The Don Sweeney era in Boston has been very successful. The Bruins have made the playoffs five straight seasons and while he has traded away first-round picks twice in the last five years, the prospect pool remains promising if not elite.
The Bruins have been selecting players with size and grit the likes of John Beecher, Trent Frederic, and Urho Vaakanainen with their recent first-round picks, and added some much needed high-end skill in the 2021 draft with prospect Fabian Lysell.
The Bruins have a veteran roster and the departure of second-line center David Krejci and uncertain status of starting goalie Tuukka Rask will open the door for some kids to step in and make their mark.
2021-22 Top 10 Boston Bruins Prospects
- Fabian Lysell, RW – Luela HF (SHL)
Drafted: 2021 round one, 21st overall by Boston Bruins
Lysell debuts as the Bruins top prospect based on his overwhelming skill level and upside. Lysell is a highly talented offensive player that fell on draft day. You may think it was a size factor seeing as he is only 5-10 and 172 pounds, but that is likely only a small part of it. The good, bad, and ugly with Lysell are:
The good, he has great skill and can be a top-six offensive winger that can develop into David Pastrnak upside.
The bad he is a one-dimensional player that offers little when the puck is not on his stick. His defensive game is not great and he turns pucks over with an alarming frequency.
The ugly, he has a reputation of behavioral concerns, plays for himself and does not make his teammates better or even use them. He is a one-on-one player like Josh Ho-Sang.
He will be coming from playing pro in the SHL to North America with either Providence in the AHL or the Vancouver Giants in the WHL.
- Jeremy Swayman, G – Boston Bruins (NHL)
Drafted: 2017 round four, 111th overall by Boston Bruins
Swayman had a breakout season last year, but he did not come “out of nowhere”. Swayman played with Team USA winning Bronze in the 2018 WJC, and had three solid seasons in the NCAA with the University of Maine. In his junior season, he was a Hobey Baker Finalist and winner of the Mike Richter for top NCAA Goalie. His rookie season in pro hockey was outstanding, posting an 8-10 record in Providence with a sparkling 1.89 GAA that earned him a NHL recall.
He outplayed Jaroslav Halak for starts making both he and Daniel Vladar expendable and has won a NHL job to start the 2021-22 season with the newly acquired Linus Ullmark. If Tuukka Rask returns to the Bruins for a playoff run Swayman may be the third goalie or odd man out, but that will be short-lived. Swayman and Ullmark will duel it out for the keys to the crease in Boston.
- Jack Studnicka, C – Providence Bruins (AHL)
Drafted: 2017 round two, 53rd overall by Boston Bruins
Studnicka could easily be at the top of this list as he has been the plan to take over a top-six center role in Boston in the future. The future is now and Studnicka would be an obvious choice to take over as the number two center behind Patrice Bergeron following the loss of David Krejci.
Why is he not ranked number one you ask? His 2020-21 season was disappointing not to put too fine a point on it. He was a regular on the taxi squad that did not help his development. He played in 20 NHL games in a variety of roles (top six, bottom six, wing, center) and only produced one goal and three assists. His AHL production was not much better, seven assists in 11 games, no goals.
The competition for the second center position should come down to a three-man race between Studnicka, and veterans Nick Foligno and Charlie Coyle. If Studnicka fails to secure the job out of the gates, he may end up there by season’s end.
- Mason Lohrei, D – Ohio State University (NCAA)
Drafted: 2020 round two, 58th overall by Boston Bruins
Swayman and Lohrei are the two fastest rising prospects in the Bruins system. The big and mobile rearguard had a breakout season in the USHL with 19 goals, 59 points, and 74 penalty minutes in 48 games with Green Bay.
Lohrei had an impressive rookie camp this summer and will be making his freshman debut in the NCAA as his development path should see several college hockey and some AHL time before he is NHL ready.
His sharp development curve and his combination of size, skill, and skating ability make him an intriguing prospect with top-pairing upside, albeit a few years away.
- John Beecher, C – University of Michigan (NCAA)
Drafted: 2019 round one, 30th overall by Boston Bruins
Beecher was limited to just 16 games due to injury and a short season, but he produced four goals and eight points for the Wolverines. Michigan is loaded for a title run and Beecher will have stiff competition for offensive minutes with the Wolverine able to roll out big guns such as Matty Beniers, Kent Johnson, and Brendan Brisson to name a few.
Big Beecher has decent offensive upside, but likely is not a future top-six NHL player, so this season should prove to be a valuable development year for him on a contending team.
He will provide a physical element, and be counted on to shut down the opposition’s offensive stars. Precisely the role he will be assuming in the NHL when he arrives. This will be his junior NCAA season and I expect the Bruins will sign him when the Wolverine season concludes (presumably in the Frozen Four) and start his AHL development time.
- Jakub Lauko, C/W – Providence Bruins (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round three, 77th overall by Boston Bruins
The Czech native started his 2020 season back home, with an unimpressive 10 points in 25 games on loan to HC Energie Karlovy Vary. Once the AHL resumed, he came back to North America and was outstanding posting 19 points in 23 games Providence. That more than double his production rate from his rookie season.
The speedy winger has been developing and is now one of the Bruins top prospects, but with only 45 career AHL games of development under his belt, count on him seeing a lot of AHL time, and for his NHL debut to come at some point in the 2021-22 season.
- Jack Ahcan, D – Providence Bruins (AHL)
Drafted: Signed as a Free Agent by Boston Bruins in 2020
Boston has had some recent success signing undrafted free agents such as Brady Lyle (Not Ranked) and Ahcan. After a full four-year tour with St. Cloud State University in the NCAA, the undersized defender was signed by the Bruins and spent his rookie pro season in the AHL during the pandemic season. He posted one goal and 10 points in 19 games and made his NHL debut with the Bruins late in the season, seeing ice in three games averaging just over 20 minutes a night.
Already 24-years-old, Ahcan will audition for an NHL job, but likely be sent to the AHL where he can play top pairing minutes. Despite being undersized, he plays a gritty game, is sound defensively, and has good offensive upside. Ahcan will try to repeat the path Torey Krug followed, as an undrafted free agent with a similar size and playing style.
- Urho Vaakanainen, D – Providence Bruins (AHL)
Drafted: 2017 round one, 18th overall by Boston Bruins
After three seasons in the Bruins system, playing primarily in the AHL, Vaakanainen is on the cusp of being a full-time NHL shut-down defender. Still looking for his first NHL goal after 16 career games, offense will never be his forte. His long stick and defensive awareness are NHL-ready. He makes a good first pass and can skate the puck out of danger areas and initiate transition. Vaakanainen should break the roster this season as a regular in a bottom-pairing role and slowly work his way up to a good complimentary middle pairing with a more offensive-minded partner.
- Curtis Hall, RW – Providence Bruins (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round four, 119th overall by Boston Bruins
Hall had a breakout sophomore season with Yale where his goal totals tippled from five to 17. Looking to follow that momentum up with a monster junior season, the COVID pandemic canceled the Ivy League season. Hall signed with the Bruins and began his pro career, but an early injury foiled his rookie season. Limited to just 13 games in Providence the hulking center never got going.
Hall has had a good rookie camp with the Bruins and will be poised to resume his upward trajectory in his first full season in the AHL. Hall (not relation to Taylor Hall) has great size, a hard shot, and plays a physical game. Skating is not a concern for Hall. He could develop into a strong power forward for Boston.
- Victor Berglund, D – Lulea HF (SHL)
Drafted: 2017 round seven, 195th overall by Boston Bruins
Boston may have found a steal in the seventh round in Berglund. The Swedish defender has been viewed as a two-way defender with an emphasis on the defensive side. In his final year in HockeyAllsvenskan in 2019-20, he had an offensive outburst scoring 10 goals and 22 points in 52 games. That play earned him a promotion to the SHL and the offense translated there as well with 21 points in 50 games in a limited role with Lulea HF.
Look for the Bruins to bring the 22-year-old over to North America to debut in the AHL and get a closer look at exactly what they have. Even if his offense fails to translate at the NHL level, he should still be a valuable asset from a seventh-round selection. His stock is on the rise, just how high it goes remains to be seen.
The Bruins have decent depth in the system albeit not too many high-end prospects. There were several prospects I gave consideration to including:
Brett Harrison – A 2021 draftee that played very little as the OHL was closed for the year. He is a big-bodied center with a hard shot but has a tendency to score his goals in close reeking havoc infant of the net. He could have a big season with the Oshawa Generals
Brady Lyle – Another undrafted free agent. Lyle was an OHL overeager with Owen Sound and made his AHL debut last year. The 6-3, 212-pound defender produced 14 points in 25 games providing good offense, sound defense and a physical presence. He has great sleeper potential.
Trevor Kuntar – Turned heads at Bruins development camp and is poised for a big sophomore season at Boston College. He plays a gritty and offensive game and has a motor that fans and coaches love.