. There isn’t a team in the National Hockey League that couldn’t use the 30-year-old left shooting defenseman on one of the best bargain contracts that carries a cap hit of just $3,750,000.
The Nashville defender signed his current deal on October 26, 2015. It was a six-year deal worth $22,500,000, meaning he has one more year left on the deal before he becomes and unrestricted free agent.
According to CapFriendly, as of this morning there are only 5 teams that have more cap space than the Bruins. Not one of those five teams are currently a playoff team and are all in different stages of a rebuild.
Cap-wise, the Bruins are in great shape and can literally fit Ekholm’s contract under the cap without having to move out any salary. But obviously, Nashville is going to want a young NHL player back in return, among other pieces.
But why would Nashville move on from Ekholm? There is something wrong with the Predators, and no one seems to know what that is. They currently sit seventh in the Central Division, just one point up on the lowly Detroit Red Wings and some sort of retooling is needed.
Nashville’s goaltending has been mediocre at best. They have a contract like Matt Duchene which is virtually unmovable, as is that of Ryan Johansen. Viktor Arvidsson is also on a great deal, but he is off to a very bad start this season.
Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis aren’t going anywhere and neither is Filip Forsberg. So, it makes sense that with his contract, Ekholm could bring in the best return. In fact, there could be a bidding war for his services like we haven’t seen in some time.
Several NHL Insiders are reporting Ekholm is on the market including ChrisJohnson,while PierreLeBrun is hinting at it. There are even reports from Ekholm’s native Sweden that the defender is available.
It’s reasonable to assume the Preds would want one of the Bruins young defencemen back in return. It’s almost certain the Preds are going to want a draft pick back in return, likely a first, as well as another prospect.
That young defender the Preds would likely ask for is Jeremy Lauzon. But sources tell me that GM DonSweeney does not want to move Lauzon and would consider protecting him in the expansion draft – although, if they acquire Ekholm they might have to re-think their strategy there. The prospect ask going the other way could be someone like JakubLauko.
But we know how negotiations work. Sweeney could offer a second if the Preds are intent on Lauzon and up the ante to a first if the Preds were to take JakubZboril instead for example.
Two things are a certainty if the Preds move on from Ekholm: 1) DavidPoile is going to be busy talking with the other 30 General Managers and 2) Sweeney will make a phone call to the 615 area code.
Sweeney has an advantage here over other GM’s. Along with the help of EvanGold, he has cap space to make the deal now, is not forced to move out cap space, doesn’t have to wait until closer to trade deadline to lower Ekholm’s cap hit and he has the assets to swing a deal.
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.
Over the past decade, Boston Bruins have found success in the undrafted free agent department, especially with signing NCAA players. Whether we’re talking about Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Frank Vatrano (whose trade to Florida in 2018 netted the pick the B’s used to select Jakub Lauko), or even Austin Czarnik (now with Calgary), the B’s have identified passed-over college players who have gone on to reach the NHL.
A more recent example is former University of Minnesota-Duluth captain Karson Kuhlman, who led the Bulldogs to their first of two consecutive NCAA championships in 2018 and then signed with the B’s shortly thereafter. The 2018 NCAA tournament MVP didn’t dazzle anyone with his numbers, but was, as it turned out, the perfect fit for Boston.
It didn’t take Kuhlman long to see his first NHL action and by the spring of 2019, he was playing a supporting role in helping the B’s get to within one game of a Stanley Cup championship. In 19 regular and playoff games combined, the rookie netted four goals and eight points, not bad for a defensive forward in college whose best season consisted of just six goals and 22 points in 42 games during the 2016-17 campaign.
The Esko, MN native has always impressed with his speed, intelligent two-way game and hyper-competitivene style, going back to his USHL days with the Dubuque Fighting Saints.
After making such a surprising impact (at the very least in terms of timeline), Kuhlman made the 2019-20 Bruins roster out of camp, but fractured his tibia Oct. 19 in a game against Toronto. He missed the next two months and returned to the ice in late December, bouncing between the NHL and AHL with Providence until the NHL season was put on pause.
He still meets our criteria of a prospect, even though he’s seen 36 NHL regular season games in his first two pro seasons, so here’s a quick snapshot of Kuhlman and what B’s fans can expect going forward:
Strengths: Superb skater- explosive, agile and quick. He’s got excellent acceleration and is strong on his skates- able to roll off of checks and maintain his balance. Very good small-area burst. Hockey sense is very good- while not overly creative, he sees the ice and makes good decisions with and without the puck. Tremendous intangibles such as character and leadership packaged up in a relentless work ethic. He’s a superior forechecker who disrupts and creates turnovers with his speed and sheer tenacity- constantly hunts pucks. A winner- he won a USHL championship with Dubuque in 2013, took 2018 NCAA tournament MVP honors in leading UMD to a national title, then was part of Boston’s extended run to the SCF a year later. That kind of thing is not an accident. Can play center and wing- able to take key defensive faceoffs when needed and has a quick stick in the dot to win draws.
Weaknesses: Size is average, and he’s not a skill player by any means. A standout player for Cloquet High, he was not a point producer in the USHL or in college, so he’s not going to have the offensive ceiling to be a front line forward in the NHL.
Overall analysis/projection: The leg injury set Kuhlman back, and as his 1 goal and 6 points in 25 games this season can attest, he’s in a low-end depth role right now with Boston. At age 24, he’s old enough and mature- he can play up or down the lineup if needed, but with the B’s healthy when the NHL’s expected resumption happens in July-August, he’ll have a challenge ahead to work himself into the lineup on a regular basis.
Going forward, we can envision Kuhlman carving out more of a role for himself as a checker/grinder/Swiss Army knife player the Boston coaches trust in certain situations. He’s not going to go out and score 30 goals and 60 points, but in the B’s system, could develop into a regular role player because of his versatility, drive and jam.
The B’s haven’t just enjoyed success finding college free agents- they hit on former Swift Current/WHL captain Colby Cave, who suddenly and tragically passed away this spring while a member of the Edmonton organization, but the NCAA pipeline has been a productive one for Boston. Kuhlman should continue to contribute going forward, and the B’s continued the pattern by signing college defenders Jack Ahcan (St. Cloud State) and Nick Wolff (Kuhlman’s UMD teammate) this past March.
His only goal this season vs Vancouver an attempted pass that went in off Troy Stecher
KBJR local feature by Alec Bochner during Kuhlman’s senior season at UMD
In-depth UMD profile on him from October 2017- check out his answer to the question at 7:20 about the one city he would pick up and move to- Kuhl-stradamus?
The prospect series continues with a quick look at Czech forward Jakub Lauko and what he brings to the table.
Jakub Lauko, LW
2nd selection, 77th overall in 2018 NHL Entry Draft
Current team: Providence Bruins (AHL)
Previous team: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
Strengths: Top skater; explosive/elite burst, balance, and the ability to beat defenders wide with straight line speed, or rapid edging/direction change- can turn on a dime. Wins a lot of foot races to loose pucks and has the shifty, slippery elusiveness to get around players 1-on-1. One of the best pure skaters in hockey at any level. Good size: 6-foot-1 frame that is still filling out- just had his 19th birthday last week. Pin-point, flash release on his shot; nose for the net- when he shoots the puck in close, good things happen. Good worker who competes and is willing to embrace a 200-foot responsibility- not one-dimensional.
Weaknesses: Lacks high-end puck skills, vision and offensive hockey IQ, which could cap his offensive ceiling at the NHL level. Lean and light- suffered a concussion in early December after taking a big hit in an AHL game that required a gurney to take him off the ice. Returned to action for the World Jr. Championship tournament late in the month, but suffered a lower body/MCL injury that cost him the rest of the competition, plus all of January and February before returning for four AHL games in March prior to the season-ending COVID-19 situation for the league.
Overall analysis: Getting Lauko in the third round two years ago was very good value for the B’s. He came over to North America to play major junior in the QMJHL, winning the 2019 Memorial Cup championship and subsequently turning pro. His skating and ability to play with pace allowed him to play in the AHL, but his offensive production was indicative of his youth and a middle-of-the-pack skill set. Even though Lauko is a dynamic, game-breaking talent with his wheels, he doesn’t appear to have the hands or creativity to be a top tier scorer at the NHL level. What he can be is an effective 2-way forward who can provide secondary offense and will be a capable three-zone player and penalty killer. He’s got a genuine personality and is well-liked, so he’s easy to root for. Where his draft day fall to the third round raised some eyebrows at the time, it is now apparent that his average hands/skills contributed. Having said that, he’s a solid middle tier prospect who will upgrade his team’s speed/energy and be a good complementary piece- not a driver.
Projection: Capable middle-six forward and PKer at the NHL level; might play more wing than center in the show- time will tell. With only 22 AHL games under his belt, he’s going to need more time in Providence. If the injury bug hits in 20-21, Lauko could see time in Boston as a recall player, but the best thing for him until then will likely be to continue his development track on the farm where he can get quality minutes and play in a variety of situations. At age 19, he’s still quite young, and it’s possible he could raise his offensive profile going forward. However, his NHL ceiling looks to be about 20 goals/40-45 points at this stage, and that would make for a successful third-round draft choice.
NHL video extended highlights of Sep 23 preseason Bruins-Flyers game. Lauko is 94 and takes opening faceoff, later scores at about 2:10 with a nice self-pass off the wall and a sharp-angle shot.
Here’s Lauko’s 1st AHL goal vs the Rochester Amerks- goes to the net: right place, right time
2019 is here and the Boston Bruins helped ring in the new year in style with a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL’s annual (since 2008) Winter Classic outdoor game.
Boston’s third trip outside on New Year’s Day was played at the iconic University of Notre Dame football stadium in South Bend, Indiana, the first time a non-football event was played in the home of the Fighting Irish. The B’s were 1-1 in the NHL’s signature event, beating the Philadelphia Flyers at (Frozen) Fenway Park eight years ago on a Marco Sturm OT goal, but getting pumped by the Montreal Canadiens at the home of the New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, in 2016 by a 5-1 score.
Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)
For goaltender Tuukka Rask, the 2019 game was a chance for redemption, and he found it, playing well with 36 saves including multiple breakaways and grade A scoring chances. It was also a milestone event for the veteran netminder who has only known Boston as his NHL home since the 2007-08 season. He passed Hall of Fame goalie Cecil “Tiny” Thompson as the goalie with the most career appearances in franchise history. Rask will soon own the most regular season victories for the team as well.
The soon-to-be-32-year-old may be the most polarizing figure we have seen and covered in the 40+ years of following the team as fan and correspondent. A top talent and former 1st-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs before he was dealt to the B’s for Andrew Raycroft even-steven nearly 13 years ago, Rask is often a study in extremes. Ardent fans and supporters often pointing fingers at everyone else on the roster but the man in net when the team doesn’t win with him in the net, while there is an equally obnoxious segment of Boston fans who seem to revel in affixing blame to Rask at every opportunity and making him a convenient scapegoat for their frustrations with the club. There seems to be very little middle ground in the increasingly toxic social media environment when it comes to Rask, but at least in this space, we’ve always tried to be fair-minded in our treatment of the embattled veteran. On this day, he did his job well, and looked every bit the player the Bruins need him to be if they are going to secure a spot in the NHL playoffs for the third consecutive season this spring. The combat math is pretty simple: Rask and Jaroslav Halak give the Bruins the best 1-2 goalie punch in the league. When both of them are on top of their games, the team can beat anyone.
Which brings us to the next point- Patrice Bergeron. It never gets old watching the de facto captain play a textbook complete game of hockey. NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp talked yesterday after the game about how if you polled most NHL players about which player they would want on their team in a one-game, winner-take-all match for the Stanley Cup, you would probably see a large percentage of them vote for Boston’s consummate pro.
Yesterday, we all saw his greatness for what it is- a furious back check to deny a scoring chance at one end that would have opened up a 3-1 advantage for the ‘Hawks, and moments later, an effortless backhand shot that tied the game and opened the door for the B’s to win it on Sean “Clutch” Kuraly’s third period rebound marker (another backhand shot).
At this point of Bergeron’s career, we’re out of superlatives to describe him. He’s the hockey student of the game’s idol- a player who simply does everything right, all day, every day. Some folks are drawn to the sizzle that so many super talents of hockey provide with their speed, pace and skill- you absolutely need those guys. And, the players who rack up oodles of points are always going to get more positive attention than those with middle-of-the-pack numbers. Here’s the rub, though- those who have careers with skin in the game- whose job security depends on being on the right side of the win-loss column- Bergeron is an inspiration. The Bruins may not have multiple Stanley Cup championships to show for it, but since Bergeron joined the club as a precocious 18-year-old rookie in 2003, it has been a prosperous era for the team despite setbacks and disappointments along the way.
It’s hard to believe because there were other players who popped offensively earlier in their careers, but Bergeron has quietly and steadily climbed to be the third-highest scorer in the storied 2003 NHL Entry Draft class, behind only Eric Staal and Ryan Getzlaf with his 769 career points in 989 games. He’s tied with Thomas Vanek (who will play his 1,000th NHL game on Jan. 4), but Vanek’s days of high production are over- Bergeron will blow by him and establish himself solidly in 3rd behind Staal and Getzlaf. What’s important about this is that offense has never really been the thing that has defined Bergeron’s Hall of Fame career, but he’s proven that the consistent approach of 50-60 points year after year, has helped to propel him to the top of one of the greatest collective draft groups in NHL history. He should have gone over 1,000 NHL games played about 2-3 years ago and would be closing in on 1,000 career points and might be the No. 1 scorer of the 2003 draftees had it not been for 1.5 years of lockouts and almost 2 full seasons lost to injuries of various types. But even with all the missed time, Bergeron’s impact on the Bruins and the game of hockey cannot be undersold. He is the greatest defensive forward in NHL history. No disrespect to Canadiens great Bob Gainey, who inspired the very Frank J. Selke Trophy which rewards two-way excellence up front, but Bergeron hasn’t benefited from a dynastic machine that the Habs were in the 1970’s, and the offensive production isn’t close.
Simply put- No. 37 is the best there ever was, and he’s inspired a generation of players who want to do things the right way and focus on the habits and details that are lost on so many who can only really focus on the flashy stuff that makes the game so great. There’s room for it all of course, but if I’m in a 1-game knife fight for my hockey life, there’s one guy I’d sell my soul for to have in my lineup: Patrice Bergeron.
Brad Marchand is heating up at the right time. We of course love what David Pastrnak is doing, but the driving engine of Boston’s offense is the Lil’ Ball of Hate, and when he’s finding the back of the net, the wins are plentiful. He generated multiple scoring chances and in the waning seconds, hit the empty net- notching his 42nd point of the season to quietly move closer to Pastrnak’s team-leading 50 points.
Just like Bergeron, both of these forwards embody the luck of the NHL draft- had anyone known what kind of an impact they would have, you’d have seen them go off the board with the 1st or 2nd overall selections in their respective years, and yet, they both essentially fell into Boston’s lap. In a time where fans spend more time kvetching about who the team missed on, it’s sometimes nice to be reminded that the B’s scouting staff, long under the guiding hand of veteran talent chief Scott Bradley and Ryan Nadeau’s vision and leadership, has had some tremendous bargain finds over the years. And we haven’t even gotten into Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jack Studnicka and Jakub Lauko yet.
And like Bergeron, Marchand is ascending to the top of the 2006 draft’s scoring list. Of all the players from that class, only Niklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux and Jonathan Toews have more than Marchand’s 503 points and counting.
Finally, it was great to see Zdeno Chara out there after returning from injury. Like Tim Wakefield near the end of his MLB career, Chara is a lifetime Bruin, though he played elsewhere before making the Hub his home. He has quietly racked up nearly 1,000 games in the Black and Gold, and like Bergeron, is headed for a place in Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s not the horse he was in his prime, but the steady play, experience and value he provides cannot be understated. Once he retires, whenever that is, the B’s will have a challenge to replace what he means to the club on and off the ice. Instead of rushing to anoint the next wave of youth (and there are some worthy heirs coming down the pipeline), we should all embrace the legend and enjoy him for as long as we can. Once he’s gone, we may not ever see another player quite like him.
Okay- that about does it. Here’s hoping you all have a great and prosperous 2019. Thanks as always for reading the sporadic posts on the blog- didn’t cover all the ground I wanted to on this one, but be on the lookout for more content as the season goes on.
As the summer winds down, figured an audio post to cover more ground than a typical written narrative is the way to go.
In this 60+ minute audio segment, TSP weighs in on some of the Boston Bruins organizational rankings and why it’s a fool’s errand to put much stock in any of them . We also do a three-year on B’s prospects, looking at Ryan Donato, Zach Senyshyn and Jakub Lauko. Plus, we talk about the recently completed Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, the annual first real jump into the NHL draft tracking process. It’s sure looking like the late 2000/2001 birth year is shaping up to be a pretty good draft class!
Thanks to the requests of multiple blog readers, the 3 Amigos decided to reunite in the offseason and last night, the boys did a solid 70+ minutes worth of hockey talk focusing on the Boston Bruins.
While we won’t be as prolific on the blog as before, this is an opportunity to maintain the connection with those passionate fans who helped support us from 2015 to late summer 2017, when the blog went dormant due to job obligations. The truth is- being at the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas served as a good reminder that you can’t completely walk away from that which you have done for the past 18 years. It was summer 2000 when the New England Hockey Journal hired TSP founder Kirk to cover the Bruins, and after covering nearly every draft since then (minus those when overseas), it was strange not to be working at this most recent draft.
Still- am grateful for all the words of support and encouragement, and fortunate to have two good friends in Dom and Reed who agreed to get the Amigos back together and do some more audio work. The best part of it was just being able to interact with them again, and we have some more things in store for future efforts.
So, enough of the background- here’s the audio file and will post it up on Soundcloud as well.
For those who want to download and listen on Soundcloud, go here:
Okay, so we’re a little behind here, but wanted to do a blog post on the Boston Bruins most recent transactions, which includes the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in Dallas and free agency, which opened with a boom on Sunday for the Toronto Maple Leafs, landing a true crown jewel in John Tavares, who leaves the NY Islanders in his prime (not yet 28) for his childhood team. The Bruins were in it as a possible Tavares destination, but in hindsight, it was probably the Isles or the Leafs and everyone else didn’t really have a shot. That’s life, but more on that later.
And, if the Isles need some comforting, they had what looks to be a successful draft, leveraging multiple first-round picks and value throughout the subsequent rounds into an impressive haul for them.