Bruins draft Four long-term prospects

The 2020 NHL Entry Draft is in the books, and without a first-round pick, many observers expected that the Boston Bruins’ effort in an unprecedented October event due to COVID would be relatively quiet.

Picking at 58th overall, the B’s once again did things their way by not selecting one of the top remaining first-year draft eligible players, but by taking a late-blooming defenseman out of the USHL. With only five total draft choices (no 1st- Ondrej Kase, no 4th- Marcus Johansson) due to trades, the team dealt its final seventh-round pick (213th overall) to the Toronto Maple Leafs for that club’s seventh in 2021.

Here’s a quick look at Boston’s four selections, with more to follow as there will be prospect profiles developed for all.

Mason Lohrei

Rd. 2/58 Mason Lohrei, LD 6-5/210 Green Bay (USHL)- Ohio State (2021-22)

Pronounced: LOHR-eye. January 2001 birth date left-shot D was passed over in 2019 after spending his second season at Culver Military Academy, but obviously impressed the Boston scouting staff as a USHL rookie in 2019-20 with Green Bay.

A big, long, rangy defender who can get up the ice with a smooth, powerful stride, Lohrei is a very good passer/puck-mover who led the league in assists by a blue liner with 29. He has the physical tools to be a top-4 defenseman in the NHL, but does not have the junior hockey experience of a lot of his peers. Good defensive awareness and plays with some jam.

Upside: You can’t teach this kid’s pure size and reach- he’ a good skater who plays the prototypical modern defensive NHL style with the ability to handle pucks under pressure. Has improved significantly in the past several years, and puts in the work/plays with bite. He’s definitely a Boston Bruins-type player and while he wasn’t on our radar largely because he was a second-year eligible who wasn’t a serious draft prospect in 2019, he should have been this time around- he demonstrated a fine 2-way game in his first USHL season, and will be even better in his second campaign before heading to the Big Ten and OSU.

Downside: Did the B’s have to make the selection at 58? How many other teams were seriously on Lohrei there, and with some highly-regarded first-year draft players still on the board like Will Cuylle, Daemon Hunt, Ty Smilanic, Jean-Luc Foudy, Jeremie Poirier and even local prep star D Ian Moore, the decision to spend the first pick on Lohrei was a curious one. All of those players were drafted within 17 spots after the B’s took Lohrei.

Did you know: The B’s had another former Culver Military Academy (Indiana) standout in defenseman Barry Richter, who played parts of several seasons in Boston in the mid-90’s.

Rd. 3/89 Trevor Kuntar, C-LW 6-1/203 Boston College (Youngstown- USHL)

Solid pick, and one we previewed this week before the draft.

Like Lohrei, Kuntar is a 2001 who was passed up a year ago. Unlike Lohrei, Kuntar played three full years of junior hockey before moving on to BC this season and is a lot more refined and experienced.

A USHL tender player out of the Buffalo Jr. Sabres organization in 2017, Kuntar had to pay his dues and did not immediately meet expectations in the league for his first two seasons before blossoming last year and finishing in the top-10 scorers. Kuntar is the second Youngstown Phantom to be drafted by Boston in the last 3 drafts (Curtis Hall– 2018)

With a thick build and natural strength, Kuntar can bull his way to the net, but also possesses the speed and puck skills to create offense in space. He competes hard and was clearly stung by not being drafted a year ago, as he played the 2019-20 campaign with a burr under his saddle and established himself as one of the league’s top players.

Upside: With about 150 games of junior experience, he should be able to make an impact right away with the Eagles. He has a tremendous shot- a pinpoint, lightning release with a heaviness that he can blow by goalies from the outside. He also has soft enough/nifty mitts to score goals in tight. He was a lethal weapon on the PP, and has some nastiness to his game that the B’s love, with the versatility to play both center and wing, though he’s probably more likely to be a winger in the pros.

Downside: Kuntar may not be much more than a solid 3rd-line NHL player at his best, with the potential to be a Sean Kuraly-like 4th-liner. High floor, which is good, but don’t expect him to evolve into a major scorer- he’s more of a three-zone forward with jam.

Did you know: His dad, Les, was a pro goalie and Montreal Canadiens draft pick in 1987 who played at St. Lawrence Academy and had a cup of coffee in the NHL in the early 90’s.

Rd 5/151 Mason Langenbrunner, RD Eden Prairie HS (MN)- Harvard (2021-22)

The son of B’s player development director and 2-time Stanley Cup winner Jamie Langenbrunner, the 2017 Boston draft runner gets his own team jersey after a solid Minnesota high school season. He left Cloquet HS for the Twin Cities powerhouse Eden Prairie team and is slated to be back for his senior year of HS, unless COVID wipes out the season in Minnesota. His USHL rights are held by Sioux City.

Just making the 2020 draft cutoff age with a Sep 14 2002 birth date, Langenbrunner can really skate and has a good head for the game with solid details typical for the sons of former pro players.

Upside: With good size, mobility and puck game, he’s a right-shot D to complement Lohrei and is a long-term project type of player, but there is some promise here as a 2-way guy with a pro-style game.

Downside: The B’s do have a history of picking players related to members of the organization, which tends to raise eyebrows. In 2012, they selected Matt Benning (nephew of then assistant GM Jim Benning) and a year later, grabbed forward Mitch Dempsey (then assistant GM Don Sweeney’s nephew) in the final round. Benning worked out, though with another team as he exercised his free agent rights to sign with Edmonton (was not qualified this week), while Dempsey did not. Time will tell here, but Langenbrunner looks the part of a NHL prospect.

Did you know: Langenbrunner played two seasons in the Upper Midwest Elite League, the top amateur proving ground in Minnesota for top high school players in that state, plus Wisconsin and the Dakotas. It’s the tune-up circuit that begins in August and runs up through October before all the players return to their high schools for the scholastic hockey season, and an indicator that he is one of the top talents at that level.

Rd. 6/182 Riley Duran, C Youngstown Phantoms- USHL (Lawrence Academy)- Providence College (2021-22)

Boston closed out its draft with another Youngstown player and local prep standout from Woburn, Mass.

Lawrence Academy’s top scorer (22 goals, 44 points in 27 games) has a nice 6-2 frame and can really skate and score. He oozes pro potential, and will get the opportunity to demonstrate his potential in the USHL this season before he joins a top Hockey East program next fall.

Upside: Duran has the talent to develop into an eventual pro player and could be more than the sum of some impressive parts. He’s got superb wheels and acceleration, and can handle pucks at speed with a pro-caliber release.

Downside: He’s raw and coming out of prep, so he’ll have a steep learning curve ahead. If Duran makes it in Boston, it will be a years-long process.

Overall analysis:

The Bruins do things their way.

You can understand the criticisms when they go off the board like they did with Lohrei, but in fairness- he’s an accomplished player at a high level. They may have been bidding against themselves to take him as early as they did, but you take the player you want where you want him, and they weren’t willing to roll the dice and wait. He’s committed to a top hockey program and all signs point to him at least being a solid/serviceable pro one day.

The issue the B’s are facing is that they aren’t drafting much in the way of higher-end talent because of where they are picking each year. 2015 was an obvious missed opportunity for the team now five years later, but when you look at first glance what teams like Minnesota, Ottawa, Los Angeles etc. did over the past couple of days, the Bruins are facing an uphill slog down the road as their veteran core continues to age, and there isn’t a whole lot of true play-making top talents in their system.

Sure, the Jack Studnickas, John Beechers, Jeremy Swaymans, Jack Ahcans, and Jakub Laukos of the world look promising, but the lack of picks and pick position is going to put a tremendous strain on Boston’s ability to keep up with the teams who are able to underwrite any draft misses with multitudes of other quality players and prospects. It is not unfair or being negative to point out that neither of Jakub Zboril or Urho Vaakanainen look like top-4 NHL players, and that since 2018, the Bruins have drafted just one player in the top-30- Beecher.

At some point, Sweeney and Company probably need to avoid the temptation to deal away picks and start figuring out how to get assets back/start being more aggressive at the draft so that they can land some more premium prospects. Thinking that they can draft someone like Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci in the second round or later every year is easy in theory, but much harder to pull off.

In the end, the B’s have their process and they put in the work. All four of the players they drafted have the size, skating and skills to be pro players, even if they might not have a readily apparent high-end projection. That could change going forward, or they could fall short. Solid is about the best way to describe each of the four players, but is “solid” going to allow the Bruins to continue to be among the league’s top teams in the next five years?

When it comes to pedigree and boom factor, it looks like Boston’s Class of 2020 is a lot more of the same of what they’ve been doing for about four years now, and that means we won’t know for quite some time.

B’s U.S. Junior/Prep/HS Draft Preview

Here’s a quick hitter with some names of top USA-based junior, prep and HS players for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

Out of Range

Barring the Bruins trading back into the 1st round or getting up into the 2nd from near the end of the round, these players won’t be available to the team when they make their first selection at 58th overall:

Jake Sanderson, LD 6-2/186 U.S. NTDP (USHL)- Like his dad Geoff, the 2-way defender is a glorious skater. While not all are sold on his capacity to be a 1/2 at the NHL level, we have no doubts after watching him since he took the Team USA Selection Camp by storm in March 2018, after having been a top player in Canada’s prep league. He’s explosive, dynamic and a sure puck handler who can impact the game in all three zones. Whoever drafts him will be getting a star player for years to come once he turns pro from North Dakota in a year or two. It won’t be long…

Brendan Brisson, C 5-11/180 Chicago Steel (USHL)- The league’s top rookie tore it up on a stacked Steel team that was on pace for record wins when COVID shut everything down. Now at the University of Michigan, he’s an excellent skater with superb skills, offensive instincts and a willingness to go to the greasy areas for points.

Dylan Holloway, C 6-0/195 University of Wisconsin (NCAA)- Late ’01 was a top Tier 2 Canadian player over the past several seasons and did not disappoint as a true freshman in Madison. Although the Badgers underacheived as a team, Holloway showed off his all-around NHL game- skating, scoring and solid 2-way instincts.

Sam Colangelo, RW 6-1/205 Chicago Steel (USHL)- Power winger and former Lawrence Academy standout formed a nasty 1-2 punch with Brisson on the Steel and is all over the map largely because he doesn’t always turn the wheel. However, there is no doubt that the Northeastern freshman and late ’01 has a pro-caliber skill set and when he matures, could become an impact forward at the highest level.

Thomas Bordeleau, C 5-9/180 U.S. NTDP U18 (USHL)- Small but dynamic offensive creator is the son of former NHLer and Nashville player development guru Sebastien Bordealeau. Fast, talented and plays with pace- superb passer/playmaker who may lack pro size, but plays a bigger game and finds ways to create magic from the mundane.

2nd-round possibilities

Ty Smilanic, LW 6-1/175 U.S. NTDP U18 (USHL)- First-round talent struggled with injuries in his draft season and doesn’t always bring his best on every shift. However, there is no denying the fact that the Colorado native has been among the best players in his peer group for years, and he showed off his impressive size, skating and puck game for two years with Team USA. He’ll need to mature, but there’s some solid boom potential here.

Blake Biondi, C 6-1/199 Hermantown (Minnesota HS)- The 2020 Minnesota Mr. Hockey is a scoring machine at that level and if you just watch him playing against other single-A programs in the state, he’s a dominant force, leading his team to the state championship game before falling in OT to the Mahtomedi Zephyrs. However, he began the year with Sioux City in the USHL and had trouble establishing himself at that level. His skating will need to improve at the next level (he’s at Minnesota-Duluth), but he’s got elite hands and the vision/IQ to make plays. He’d be a bit of a reach at 58 in our estimation, but he’s also got high-end potential, and the B’s have a track record of players at UMD- Biondi would make sense.

Eamon Powell, RD 5-11/165 U.S. NTDP U18 (USHL)- After watching success of other smallish, speedy and skilled defenders in their organization, the Boston College freshman from Syracuse would make a ton of sense here. He was the yin to Jake Sanderson’s yang. He’s fast, smart and efficient- would be a very good value pick at the end of the 2nd round, because he’s more than the sum of his parts. Outstanding in retrievals, Powell is a human breakout machine and will be a solid complementary NHL piece for some time.

Mitchell Miller, LD 5-10/190 Tri-City Storm (USHL)- While not as defensively sound as Powell, Miller is more of an offense-minded defender who loves to rush the puck and can get up the ice quickly. A superb PP QB at the USHL level, his best hockey is in front of him. He’ll need to continue working on his strength and off-ice conditioning, but this guy can wheel and impact the game offensively- just needs coaching and time to develop/mature. There’s more risk/reward with this player, and he might be able to be had at the end of the third round.

Dylan Peterson, C 6-4/192 U.S. NTDP (USHL)- We think this player would make a perfect Bruin and might be the victim of unmet expectations at the Program. He can really move for such a big man and has the vision and skill to make a lot of plays in the o-zone- the production just didn’t come with the potential. He can be a bit on the perimeter at times, but he’s like a poor man’s Joe Thornton in terms of the way he plays and if he can find some confidence and scoring at BU, he could be a solid value at the end of the 2nd round.

Best of the rest:

Wyatt Schingoethe, C 5-11/200 Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)- Prototypical 200-foot center can do it all. May not possess ideal NHL size, but not afraid to get his nose dirty. Very good in the faceoff circle and plays a smart, responsible 2-way game with underrated offense. On the downside, he’s inconsistent and did not have the kind of anticipated impact in the USHL after being a dominant AAA player coming up through the storied Chicago Mission program. He’ll have a chance to get his development on track at Notre Dame.

Landon Slaggert, C 6-0/190 U.S. NTDP U18 (USHL)- Good, hard-working center who doesn’t have Schingoethe’s skill, but brings a similar 200-foot game and works his bag off. Good skater- always turns the wheel. Not a big NHL ceiling, but the kind of guy you win with.

Carson Bantle, LW 6-4/205 Madison Capitols (USHL)- We think he’s under the radar given his size and scoring. He’s a clunky-looking skater, but can really get there and has a rocket of a shot. Classic power forward. Captained the worst team in the league, but but up consistent production playing in all situations. Would be a good value pick anywhere after the 2nd round- off to Michigan Tech.

Brock Faber, RD 6-0/195 U.S. NTDP (USHL)- Not flashy or dynamic, but solid in all areas. Good puck-mover who has solid size and can really wheel and move pucks crisply and efficiently. The best may be yet to come- we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Minnesota native drafted higher than many are projecting him to go.

Colby Ambrosio, RW 5-9/170 Tri-City Storm (USHL)- Explosive, dynamic, deadly scorer is a top-four round talent. When it comes to the power play, he was nearly automatic last season- an NHL-caliber release with pinpoint accuracy and the hockey sense to find quiet ice. Top-level catch-and-shoot skills. Issues are size/strength and too much showboating and diving/antics that detracted from an otherwise superb offensive performance. Boston College has a talented player and if he plays there the way he did in Kearney, there will be some electric surges at the Heights this season.

Ian Moore, RD 6-3/180 St. Mark’s School (MA Prep)- Skating with the Chicago Steel this season, the prep standout from Concord, Mass. can pretty much do anything he wants. Size, skating, intelligence- ability to move pucks, quarterback a PP and be a top penalty killer. Committed to Harvard. Wouldn’t be a bad second-rounder, albeit a long-term project, but his value increases from 3rd round and on.

Brett Berard, RW 5-9/160 U.S. NTDP U18 (USHL)- Small but fast winger is a disruptive presence all over the ice. Relentless forechecker and smart- noticeable on every shift. Providence College frosh has the makings of a versatile, bottom-line pro winger with pace and jam, though it will take time for him to get there.

Trevor Kuntar, C-LW 6-0/200 Youngstown (USHL)- Passed over in 2019 after two largely disappointing seasons with the Phantoms, Kuntar exploded in his third year, piling up points and playing with a lot of fire and jam. Heavy game and Bruins-like attributes. May not have high-end NHL scoring potential but brings a solid floor with him.

Sleepers

Ben Meehan, LD 6-0/195 Cedar Rapids (USHL)- Massachusetts native and former Dexter star blew up in the USHL over the first half, racking up goals and points, plus being a top PP weapon, until an injury ended his season halfway through. His defensive game is a bit of a mystery, but the guy can really skate and has a big-time shot.

Zakary Karpa, C 6-2/185 U.S. NTDP (USHL)- Big, rangy center was in a bit role with Team USA, but was turning the corner at the end of the season when COVID hit. Instead of going into Princeton, he’ll spend the 20-21 season with the Omaha Lancers. He’s tall, lanky, can really skate and pass/shoot. Already a strong defensive center, there’s some offensive upside here for any team that takes a late-round flyer on him. Son of former NHL D Dave Karpa.

Nick Capone, C 6-2/210 Tri-City Storm (USHL)- Big right-shot center is at UConn this season but has some sneaky offensive skill to go with a large, strong frame and some physicality/nastiness. Tough to play against, but also received several league suspensions for crossing the line- will need to rein it in. Will need to improve his skating- mainly his initial steps and small-area game, but he’s not that far off and brings reasonable speed when he’s going north-south and driving the net.

Patrick Guzzo, C 6-1/205 Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)- Whenever we bring up his name, all we hear are crickets. Why? He’s big, powerful and has an undervalued offensive tool kit. Ox-strong, he moves well for a big man and goes hard to the net. Was overshadowed by flashier players in Waterloo last season, but has a solid pro-style game and pedigree. We’d take him as early as the 4th/5th round, but he might not get drafted at all…crazy.

Matt Gleason, RW 5-8/170 Cretin-Derham Hall (MN HS)- Another Minnesota HS star who will play for the Chicago Steel, he’s small but can absolutely fly and is a scoring machine. Plays a high-energy skill game and will be hard for NHL teams to pass up.

Jakub Dobes, G 6-4/201 Omaha Lancers (USHL)- Czech native who spent the last several years in North America has NHL size/athletic ability. Showed immense potential at times last season, split between the NAHL (Topeka Pilots) and USHL. When he sees the puck, he stops it and uses tremendous east-west lateral agility to make highlight reel saves. Promising, but raw- bubble pick.