Prior to the season, the Boston Bruins prospect pool was filled to the brim with talent that could make the jump to the NHL level and make an impact. From that group, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Sean Kuraly, Danton Heinen and Matt Grzelcyk have all made a splash for the Bruins in role ranging from top-four defender and top-six winger all the way down to bottom-six forward and bottom-pairing defender.
With so many rookies making the jump to the NHL level this season, now is as good a time as any to evaluate just where the Bruins prospect pool ranks down the stretch and heading into the postseason.
Though two players are making a return from the offseason’s list, two players from the honorable mentions category have skyrocketed up into the top-two spots on the list. Both have a chance to make the jump to the NHL roster by this time next season, though with the success the Bruins have had in recent years with incoming prospects, anything can happen. A year makes all the difference.
Without further delay, here are the Bruins top-four prospects as of 2018:
Ryan Donato Proving His Value
No Bruins’ prospect has gotten as much fanfare as Ryan Donato has in recent months. Part of it is due to his excellent performance at Harvard this season that saw the 21-year-old score 22 goals and 33 points in 25 games with the Crimson. Another big part of it, however, ties into the fact that he was a superstar at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang with the United States.
It was hard to read a highlight about any of the United States’ games without seeing mention of Donato scoring a goal, recording a point or making a highlight reel play. He finished the tournament with an impressive five goals and six points in five games, leading the United States in the process.
Donato’s five goals were actually tied for the most in the tournament with Ilya Kovalchuk and Kirill Kaprizov (a name that could have easily made this list had the Bruins not traded away the 135th overall pick to the Minnesota Wild in 2015) and Donato did so in one fewer game than the Russian duo. For more context, no other player on the USA squad scored more than one goal in the tournament.
Donato has proven to be a superstar at the collegiate level and he’s proven that he can make a lasting impression while playing against men at the Olympic level. It’s led to the discussion that the Boston-native could join the Bruins following the end of his season with Harvard rather than returning for his Senior Year.
The narrative has been highly discussed and realistically could happen. At the same time, Donato could also just as easily decide to stay at Harvard and finish out his career with his father, the team’s head coach, and his brother, his teammate.
In three seasons with Harvard, Donato has scored 56 goals and 94 points in only 93 games. His production has improved each season and he’s shown that as a shoot-first center, he could have a very successful career in the NHL. The Bruins could realistically add Donato to their top-six once Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci start to slow down. An enviable position for teams that have looked for a top center for years and in some instances decades to no avail.
Jeremy Lauzon the Top Defensive Prospect?
It’s been talked about to death, but the Bruins have had a lot of success finding left-shot defenders in recent years. Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk and Rob O’Gara (traded to the Rangers) are all players that have played a role in Boston this season.
In addition to those names, the team has also found Jakub Zboril (first-round in 2015), Jeremy Lauzon (second-round in 2015), Ryan Lindgren (second-round in 2016, traded to the Ranger) and most recently, Urho Vaakanainen in the first-round in 2017.
While none of the latter four players have played in an NHL game yet, the fact remains that the Bruins have valued the position enough in recent years to continue adding to it through the draft. One name that stands out above the list as a potential NHL player as early as next season is the 20-year-old Lauzon.
In four seasons in the QMJHL with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, Lauzon proved to be a smart mobile defender with a good shot and solid leadership abilities. He finished his tenure at the major-junior level with 35 goals and 130 points in 200 games.
Since making the jump to the AHL, however, Lauzon’s point production has slowed considerably. Recording only five points in 35 games in his first season as a pro, some of his struggles offensively have come due to the new surroundings and some have come due to injuries that have plagued him for much of the season.
When looking past the offense stalling, it’s clear that Lauzon’s ability on the ice far supersedes point production. His ability to make a play happen while logging significant minutes for Providence has been on display throughout his time with the team.
The offensive instincts are there, the production simply hasn’t followed yet. What’s encouraging is the fact that the 6-foot-3 defender has continued to hone in on his defensive ability at the AHL level – the area he needed to work on the most coming out of the QMJHL.
It was on display at times in the preseason in Boston, but Lauzon’s decision making in his own zone sometimes left a lot to be desired. In Providence, the coaching staff has worked on helping him improve in those spots and though injuries have slowed down his progression, his decision making has gotten considerably better from the start of the season until now.
Jakub Zboril Adjusting Well
Zboril’s tenure as a pro has been anything but typical. In fact, ever since being drafted with the 13th pick in 2015 and failing his conditioning test in Boston, Zboril has been facing backlash. It’s the same type of backlash that fellow-first-round picks from 2015 Zach Senyshyn and DeBrusk have also faced, though DeBrusk has quickly quieted down the naysayers with his play this season.
In 51 games in Providence this season, Zboril has scored one goal and 11 points. He’s worked on honing his craft as a two-way defender and he’s even been slotted on the right side this season. It’s been part of the process for Zboril who’s had to work on conditioning and strength throughout his time in Providence; a process that’s paid off so far for the first-year pro who has already looked faster and more comfortable on the ice.
The selling point for Zboril’s game has always been his strong two-way ability. Defenders who can contribute on both ends of the ice are always valued at the NHL level and while Zboril’s offensive output isn’t where it could be right now, the goal for him right now is to work on improving the defense to make it NHL-quality before working on the offense.
Zboril mentioned in a one-on-one interview earlier this season with Bruins Network that the system in Providence is different than what he was used to with Saint John in the QMJHL, but he’s worked on adjusting to that. He also mentioned that consistency is something he’ll have to work on if he wants to make it to the next level.
That accountability is already a good sign from the young defender as he’s aware that he can’t be taking any nights or even shifts off if he wants to excel at the NHL level.
Whether he makes the jump next season or the year after is yet to be seen. What is known, however, is that he’s working on everything he needs to in the meantime to become an NHL-caliber defender for the Bruin.
Zachary Senyshyn’s Ceiling Still Unknown
A common misconception about talent development is that point production is the be-all, end-all of evaluations. If Senyshyn proved anything at the OHL level with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, it was that he could score goals and make a difference with his speed and size.
Scoring upwards of 40 goals twice in his final two years in the OHL, Senyshyn’s offensive prowess knew no limits. He finished up his OHL career with 114 goals and 177 points in 195 points and left Bruins fans salivating for what could come next.
Though the narrative surrounding him, Zboril and DeBrusk will always be diminished by Matt Barzal’s impressive rookie season, the fact of the matter remains: Sweeney and his scouting team liked the three players he chose and the verdict is still out on the Senyshyn and Zboril as to what their ceilings could potentially be.
While it would be hard for Senyshyn to replicate anything close to what Barzal has done in his rookie season, it’s important to note that they are both two completely different players. Senyshyn fills the mold of a power forward who backs up his size and strength with unreal speed that needs to be seen to be believed.
It’s easy to look at his eight goals and 19 points in 50 games in Providence this season and thinking Senyshyn’s first year in the AHL has been a disappointment. That simply isn’t true though as Senyshyn has been playing almost exclusively in a bottom-six role this year.
Working on Senyshyn’s two-way ability has been the number one goal for Providence head coach Jay Leach and as such, 20-year-old has played lower on the depth chart without the benefit of skating with top-producing centers.
The offensive ability for Senyshyn is known. The speed and size are known. What’s important right now will be to work on developing his defensive game, similarly to the way DeBrusk worked on his in his final WHL season and first season in the AHL.
Senyshyn might not make the NHL roster next season due to the abundance of talent already in the top-nine, but that might allow for him to further develop his two-way ability while also honing in on his offensive potential before making the jump.
It’s to soon to classify Senyshyn as a wasted pick. Anyone doing so just isn’t paying attention to the way development works. Whether he makes it to the NHL level or not is yet to be seen, but that can be said about any prospect before they make an impact in the NHL.
Honorable Mentions: Trent Frederic, Urho Vaakanainen, Jack Studnicka, Jesse Gabrielle, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson