If there’s one thing that has been a thorn in the side of Boston Bruins general manager (GM) Don Sweeney, it’s been drafting and developing prospects. From the failure of the 2015 Entry Draft with their three consecutive first-round picks, to taking a flyer on Trent Frederic in the first round in 2016. There have been some successful picks under Sweeney, with Charlie McAvoy and Jeremy Swayman being the biggest names making a contribution so far.
All of the drafting struggles over the last eight seasons have led the Bruins to have the 32nd and worst-ranked prospect pipeline in the NHL according to The Athletic (from ‘Boston Bruins rank No. 32 in NHL Pipeline Rankings for 2022,’ The Athletic, Aug. 22, 2022). The Hockey Writers’ Peter Baracchini ranked them 26th in January and truth be told, they should be ranked where they are as there is not a lot of excitement in many prospects for the future and ranking them at the bottom of the rankings comes as no surprise.
Prospects That Show Promise
In reality, the list is not as long as it should be for a team with an aging core that could mostly be gone by next summer. The Bruins could get a look as soon as this season with 2021 first-round pick Fabian Lysell. After having an impressive performance at the rescheduled 2022 World Junior Championships in Edmonton where the 21st overall pick had two goals and four assists to help Sweden capture the bronze medal, his stock was raised even more. His first season of North American hockey was an impressive one with 22 goals and 40 assists for the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League (WHL).
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Where Lysell ends up this season is going to be one of the storylines in training camp in late September. Any destination is on the table from Boston, to the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL), or back to the Giants. Regardless of where he starts the season, it’s only a matter of time before he’s playing full-time in Boston.
On defense, Mason Lohrei is the Bruins’ top prospect on the blue line. After an impressive two seasons in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers, he had four goals and 25 assists in his first collegiate season for the Ohio State Buckeyes. The 6-foot-4, 194-pound left-shot had his freshman season cut short at 31 games with a knee injury, but after rehabbing his knee, he’s hoping for an every better sophomore season with the Buckeyes.
After Lysell and Loheri, there are some prospects that show some promise, but their continued developments are going to be key. Centers Johnny Beecher and Brett Harrison have to be considered the top two behind Jack Studnicka, while Georgii Merkulov, signed as a free agent after his freshman season at Ohio State, is already 21 years old, but has the makings of a consistent scorer.
Bruins Prospects Options Fall Off
After the names mentioned above, there’s not a lot of excitement. Considering that Studnicka, Oskar Steen, and Jack Ahcan have made appearances the last couple of seasons in Boston, none of them have been able to carve out a full-time role. They are the closest to making an impact other than Lysell. Other prospects like Riley Duran and Ty Gallagher showed promise in their freshman year of college in 2021-22, but they are still years away from making an impact in Boston if they do at all. There is still time for Matthew Poitras, Cole Spicer, and Dans Locmeils from this year’s draft to develop, but again, they are years away too.
Drafting is not a strong point of Sweeney’s during his tenure as GM so far. Drafting and development have always been, and always will be a concern. It’s going to be under the microscope, even more, when the core is gone. It’s hard to build a prospect pool when your first-round pick is traded away multiple times. The latest was this season when Sweeney sent it, along with prospect Urho Vaakanainen to the Anaheim Ducks for Hampus Lindholm. In 2018, the first-round pick was sent to the New York Rangers in a deal that acquired Rick Nash, while the 2020 first-round pick also went to the Ducks in a trade that acquired Ondrej Kase. That trade is turning out to be tough since Kase struggled with injuries during his time in Boston and was not tendered an offer as a restricted free agent (RFA) in the summer of 2021 and became a free agent.
Drafting is a key way to build up the system for when some of your big-name players retire or move onto another team and the Bruins are in trouble for when their core retires or other players move on in free agency or in trades. Drafting and development under Sweeney have been troubling and sooner, rather than later, it’s going to come back to haunt them. Regardless of what happens, the 2015 Draft is one that will hover over Sweeney for the rest of his tenure as GM.
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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.