By Neal Lyons
The Bruins’ prospect pool is one of the league’s weakest. There’s no sugar-coating that, but it’s not an entirely fair representation of their recent draft performance. David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Jake Debrusk, and Brandon Carlo are all 23 years old, or younger, and already playing in prominent roles on the roster. Netting four players of their caliber, in three drafts (2014-2016), is nothing to be ashamed of. Beyond them, there isn’t much to brag about though.
Team success has meant more late first-rounders, and the Sweeney regime has shown a tendency to use those picks on “high floor”-type players. Guys with a great chance to make the NHL but, more than likely, not as impact players. It’s a pretty fair representation of the entire farm. Quite a few potential NHL players, far from a lot of potential NHL stars. It’s safe to say that Boston doesn’t have a single, top 50, prospect and you’ll rarely see Bruins making any top 100 lists, either.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t another Brad Marchand in the bunch and, to be fair, a few of these guys are well on their way to exceeding their draft day stock. But, put it this way, most top prospects become stars by merely living up to their expectations. For our prospects to become stars, they’ll need to surpass them.
The following is a current Top 10 ranking. I kept it to players with less than 20 games of NHL experience just in case anyone was left wondering what happened to Anders Bjork 😉
10. Zach Senyshyn, RW
Overview: An elite skater, with a good shot and decent offensive instincts, Senyshyn hasn’t been able to find another element of his game to package that with. He was a reach on draft day and watching contemporaries like Barzal & Connor excel at the next level hasn’t helped his selection age any better. Having said that, if he can find a way to create scoring chances vs pros consistently, he could earn himself a depth scoring role. I don’t think he ever lives up to being a 15th overall pick, but I do believe he’s an NHL talent.
Strengths: Skating, skating, skating. Shot.
Concerns: Hockey sense (which is a rare flaw in a Bruin draft pick), consistency.
9. Pavel Shen, C
Overview: A former 7th round pick, it remains to be seen if Shen will be able to produce offense at a pro-level. He struggled last year, playing in Russia, but he had impressive showings at the WJC and Bruins development camp. This year he’s come over to North America with the hope of using his pro-capable vision to become more of a play-maker. The makings of a reliable two-way, puck possessing, forward are already there. I’m not sure he’ll ever score much in the NHL but, if he can chip in any offense, he could carve out a role for himself with the big club, one day.
Strengths: Hockey sense, vision.
Concerns: Skating (though it has improved since his draft), offensive upside.
8. Jakub Zboril, LD
Overview: This one is likely to cause the most debate. Especially since Jeremy Lauzon doesn’t make my list, but Zboril has the better overall skill-set to help him succeed at the highest level. Most notably, his elite skating ability. Zboril has little issue exiting or entering zones, and he also uses his feet to close off opposing attacks efficiently, occasionally with force. If he ever finds an offensive gear, he certainly has top 4 capability. That is what will set him apart from a player like Lauzon, who skates and competes well enough to be a fringe NHL’r but doesn’t have enough skill to be much more than that.
Strengths: Skating, mobility.
Concerns: Nothing glaring. Lack of opportunity on Boston’s left side.
7. Kyle Keyser, G
Overview: Goalies are never easy to project, but I view him as the best in the Bruins system. He’s also just 20, so there’s still a long way to go before we see him compete for an NHL job. For now, though, his quickness and ability to anticipate the play are what set him apart. That’s a beautiful combination in a goalie. Typically one step ahead of the play but, failing that, boasting the athletic ability to make still the big save, when needed.
Strengths: Quickness, anticipation, athleticism.
Concerns: Average size. Goalies are voodoo.
6. Jakub Lauko, LW
Overview: This year, Lauko played his first season in the Q’, and it was one for the ages. After leading the league in rookie playoff scoring (13 pts in 19 games), he then capped the year by leading the entire Memorial Cup tournament in points (8 in 5 games), as his Rouyn-Noranda team won the title. Though he has played some center, I see him more as the speedy, scoring winger, type. I don’t see the top-line potential, but there’s no apparent reason to believe that he can’t provide secondary scoring in the NHL, with more maturity.
Strengths: Speed, hands, shot.
5. Trent Frederic, C
Overview: Trent Frederic has already proven himself as a useful player, who’s responsible, two-way ability, and well-rounded skill-set, should always create a spot for him on most NHL rosters. Note, I said, “most.” The problem is that, in Boston, it seems as though this type of player grows on trees. The biggest question surrounding Frederic is whether there will ever be any significant offensive production. That would surely help set him apart, but so far it hasn’t manifested itself, and I’m not sure that it ever will. In the meantime, he should be considered a capable, bottom 6, role-player — nothing fancy, nothing risky.
Strengths: Size, IQ, defensive ability.
Concerns: Nothing overly glaring. Offensive upside.
4. Oskar Steen, C/RW
Overview: Consider Steen my sleeper pick. I’m not sure he warrants this lofty position, but there’s something about him that I find myself gravitating towards. I hate to say it, but if he were only a few inches taller, he’d be on more radars. The compete level is there, and he isn’t scared, but making the NHL at 5’9” still isn’t a common occurrence for a player without elite speed or skill. He is a strong skater and has a great shot. He’s a finisher more than a playmaker who, considering his size, makes me think he’s better suited on the wing. If you could combine Steen and Frederic into one player, you’d have one hell of a prospect on your hands.
Strengths: Shot, skating, fearlessness, tenacity.
Concerns: Size, creativity/vision.
3. John Beecher, C
Overview: In Beecher, the Bruins seemingly have a better Trent Frederic. Three years younger, Beecher is already bigger, likes to use his size, and is an excellent skater. I’ve seen people question his stride and acceleration, but his top speed and agility are on the higher-end. Unusually for an 18-year-old who already stands 6’3” and 210 pounds. Like Frederic, the offensive upside is the prime concern. The Bruins will be hoping he eventually taps into some, he’s hasn’t shown that capability at any level, and why he was treated as a reach in the first round. Packaged with his size and skating, I think he has the hands and vision to put up some decent numbers in the NHL. Whether it’s enough to ever play in the top six is my biggest question.
Strengths: Size, skating, compete.
Concerns: Offensive upside.
2. Urho Vaakanainen, LD
Overview: Urho likes to keep it simple. His skating and passing are high end, but he’s rarely going to make the wildly creative play, opting instead for the safer, more high percentage one. For this reason, he’ll probably never be a big point producer, but the rest of his game is so sound that I would be astonished if he doesn’t turn out to be a top-four defenceman. I see him playing on McAvoy’s left for years to come. I often compare him to Jonas Brodin. Or a less offensive Marc-Edouard Vlasic. For now, though, the Bruins have the luxury of taking their time with his development. The left side is set, so there’s no reason to rush him.
Strengths: Skating, passing, composure.
Concerns: Strength. I could say lack of offensive upside, but that isn’t what he is. If the offense comes, look at that as a bonus with Urho.
1. Jack Studnicka, C
Overview: Of all the prospects in this top 10, Studnicka should have the best chance to break camp with the big club. However, that isn’t the reason he sits at #1. For me, he’s number one because he is the only prospect the Bruins have who I don’t feel needs to prove anything, beyond being able to take his game to the NHL. Urho is close as well, but D-men take longer to flourish, and I’d still like to see him get a little stronger while fine-tuning his game in Providence.
Studnicka could also stand to put on more muscle, but I don’t think it’ll hinder his chance of success in any way. He can create off the rush or out of the corner. His hockey sense and vision allow him to make plays in any situation. Defensively, he’s not as good as Frederic, but he’s certainly competent. Skating may be his most significant question mark, but it’s improving and already satisfactory. He needs an opportunity.
Strengths: IQ, creativity, vision.
Concerns: Nothing glaring. He’s very well-rounded but may want to add to his 170-pound frame. There isn’t much physicality in his game which may disappoint some.