When the Boston Bruins selected Mason Lohrei with the 58th pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the team’s first pick, many were left scratching their heads. Lohrei, the 132nd-ranked North American skater by Central Scouting, looked like a very raw prospect and went undrafted the year prior. Even if the team was a fan of his game, it felt like a reach by just about every definition of the term as the Bruins probably could have selected him later in the Draft.
Still, the Bruins saw potential with Lohrei and felt he was the best pick for them at that point in the Draft. From a size and skillset perspective, Lohrei actually fits the mold of exactly the defender the Bruins need to add to their pipeline. Size isn’t everything in the NHL, though, and the ability to play smart, effective hockey will always be the most important factor at the end of the day.
If the Tampa Bay Lightning have taught the NHL anything, though, it’s that size still plays an important role when it comes to defending effectively at the NHL level and finding the right balance of skill can go a long way.
Lohrei Blends Size, Skill and Smarts
Fortunately for the Bruins, though, Lohrei appears to not only have size but also have the ability to play with high hockey-IQ that teams covet in young players, as cliche as that may seem. As a former forward-turned-defender, Lohrei’s offensive instincts are certainly noticeable. This includes making consistently smart decisions like being mindful of his stick elevation when driving the net, knowing when to shoot and when to pass and everything in between.
Playing as a forward in the offensive zone and playing as a defender in the offensive zone inherently requires a different approach. That being said, Lohrei seems to have the instincts necessary to know when he should pinch and make a play on the puck and when he should stay back and hold the offensive blueline. This is a big part of the high hockey IQ mentioned.
Impressively, Lohrei actually plays a decently strong defensive game for a player still relatively new to the position. He likely won’t ever be the focal point of a team’s shutdown defensive game plan, but the pride he takes in the defensive side of the game is encouraging for the Bruins in his development into a fully-fledged two-way defensive prospect.
“I’d consider myself a two-way defenseman, pretty skilled,” Lohrei said after the Bruins drafted him. “I take a lot of pride in how I defend, how I defend the rush, how I defend in my own zone, shutting things down and making good breakout passes to the forwards. But then once that happens, then the fun stuff begins.”
Lohrei has also mentioned that he sees himself as a player who can contribute in all situations, including the penalty kill. He’s described himself as a simple player and he likes to control the game when he’s on the ice and has the puck.
Fast forward a year and Lohrei looks like he could be a legitimate NHL contributor sooner than later. Lohrei would excel in his second full USHL season and was named to the All-USHL First Team as the team’s only unanimous selection. He’d also be named the Defender of the Year in the USHL, leading all blueliners in goals (19), assists (40, points (59) and even game-winning goals (six).
It’s very difficult to evaluate players at 17 and 18 years old. This is a big reason why so many prospects can take such big steps after being drafted and why so many seem to never pan out as legitimate NHL players. In Lohrei, the Bruins were able to see an overager who had potential after one full season in the USHL and saw certain traits that they felt comfortable could grow as a complement to his already impressive size.
Lohrei in Discussion for Bruins Best Defensive Prospect
While he’s still a raw prospect on the whole, the development year over year has been noteworthy and nearly impossible to ignore. He’ll attend Ohio State next season but he’ll be a player to monitor each season from here on out as a candidate to sign an NHL contract. He’s likely still a few years out from the NHL, but getting him into the Providence system and having him learn from an in-house coaching staff when he’s ready would be ideal.
Something else worth mentioning is Lohrei’s leadership ability on and off the ice. Pat Mikesch, his head coach and general manager with the Green Bay Gamblers would make sure this was known outside of his ability as a dynamic defender.
It’s always good to have players who have strong leadership traits in a locker room and the Bruins have seemed to excel in finding these types of players in recent years. Obviously, the ability to play needs to precede leadership traits, but Lohrei has proven he’s capable of both and that’s a positive sign.
It’s definitely too premature to make a claim like this with definitive certainty, but it also isn’t outlandish to at least talk about Lohrei as the best defensive prospects the Bruins have right now. Urho Vaakanainen can still come around and become a regular NHL player, but the upside he displayed as a young, minute-chewing defender coming out of Finland hasn’t seemed to translate to success at the North American level on a consistent basis.
He’s still only 22 years old, though, and has played in just 16 NHL games to date. The jury is still out on him, but putting Lohrei in the discussion alongside him and someone like Jack Ahcan who shined in Providence during the 2020-21 season.
Next year will provide even more clarity, but for the time being, the selection of Lohrei in the second round doesn’t look as bad now as it did just one year ago. In fact, it actually looks like it was a pretty good pick at the end of the day, even if it could have been made later in the draft process.