With the calendar turning to September, that can only mean one thing, the 2022-23 NHL season is right around the corner. As has been customary the last couple of seasons, a new NHL season brings new rankings for the Boston Bruins prospect pool. Over the last couple of seasons, the Bruins’ prospect pool ranks near the bottom of the league in terms of depth under general manager (GM) Don Sweeney.
With that said, it’s time to rank the Black and Gold’s Top 15 prospects heading into the 2022-23 season. One note for housekeeping matters, Jack Studnicka, Oskar Steen, Jack Ahcan, and Jakub Zboril will not be included in this list as they have accumulated service time over the last couple of seasons.
15. Brandon Bussi
The Bruins appear to be set in goal for the future with Jeremy Swayman, but they still need to develop a backup for once Linus Ullmark departs. Brandon Bussi was signed as a college free agent last March out of Western Michigan University following his four-year career for the Broncos. He went 26-12-1 with a 2.55 goals against average (GAA) and a .912 save percentage (SV%).
After signing, he spent the final couple of weeks with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) going 3-2 with a 2.54 GAA and a .920 SV% with one shutout. It was a small sample size, but expect the 24-year-old to have much more AHL time this season. Another goaltending prospect to keep an eye on is Philip Svedeback who will enter Boston College as a freshman after a standout season for the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL.
14. Cole Spicer
Entering the 2022 Entry Draft, drafting some center prospects should have been at the top of Sweeney’s list and the GM ended up drafting multiple centers in Montreal. The second center selected was Cole Spicer, a 5-foot-10, 176-pounder who was selected 117th overall. In 62 games for the United States Development Program (USDP), he had 11 goals and 19 assists. Spicer is a left-shot that played in the bottom-six for the USDP, but the Bruins were impressed with his skill and his high motor along with his ability to score.
“A kid who was a pretty prolific scorer before getting to the program,” said Bruins associate director of amateur scouting Ryan Nadeau. “Played a little bit down in their lineup this year on a deep team with some top centers ahead of him. Again, another kid that we think offensively has a bit of an upward trajectory and skillset, going to Minnesota-Duluth — they’ve done a great job developing players. We have a lot of comfort with that path for the player, so we’re really excited about that.”
Spicer originally committed to the University of North Dakota, but withdrew his commitment and he will attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth this fall and be teammates with Bruins prospect Quinn Olson.
13. Trevor Kuntar
In the 2020 Entry Draft, the Bruins took Trevor Kuntar, a forward that can play both center and wing and his development over his first two seasons at Boston College has been an impressive one. He had nine goals and 11 assists this past season, before he had six goals and 10 points his freshman season.
Kuntar has worked his way up the lineup and into the top-six heading into his junior season in 2022-23. He is a skilled player who has an impressive shot and is not afraid to get to the dirty areas in front of the net. He had a good Development Camp for the Bruins in July and he looks to continue his development at BC this season under first-year head coach Greg Brown, who takes over for legendary coach Jerry York who retired after last season.
12. Jake Schmaltz
One of the more under-the-radar prospects in the Bruins pool, Jake Schmaltz is coming off an impressive freshman season at North Dakota. He played top-six minutes, mainly at center, and had eight goals and 16 assists. Selected 192nd in the seventh round of the 2019 Draft, he is older than most college freshmen at 21 years old, but his work with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL prior to North Dakota can’t be overlooked.
In two seasons with the Gamblers before attending North Dakota, Schmaltz had 32 goals and 53 assists. The 6-foot-2, 183-pound left-shot has a good frame, a good skill set and will return to the Fighting Hawks for his sophomore season in 2022-23. His development is one worth following this season.
11. Dans Locmeils
The third center selected in the 2022 Draft, Dans Locmelis was picked in the fourth round and 119th overall and the 18-year-old had an impressive showing in the 2022 World Junior Championships in August for Latvia. In five games, he had one goal and one assist as he helped Latvia reach the quarterfinals before they fell to Sweden, 2-1. The improbable run for Locmeils and Latvia was only made possible to get into the WJC when Russia and Belarus were expelled, which makes the five-game run even more impressive.
Locmelis had 18 goals and 16 assists in the Sweden J20 Nationell for Luleå HF J20 before his run with Lativa in the WJC. The 6-foot-0, 170-pound left-shot will return to Luleå for the upcoming season.
10. Ty Gallagher
There were a couple of late-round prospects that impressed in their freshman year of college in 2021-22 and defensemen Ty Gallagher was one of them at Boston University. In 34 games for the Terriers last season, he had five goals and 11 assists, which earned him Hockey East All-Rookie Team honors.
Selected 217th overall in the seventh round of the 2021 Draft, Gallagher still has some work to do at BU in terms of his skating game, and being 6-foot-0 and 190 pounds, bulking up a little more would be a wise decision. He plays with a ton of confidence and is an offensive defenseman who had 25 goals in two seasons with the USDP before attending Boston University.
9. Ryan Mast
Selected 181st in the sixth round of the 2021 Draft, Ryan Mast is a big defenseman at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds and at just 19 years old, he is coming off of a strong season with Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). After just one goal and 11 points in 58 games in 2019-20, he bounced back after missing the 2020-21 season because of COVID-19 to have nine goals and 22 assists in 59 regular season games.
The Bruins have a long history of big tough blueliners like Zdeno Chara, Brandon Carlo, and Derek Forbort, and Mast could very well be in the next pipeline down the road. He impressed at the Bruins Development Camp in July at Warrior Ice Arena and signed his entry-level contract later that month, but will most likely return to the Sting for the 2022-23 season.
8. Matthew Poitras
The Bruins’ first selection in July Draft in Montreal was Matthew Poitras in the second round, 54th overall. The 5-foot-11, 172-pound Poitras had 21 goals and 29 assists in 68 OHL games for the Guelph Storm. The Ontario native impressed Nadeau with his overall game at both ends of the ice.
“We see a player that’s a driver, someone who has the puck a lot and can make things happen,” said Nadeau. “Even when he doesn’t have the puck, the motor is running, he’s getting involved.”
Poitras will return to the Storm this season and still has some improvements in his game needed and the Bruins hope that his offensive game continues to improve with Guelph under new coach Scott Walker.
7. Oskar Jellvik
One of the more underrated Bruins prospects, Oskar Jellvik had a very impressive 2021-22 season in the J20 Nationell with Djurgårdens IF J20 with 26 goals and 29 assists in 41 games. Selected 149th overall in the fifth round of the 2021 Draft, he had five goals and nine points in the playoffs in six games.
Jellvik is not the biggest player, but he plays with a ton of confidence and has a skill set that was on display at the Bruins Developmental Camp in July at Warrior Ice Arena. He does a nice job of scanning the ice on this zone entry and finishes on a drive to the net.
The Bruins won’t have to go far to keep an eye on Jellvik’s development this season as he will be attending Boston College with Kuntar for his first season of North American hockey this season.
6. Riley Duran
In his first season at Providence College in 2021-22, Riley Duran had an impressive season with 10 goals and 19 points for the Friars. The sixth-round pick at No. 182 in 2020 didn’t stop making a name for himself among the Bruins prospects as he continuted his impressive season at the rescheduled 2022 World Junior Championships in August in Edmonton.
Duran, who was not on the roster in December before the tournament was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak, had two goals and three assists in five tournament games for Team USA playing on the fourth line with Anaheim Ducks prospects Sasha Pastujov on the left wing and Detroit Red Wings prospect Red Savage in the middle. The Boston native will look to make more strides in his sophomore season at Providence.
5. Brett Harrison
When the Bruins selected Brett Harrison 85th overall in the 2021 Draft, it was considered a value pick and a surprise that he dropped that low to the third round. The 19-year-old, 6-foot-2, 185-pound center is quickly moving up the Black and Gold’s depth chart up the middle, a position that is going to a position of need in the not too distant future.
In 65 games for the Oshawa Generals in the OHL, Harrison had 27 goals and 34 assists in 65 games in a top-six role, where he had a breakout season offensively. He chipped in with four goals and seven points in six playoff games. Harrison signed his entry-level contract this summer, but is expected to return to the Generals for the 2022-23 season. With a gap soon up the middle, Harrison’s continued development is key for the Bruins.
4. Georgii Merkulov
Following the 2021-22 season for the Ohio State Buckeyes in March, the Bruins signed Georgii Merkulov, who had an outstanding season in the Big Ten, to an undrafted free agent contract. In 36 games in his only collegiate season, he had 20 goals and 14 assists, but the 21-year-old left wing has the ability to be a steal for Sweeney.
After signing his contract, he got his feet wet with the P-Bruins in eight games with one goal and five points. Merkulov has good vision on the ice and has an exciting offensive game with a good shot, which was evident in the game-winning overtime goal he scored against the University of Wisconsin in February.
Merkulov will need more time in Providence this season, but there is a lot to like about his offensive game if it continues to improve in the AHL.
3. Johnny Beecher
Of all of the Bruins prospects, the biggest wild card is center Johnny Beecher. After three seasons at the University of Michigan, he signed his entry-level deal last April and played well in nine games with three goals and five points. In 34 games for the Wolverines last season, he had six goals and nine assists centering the third-line on a team that was stacked from top to bottom with first-round NHL talent.
Beecher was one of the key penalty killers for Michigan as he looks toward his first full season in professional hockey. Why is he a wild card for the Bruins? Bergeron and Krejci are not going to be around forever and the prospect center depth in the organization is not very deep. After Studnicka, Beecher might be next in line and should see top-six minutes with Providence this season. A big step in Beecher’s development this season benefits both the Bruins and the 30th overall pick in 2019.
2. Mason Lohrei
There is no debate that mason Lohrei is the top-ranked prospect on defense for the Bruins. He is coming off a strong freshman season at Ohio State University where he had four goals, and 25 assists in just 31 games before his season was cut short by an injury. He was in the Top 8 in the NCAA in assists per game and points per game for freshmen.
Lohrei will return to Ohio State for his sophomore season and he attended the Bruins Development Camp in July, but did not participate in on-ice drills as he is still recovering from his injury. He said during his week in Boston watching the development camp that he still has things he wants to work on this season with the Buckeyes.
“Going back and just continuing to work on my game and get stronger, quicker, work on my defending, just little details,” said Lohrei. “Stuff like that is pretty intriguing to me to go back. I grew up dreaming of winning a national championship. That’s the main goal. I’ll go back and try to accomplish that this year.”
The 58th overall pick in the second round of the 2020 draft has a promising offensive game and at 6-foot-4 and 204 pounds, he plays a physical game that the Bruins have to like to go with his impressive skill set. If he reaches some of his goals this season at Ohio State, he could find himself in the Bruins organization in the not-too-distant future.
1. Fabian Lysell
There is no change as to who is at the top of the list to begin the season as Fabian Lysell impressed at the rescheduled 2022 WJC in August. In seven games, he had two goals and four assists to help Sweden capture the Bronze Medal with a 3-1 win over Czechia.
With the month of September here, it is time for the “Fabian Lysell Watch” in Boston. After some time off from the WJC, he will take part in the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo this month ahead of training camp. After that, the only question is whether he plays in Boston or Providence for the 2022-23 season.
The Bruins’ prospect pool leaves a lot to be desired, but moving forward, they are going to need some of them to make an impact if not this year, then certainly in the next couple. With most COVID-19 restrictions lifted, it will be a key season for them to get back to a full year of hockey with their teams.