Through the first 40 games of the 2022-23 NHL season, the Boston Bruins are the league’s best team with a 32-4-4 record and 68 points. Sitting on top of the Atlantic Division standings is a nice spot to be in, but in the end, they want to be sitting on top of the league in June hoisting the Stanley Cup.
For that to happen and despite the historic start to the season, general manager (GM) Don Sweeney will have to make roster additions by the March 3 trade deadline at 3 p.m. Standing pat might not be in the Bruins’ best interest as all the other contenders will most likely make some moves to their roster for a playoff run. There is the very real possibility that this is the “last dance’’ for the Black and Gold’s core and Sweeney will be under some pressure to add to the roster. If he looks to make a splash by early March, here are some of the trade assets that he has available to bring in an impact player or two.
Bruins Potential Needs
No team is perfect, regardless of their record, and despite their start, the Bruins will face some needs by the deadline. Finding a bottom-six, mainly a fourth-line right wing, is an addition that Sweeney should be looking to make. Craig Smith has not been the answer this season and despite scoring just his second goal of the season on Jan. 7 in a 4-2 win over the San Jose Sharks, the consistency just isn’t there. He was recently moved up to the first line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 8 by Jim Montgomery who said the move was to spread around the scoring (from ‘Bruins’ Jim Montgomery shifts his lines to spread around the scoring,’ Boston Globe, Jan. 9, 2023). Was it really? Did Montgomery move him there hoping he could follow up with another goal and play well next to two of the team’s best playmakers to increase his trade value? He will never admit it, but it makes you wonder.
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Another area that could be addressed is center depth, not only for this season, but in the future too. Acquiring Bo Horvat would go a long way in addressing that need when Bergeron and David Krejci are gone, but getting him would be a tall task, as well as would be trying to sign him to an extension.
Boston has been strong on defense this season despite injuries hitting at different times and missing Charlie McAvoy to begin the season recovering from offseason surgery, but they have shown some signs of leaks lately. They are set on the left side with Hampus Lindholm, Matt Grzelcyk, Derek Forbort, and Jakub Zboril, but a right-shot addition is something Sweeney should consider. Brandon Carlo’s history of concussions and Connor Clifton getting tired toward the end of the season should be a concern to the Bruins’ GM.
Bruins’ Top Trade Assets
Any team that has trade discussions with Sweeney ahead of March 3 will most likely start with Fabian Lysell, especially if the Bruins are looking at top talent. Moving on from the 21st pick of the 2021 Entry Draft should only be considered if Boston is able to extend a star talent as they did with Lindholm last season. Moving him for a rental is not a move to make, but there is no doubt about his talent level and the skill other teams like.
He struggled production-wise at the 2023 World Junior Championship (WJC), but his play at the 2022 WJC spoke for itself with four goals and two assists in two games. He has adjusted well to his first pro season with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) with eight goals and 20 assists in 21 games. He is getting top-six minutes and power play minutes, while working on his defensive game. Sweeney would need to be blown out of the water to move Lysell, but you never know what opportunity might come his way.
Boston’s best defensive prospect is having a strong sophomore season at Ohio State University. After four goals and 25 assists in his freshman season, Mason Lohrei has 17 assists this season in 22 games, playing in all games for the eight-ranked Buckeyes. He has always had a strong offensive game as he had 27 goals and 69 assists in two seasons with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL.
At 6-foot-4 and 209 pounds, the 58th overall pick in the second round of the 2020 Draft has the size and reach to be a shutdown NHL defenseman, but he also has an impressive offensive skill set, something rarely found. Boston is not blessed with NHL defensive talent in the AHL, so keeping Lohrei might be vital to the future on defense, but like Lysell, you never what opportunity will come Sweeney’s way to add.
It’s only been six months since the Bruins selected Matthew Poitras 54th overall in the second round of the 2022 Draft in Montreal, but the talented forward is making a name for himself with the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). After scoring 21 goals and dishing out 29 assists in 68 games in 2021-22, he already has nine goals and 33 assists in just 33 games this season.
Center depth is certainly a big question surrounding the Bruins’ prospect pool moving forward. They are not blessed with depth, especially since trading Jack Studnicka to the Vancouver Canucks in October. Poitras is still young at just 18 years old, but he is someone who draws some interest if there is a team looking for a young center depth that they can wait to develop.
This season, Brett Harrison has been playing both center and wing with the Oshawa Generals in the OHL, but he was recently traded to the Windsor Spitfires for the remainder of the season. With the Generals in 27 games, he had 16 goals and 17 assists, and in three games with the Spitfires, coached by former Bruin Marc Savard, he has a goal and two assists.
When the Bruins drafted Harrison 85th overall in the third round in 2021, it was considered a steal that late in the draft. He has a quick release shot, he’s strong on faceoffs, he’s not afraid to play around the net, and gets a lot of his goals on rebounds. Along with Lysell and Lohrei, don’t be surprised if Harrison is part of a deal to acquire a need.
Like Studnicka, John Beecher has been a highly-regarded center for the Bruins since his days at the University of Michigan and after battling injuries during his collegiate career, he signed last season following his junior season and has got his feet wet in Providence. In 26 games this season, the two-way center has three goals and six assists in the top six and has got some time with Lysell. He is more NHL-ready than Poitras or Harrison are at this point and could draw interest from other teams.
Craig Smith & Mike Reilly
If Sweeney could ever move on from Smith or Mike Reilly, he would, but it’s a lot easier said than done and these names are not going to get another team excited. Both have been placed on waivers this season and went unclaimed. Smith has been in and out of the lineup in Boston, mostly alternating with A.J. Greer on the fourth line. When he signed as a free agent in October of 2020, the Black and Gold were hoping to get the 20-goal scorer he was with the Nashville Predators, but it just has not worked out that way. In the final year of his deal and not expected back next season, he is a potential goal-scoring addition to a team looking for scoring depth.
Reilly has been in Providence since November and the Bruins kept Jakub Zboril over him because Zboril would need waivers to get to the AHL and he might not clear without being claimed. Reilly is an offensive defenseman that could provide depth to a team looking for it on the backend. Both players could be used to address a bottom-six right wing need.
Bruins 2023 First-Round Pick
Sweeney has never been shy in using his first-round pick in the upcoming draft to make a splash and you have to think that it would be on the table again this year. Boston has not made many picks in the opening round of recent drafts because he has used it to acquire a big-name player at the deadline. This season should be no different, but it should only be used to pry away a big-named player (see Horvat) and sign him to an extension as he did with Lindholm last season.
There is no doubt that Sweeney will be working the phones leading up to March 3 at 3 p.m. looking to improve his clubs’ chances at winning one more Stanley Cup with his current core. Most, if not all, of these assets, will be in play for a trade, it’s just a matter of what it will take to get a deal done.