As the Boston Bruins enter what is going to be a big 2022 offseason, there are going to be adjustments to the roster for the 2022-23 season. How general manager (GM) Don Sweeney goes about making those adjustments remains to be seen. He could do it through free agency or a trade.
If he does address a need through a trade, he will most likely have to part ways with some of his prospects. The Bruins are not blessed with a loaded prospect pool, but they do have some pieces that could help swing a deal. Here are the top 10 Bruins’ prospects heading into the 2022 offseason.
10. Jakub Lauko
There is a lot to like about Lauko’s game and once he puts it all together, he could find himself in a productive bottom-six spot in Boston. A strong skater, he took a step back this season with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) with just three goals and 16 points in 54 games, after recording 19 points in 23 games in 2020-21.
The 77th overall pick in the 2018 Entry Draft in the third round is just 22 years old and the Bruins are hoping he can find a consistent goal-scoring touch that saw him score 21 goals for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) in 2018-19.
9. Jack Ahcan
Undersized at 5-foot-9 and 181 pounds, he certainly has held is own both in the NHL and in the AHL with Providence. He scored his first NHL goal on March 11 against the Chicago Blackhawks and in six games this season in Boston, he held his own.
Ahcan’s development in Providence over the last two seasons saw him go from 10 points in 19 games in 2020-21 to 23 in 46 in 2021-22. He plays a gritty game for being undersized, but his offensive development has come a long way since signing as an undrafted free agent. Once again next season, he’ll be knocking on the door for a spot in the NHL, especially with Matt Grzelcyk out to begin the 2022-23 season after shoulder surgery.
8. Georgi Merkulov
It was just a handful of games with Providence, but it was an impressive debut for Merkulov who had a strong season with Ohio State University. In 36 games for the Buckeyes in his only collegiate season, he had 20 goals and 34 points. He was signed as a free agent on a three-year, entry-level deal with an annual cap hit of $925,000.
In eight games with the P-Bruins, he had a goal and four assists in his first taste of pro hockey. Prior to attending Ohio State, Merkulov had 20 goals and 53 assists in 74 games for the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL. There is no doubt the talent is there to be a consistent scorer and the Bruins are hoping he takes a big step in his development next season.
7. Jake Schmaltz
After two strong seasons with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL that saw him rack up 32 goals and 54 assists, Schmaltz had a very impressive start to his freshman season at the University of North Dakota. Centering the top-line, he had eight goals and 16 assists in helping the Fighting Saints capture the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) regular-season championship.
The 192nd overall pick in the seventh round of the 2019 Draft has an impressive skill set and at 6-foot-1, 168 pounds, he’s a quick skater that is not afraid to be a net-front presence. His development over the next couple of seasons at North Dakota is worth keeping an eye on for future center depth in Boston.
6. Johnny Beecher
Following his junior season at the University of Michigan, which ended at the TD Garden in the NCAA semifinals with a 3-2 overtime loss to the University of Denver in April, Beecher signed with the Bruins and finished out the season with Providence after signing an Amateur Tryout Agreement (ATO). The 6-foot-3, 209-pound center had three goals and five points in nine regular-season games with the P-Bruins.
The 30th overall pick of the 2019 Draft was hampered by injuries at Michigan, but showed his playmaking abilities when healthy. He will find himself in the mix at training camp in the fall for a spot at the bottom of the roster, but a full AHL season would not be the worst thing for Beecher.
5. Oskar Steen
What does the future hold for Steen? That remains to be seen, but in his 20 games in Boston this season, the 5-foot-9, 199-pound forward more than held his own. He scored his first career goal against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 4. He finished with two goals, six points, and 25 shots on the net this season.
Steen put together his best AHL season in his three years with Providence this season with 15 goals and 20 assists in 49 games. The 165th pick in the 2016 Draft proved he’s capable of a full-time NHL spot and could find himself with a bottom-six role in the not-too-distant future, especially if there is some roster turnover this summer.
4. Jack Studnicka
This is a pivotal summer for both Studnicka and the Bruins. There are questions surrounding center depth going into the 2022-23 season, but the 23-year-old has done just about everything that has been asked of him and still finds himself in the AHL. There have been moments when he has been moved to the wing in Boston, but he is best suited when he’s at his natural position at center.
The Bruins need to either commit to Studnicka, who is a restricted free agent (RFA), this upcoming season or try and move him in a package deal that helps the current roster. Keeping him in Providence again for another season would not do the 53rd overall pick in the 2017 Draft or the Bruins any more good.
3. Jakub Zboril
One of the top Bruins prospects on defense, Zboril was playing well this season when a knee injury that required season-ending surgery in December against the Nashville Predators. His first full season was in 2020-21 when he played in 42 of the 56-game shortened regular season. He played in 10 games this season and was well on his way to earning more ice time when his injury occurred.
Sweeney gave Zboril an extension on May 16 locking up the 13th overall pick in the 2015 Draft. Committing to him either shows that he is in the mix for a spot next season or he is traded this summer on a team-friendly deal. There is bound to be some movement on the left-side on defense this offseason, but Zboril has clearly shown that he’s NHL-ready.
2. Mason Lohrei
There is a lot of hype around the Bruins’ 2020 pick in the second round at No. 58. After two strong seasons with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL that saw him collect 69 assists in 98 games, he continued his strong play in his freshman season with Ohio State University.
In 31 games for the Buckeyes before suffering an injury to end his season early, Lohrei had 25 assists and 29 points. At 6-foot-4 and 194 pounds, Loheri has a combination of being a physical defenseman in his own zone, while also adding in an impressive offensive game. He is returning to Ohio State for his sophomore season, but his time in Boston is not too far off.
1. Fabian Lysell
Speaking of someone’s time not being too far off in Boston, the Bruins’ first-round pick last July at No. 21 had a very impressive rookie season with the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League (WHL). He scored 22 goals and collected 40 assists in 53 regular-season games for the Giants. His best was still yet to come in the postseason.
He played a big part in Vancouver becoming the first-ever No. 8-seed to knock off the top seed in the WHL playoffs when the Giants took down the Everett Silvertips. He began the series with a five-assist game and continued his streak through the playoffs. He finished with four goals, and 17 assists in 12 playoff games. Lysell is expected in training camp next season and possibly fighting for a roster spot. He projects to be a top-six right wing and the Bruins could have themselves a strong right side if they lock up David Pastrnak long-term.
There is no question the Bruins have a top-heavy prospect pool. In this July’s draft in Montreal, Boston does not have a first-round pick as it was traded to the Anaheim Ducks as part of the Hampus Lindholm trade in March. Sweeney could get back in the first round with a trade before the draft, but swinging a deal to do that would be tough and have to most likely include some of the names mentioned above along with current roster payers in Boston. The 2022 Bruins summer of possible changes is about to kick off.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.