Entering the 2022-23 season, the Boston Bruins had a prospect pool that was considered one of the worst in the NHL (from ‘Boston Bruins rank No. 32 in NHL Pipeline Rankings for 2022,’ The Athletic, Aug. 22, 2022). It’s safe to say that the narrative is still the same as we reach the midpoint of the season. With the NHL trade deadline six weeks, it very well could mean the general manager (GM) Don Sweeney will need to dive into his pool to complete a trade.
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Back in September, I did a piece ranking the top 15 Bruins’ prospects entering the season. As there is every year, there has been some change with some of the Black and Gold’s top young players having a good season, some are having a better season than originally expected and some are struggling. Let’s take a look at who the top 15 prospects are as we look toward a busy second half of the season.
15. Philip Svedbåck
After a strong stint with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL in 2021-22, Philip Svedbåck the 117th overall pick in the fourth round of the 2021 Entry Draft has stepped right in at Providence College and taken over the starting role as a freshman.
In 21 games, he has a 10-6-6 record for the Friars with a 2.22 goals against average (GAA) and a .904 save percentage (SV%). In the last couple of drafts, Sweeney has made taking a goalie a priority and the returns for Svedbåck at Providence have been good. He will need a strong second half of the season to get the Friars to the NCAA tournament.
14. Brandon Bussi
When the Bruins signed Brandon Bussi last March following his senior season at Western Michigan University, Sweeney was taking a shot with a young undrafted netminder and it’s paying off. He has been selected to play in the 2023 American Hockey League (AHL) All-Star Game in Laval, Quebec in early February.
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He has a 12-2-3 record with the Providence Bruins with a 2.16 GAA and a .935 SV%, taking over the crease from veterans Keith Kinkaid and Kyle Keyser. Before taking over the net with the P-Bruins, he was 3-1-0 with a 2.50 GAA and a .922 SV% with the Maine Mariners in the ECHL.
13. Ty Gallagher
Quietly, defenseman Ty Gallagher is having a strong sophomore season for the Boston University Terriers. A seventh-round pick in the 2021 Draft, 217th overall, he is more of a defensive defenseman, but will join the rush offensively. In 21 games for the Terriers, he has nine assists and the 6-foot-0, 187-pound right-shot is taking positive steps in his development at BU.
12. Frederic Brunet
In last summer’s draft in Montreal, Sweeney selected some offensively talented players and Frederic Brunet has that profile. Picked 132nd in the fifth round, he has taken his offensive game to another level this season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
In 40 games, he has seven goals and 36 assists with two teams. He played the first 36 games with Rimouski Oceānic and had six goals and 29 assists. He was traded to the Victoriaville Tigers and has fit right in with a goal and seven assists in four games. The 19-year-old is worth keeping an eye on with his development.
11. Oskar Jellvik
Selected in the fifth round, 149th overall in the 2021 Draft, Oskar Jellvik broke out in the J20 Nationell last season with Djurgardenss with 26 goals and 29 assists in 41 games. This season in his freshman year at Boston College, he has a goal and nine assists for first-year head coach Greg Brown. The crafty forward is working his way up the lineup for the Eagles.
10. Joona Koppanen
Joona Koppanen is in his fifth season with the P-Bruins and the 24-year-old made his NHL debut on Jan. 12 in Boston’s 3-0 loss to the Seattle Kraken. The 135th pick in the 2016 Entry Draft has slowly been getting better and last season he had 11 goals and 19 assists in 62 AHL games.
This season, he has six goals and 14 assists, but he has been strong at the face-off dot, as well as killing penalties. He is a fast skater and the 6-foot-5, 210-pound left-shot filled in on the fourth line with Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek against the Kraken. He played just under nine minutes and went 5-for-7 on face-offs. Against the New York Islanders on Jan. 18, he went 5-for-9 on face-offs.
9. Trevor Kuntar
Jellvik is not the only Bruins prospect playing at Boston College, his teammate is junior Trevor Kuntar, who was selected 89th overall in the third round of the 2020 Draft. In 18 games for the Eagles this season, he has seven goals and nine assists. He has been playing top-six minutes and earlier this year, Brown put Jellvik, Kuntar, and Andre Gasseau together, who are all Bruins draft picks. Kuntar has been playing in all situations as he is hoping to lead BC to an NCAA tournament berth.
8. Riley Duran
Prior to suffering an injury recently, Riley Duran was building off his strong performance from his freshman season at Providence College and at the rescheduled 2022 World Junior Championship (WJC) in Edmonton for Team USA. The Massachusetts native was playing top-six minutes for the Friars and has been key in all situations.
In 20 games, he has eight goals and seven assists for coach Nate Leaman. After being selected 182nd in the sixth round of the 2020 Draft, Duran’s development has been a surprise and when healthy, the 6-foot-2 forward plays with a physical presence and gets a lot of his goals around the net.
7. Dans Locmeils
Another forward taken in the 2022 Draft, Dans Locmeils is quietly moving up the board of the Bruins’ top prospects. At the 2022 rescheduled WJC, he played for Latvia in Edmonton and got his feet wet, and had a goal and an assist in five games. At the recent 2023 WJC, he had three goals and was an impact player each night for Latvia.
He has continued his development this season with Luleå HF in the J20 Nationell. Locmeils has 14 goals and 24 assists in just 29 games and is averaging 1.31 points per game. His skating and skill set was on display at the WJC in December and he scored two goals against Austria to help Latvia qualify for the 2024 WJC. Next season, he will make the move to North America and play his college hockey two hours west of Boston at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
6. Georgii Merkulov
Signed as an undrafted free agent following his freshman season at Ohio State last March, Georgii Merkulov is having a good first full pro season with the P-Bruins. In 33 games, he has seven goals and 17 assists, playing in all situations.
Merkulov is an interesting prospect as he is young at 22 years old and he had an explosive freshman season for the Buckeyes in 2021-22 with 20 goals and 14 assists in 36 games. If Sweeney doesn’t see Merkulov as a part of the future in Boston, he could be moved as part of a trade ahead of the NHL’s March 3 trade deadline.
5. John Beecher
What the future holds for Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci remains to be seen, however, after trading Jack Studnicka to the Vancouver Canucks in October, the Bruins are not blessed with young centers ready to make the jump to the NHL. Beecher’s development this season has been key with an eye toward the future.
In 29 AHL games for Providence, he has been strong at the face-off dot and has three goals and nine points. Numbers aside, he’s been a key penalty killer and if the Bruins can pull off a blockbuster deal for a center for the present and future, he could be part of a trade in the next six weeks. If not, then he will be fighting for a bottom-six spot next season.
4. Matthew Poitras
The Bruins’ first pick in Montreal in the 2022 Draft at No. 54 in the second round, Matthew Poitras is having a very strong and impressive season with the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). In 36 games, he has nine goals and 39 assists, which is an average of 1.33 points per game.
Needing center depth, Sweeney certainly addressed it in last summer’s draft and Poitras is on his way to his best OHL season. Just 19 years old, he is still some time from signing his entry-level deal, but he plays with a chip on his shoulder and is someone worth watching for the rest of this season.
3. Brett Harrison
It’s safe to say that Brett Harrison, picked in the third round of the 2021 Draft and 83rd overall, has been a fast riser this season in the Bruins prospect pool. His offensive skill set has taken off, his shot has become one of his strengths, as well as his vision to see the ice and make plays in all situations.
He had 16 goals and 17 assists for the Oshawa Generals in the OHL in 27 games before being traded to the Windsor Spitfires at the trade deadline and has five goals and five assists in just six games. There is a very good chance that following the season he will be in Providence. A center, he has been moved to wing with the Spitfires and is playing with Shane Wright, the Seattle Kraken prospect who was selected second overall in 2022.
2. Mason Lohrei
Hands down the Bruins’ top defensive prospect, Mason Lohrei has been arguably the most valuable player this season for Ohio State. His freshman season was cut short by an injury, but he spent the summer rehabbing instead of signing with the Black and Gold, he returned to the Buckeyes and his development has gone to another level.
He recently scored his first goal of the season, but the 6-foot-4, 209-pound physical left-shot has 19 assists this season, six shy of his total from last season. He has logged over 30 minutes a night multiple times this season for Ohio State and don’t be surprised if he signs his entry-level contract following the season. If he’s not traded in a blockbuster, he’s going to be part of the future in Boston.
1. Fabian Lysell
Top prospect Fabian Lysell has adjusted his game to the pros with eight goals and 13 assists with the P-Bruins this season and the 21st pick of the 2021 Draft is knocking on the door of his NHL debut. He struggled at the 2023 WJC and failed to register a point for Sweden, but that has not stopped him from making strides in the AHL. His skill set was on display in Providence’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Hartford Wolf Pack on Jan. 15 when he set up Vinni Lettini for the game-winning goal with a nice individual move to free up his teammate.
Sweeney will hear his name mentioned over the phone in the coming weeks ahead of the trade deadline and it remains to be seen if the right deal comes along that the Bruins’ GM will move him. If not, he could make his NHL debut in Boston later this season, if not, it’s hard not seeing him full-time in Boston in 2023-24.
There certainly has been some movement from the preseason list of top prospects for the Bruins. Things will change the rest of the season and when an end-of-the-season list comes out, there will be more movement. There is also the possibility that some of the names could be moved by March 3. It’s certainly going to be an interesting next six weeks.