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The Boston Bruins fall in line with several Eastern Conference teams that have loaded and reloaded for several seasons as part of an arms race.
It’s a cycle that has Boston teetering between contender and a team ready to plunge into a rebuild. If they choose the latter, a big trade could loom in 2022-2023 (see Brad Marchand). If their current prospects are able to step in and compliment an aging core and a select group of established young stars such as David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy, the Bruins could restock, rather than rebuild, from the edges.
Their prospect pool, however, is verging on shallow, and some recent draft misses have it looking more and more like the end is near. Without a first-round pick at this year’s draft, the problem is only going to compound. How Boston performs prior to the new year may determine the path the organization chooses.
Fabian Lysell - It’s always an unpredictable process when a European prospect comes to North America, but Lysell made the move seamlessly to the WHL’s Vancouver Giants showing why he was a first round pick in 2021. While his regular season was strong, Lysell’s elevation of play in the postseason was impressive. His speed is his calling card, and beyond Pastrnak, Lysell is already the most skilled natural right winger in Boston’s organization. It would not be surprising to see Lysell play a handful of games in the NHL next season, but he’s more likely to move to the AHL as his European status allows early entry to the league.
Mason Lohrei - The towering defender put up solid numbers with Ohio State, scoring 29 points in 31 games in his first NCAA season. Already 21, Lohrei is an older prospect who will likely spend one more season in the NCAA before turning pro. The former forward has always been a point producer, and depending on how his defensive game progresses in his sophomore season, Lohrei will either jump into the NHL or AHL following his season. With Boston’s defensive depth, the AHL is more likely. Lohrei loves to jump into the play and bring the puck up the ice, which considering Boston has less than 100 career blueline goals across the organization, his addition will be welcomed.
Brett Harrison - Listed lower on Boston’s depth chart by many, Harrison looks poised to usurp some of Boston’s more highly touted picks. The 6’2” center took his game to Finland last year during the pandemic, and the move paid dividends upon his return to the OHL. He’s smart and uses his reach well, which accounted for many of Harrison’s 27 goals this season. He’ll be back in the OHL for another year, where Harrison will be looked upon to not just contribute, but dominate. Harrison loves to slide into openings or trail the play for a late pass, but if he can begin to drive play himself, he could factor into Boston’s future top-six.
Ones to watch
Undrafted and overlooked, Boston caught on to Georgi Merkulov who played alongside Mason Lohrei at Ohio State, and didn’t wait long to sign the prospect. Quick hands and a powerful shot, Merkulov began his development in Russia before coming to North America and joining the USHL. In his lone season with Ohio State, Merkulov notched 20 goals and 34 points in 36 games, and followed that up with five points in his first eight in the AHL. He’ll undoubtedly spend the majority of next season in the AHL, but could become a steal of a signing for the Bruins. The other name to watch in Boston’s organization is Johnny Beecher, who continues to be a work in progress after Boston surprised many selecting him 30th overall in 2019. What followed were three difficult seasons at the University of Michigan playing a depth role many nights behind other first round prospects. He made the jump to the AHL to close out this year and scored five points in his first nine games, a better pace than in college. Beecher needs to take major steps in the AHL next year.
Ready to step in
Boston has a group of players who will look to join the lineup and make an immediate impact. The time is now for Jack Studnicka to join Boston. His two-way game lends itself to the Bruins style, and he’s got the best in the world, Patrice Bergeron (if he re-signs) to watch and learn from. The pandemic did not help Studnicka, but he finished strong, and will look to springboard into a full time role in 2022-2023. Providing depth down the middle, Oskar Steen looks ready to stick in Boston’s bottom-six. He’s small, but unafraid of traffic. Finally, Marc Mclaughlin took many headlines this year signing as an NCAA free agent out of Boston College. Don’t expect him to start the year in the NHL unless he has a mammoth offseason. McLaughlin would benefit from honing his game at the pro level in the AHL for a season.
Needs at the draft
Outside of Mason Lohrei, Boston does not have a viable defensive prospect. The organization has two seasons to fix this issue as their entire top seven are locked in at least through 2023-24. Picking a blueliner in the second round could align with timelines for needing to refill this position. Boston, however, is unlikely to address any immediate needs with only a single pick in the second, third, and fourth rounds, as well as one in the sixth and two in the seventh at the draft.
Eventually, the team needs to replace Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, the elder statesmen, and most valuable players in their lineup. That type of player will not be available with their picks, so grabbing a “best available” at each position, and perhaps swinging for the fences with their final selections is the likely plan. The one position Boston looks set at is in goal as Jeremy Swayman displayed his ability to be Boston’s starter moving forward.
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