December 31-in-31: Boston Bruins

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2020-12-03

As referenced in the November edition, the Bruins have focused their offseason on the veterans. Between their most recent draft crop and free-agent signings, the team prioritized experience first and foremost. This article will recap any additional moves made in the interim, while also diving into the organization’s graduates at various levels, risers and fallers, and its top-20 overall prospects.

 

Offseason Moves
Restricted Free Agents

Jake DeBrusk
The most notable move made since last month’s article, DeBrusk signed a two-year deal with a cap hit of $3.675 million. This contract is beneficial for both parties, as the player gets to continue building his value over two short years, while the Bruins sign a good, young winger to a reasonable cap hit. The former first-rounder will also remain a restricted free agent upon the contract’s expiry, at which time DeBrusk will likely be looking for his first long-term extension. He is locked into a top-six role and has shown great promise as a goal-scorer for the Bruins. He posted a career-high 27 tallies in just 68 games in 2018-19, and it would be no surprise to see him top this number in the near future.

What to Watch For

While the team has made no major additions since the November edition of this series, there are a handful of free agents that the Bruins could still look to re-sign prior to the start of the new season:

 

Zdeno Chara
GM Don Sweeney noted that the team is in constant communication with their longtime captain and that the veteran is waiting to evaluate the NHL landscape for the upcoming season before deciding on his future.

Peter Cehlärik
The Bruins tendered a qualifying offer for the current RFA, however, Cehlärik has signed a contract in the SHL and does not appear to be returning to Boston anytime soon. Read more about his future in the fallers section of this article.

Ryan Fitzgerald
Currently a UFA, Fitzgerald is playing overseas with his brother, Casey. It remains to be seen if the Bruins will offer him a new contract, or if he will continue his career with another organization.

 

International Transfers

At the time of last month’s article, the organization had loaned six players to other pro teams to continue playing before the NHL/AHL seasons begin. Since then, three more have joined temporary clubs. The following is a current list of Bruins prospects that have been loaned elsewhere prior to the start of the 2020-21 season:

Forwards
Jakub Lauko —>HC Karlovy Vary (Czech Extraliga)
Oskar Steen —> IF Bjorkloven (Allsvenskan)
Joona Koppanen —> Ilves (Liiga)
Robert Lantosi —> HK Nitra (Slovak Extraliga)

Defensemen
Jakub Zboril —> HC Kometa Brno (Czech Extraliga)
Nick Wolff —> DVTK Jegesmedvek (Slovak Extraliga)
Urho Vaakanainen —> SaiPa (Liiga)
Cooper Zech —> HK Nitra (Slovak Extraliga)

Goalies
Dan Vladar —> HC Dynamo Pardubice (Czech Extraliga)

Notes:
Dan Vladar, Urho Vaakanainen, and Cooper Zech are the new additions to this list. Their cameos on these new clubs might not last long, especially if the NHL is able to open training camps early in the new year. Zech is on an AHL contract, while Vladar is stuck behind Boston’s established NHL tandem. However, the extra ice time should be valuable for Vaakanainen, who will be fighting for a roster spot in Boston this season.

 

Graduating Players

C – Trevor Kuntar (USHL – NCAA)
One of Boston’s newest prospect additions, the 2020 third-round pick moves from the USHL to the NCAA this season, where he will join a talented Boston College squad. While leading the Youngstown Phantoms in scoring last year, Kuntar provided additional value all over the ice, chipping in on the power play, with his physicality, and finishing second in the league with 195 shots on goal. His versatility should help ease his transition to college hockey, where he will look to further grow his game en route to an eventual NHL contract.

 

D – Victor Berglund (Allsvenskan/SHL – AHL/NHL)
The Bruins signed Berglund to an entry-level contract in June, and while he has remained overseas during the pandemic, the plan is for him to join the organization whenever training camp begins. For now, the former seventh-round pick has been thriving after his transfer from MODO to Luleå. Through 16 SHL games, he currently sits second on his team and seventh among league defensemen in scoring with 12 points. He has fired an additional 42 shots on goal but is still averaging a low 16:07 of ice time per game. The limited playing time has followed him from MODO to Luleå, but it doesn’t appear to be limiting a breakout season from the 21- year-old.

After appearing in four games for the Providence Bruins in 2018-19 (registering two points), Berglund will likely return to the AHL for his first full season in North America, although it may not be long before he earns an NHL audition. He has now spent parts of five seasons playing pro hockey, and his game appears to have developed nicely since being selected late in the 2017 draft.

 

D – Jack Ahcan (NCAA – AHL)
After his final NCAA season was cut short, due to the pandemic, Ahcan wasted little time determining his next path. He signed an entry-level contract with the Bruins in March, and will officially make the jump from college to pro hockey, once NHL training camps begin. Coincidentally, Torey Krug’s final season with the Bruins will give way to Ahcan’s first, as the two defensemen produced a nearly identical prospect profile entering the NHL. Their point totals remained largely on par from their USHL production through to the end of their NCAA careers, with the lone exception of Ahcan playing four years as opposed to Krug’s three.

Jack Ahcan

Torey Krug

It remains to be seen if Boston’s newest college free agent can match the NHL production of his predecessor, however, it is definitely worth the risk for a team that needs an injection of high-end skill in its prospect pool. Similar to Krug, Ahcan will likely spend most of his first pro season in the AHL, where he will look to gain his footing before earning a shot in Boston.

 

G – Jeremy Swayman (NCAA – ECHL/AHL)
After a stellar NCAA career, Swayman signed his entry-level contract with Boston in March. The 2020 Walter Brown Award winner and Hobey Baker finalist will take his talents to the pro level, where he will battle with Dan Vladar and Kyle Keyser for the honor of claiming Tuuka Rask’s eventually vacant throne. In order to get the former college star more consistent playing time, it is likely that Swayman will spend much of this season in the ECHL. Make no mistake though, his upside is sky high, and he should be considered the front-runner to be the organization’s goaltender of the future.

AHL to NHL Graduates

Being a perennial Stanley Cup contender can have its advantages and disadvantages, with a much stronger emphasis on the former. It’s exciting to know that your favorite team will be an annual challenger, and the financial benefit for a competitive organization is clear as well. However, one area where it can offer a disadvantage is in granting opportunities for young prospects. While the cream of the crop will typically rise to the top, many “bubble” players will struggle to make their mark with an established veteran blocking their path. This is the case for the Bruins, and while other contenders may rely on a consistent stream of top prospects to inject life into their top-six each year, Boston has created a roster that is brimming with consistency.

Over the last few years, only a handful of prospects have managed to fight their way onto the NHL roster. In fact, since the 2017 draft, just two players selected by the Bruins have played an NHL regular-season game. Jack Studnicka and Urho Vaakanainen have combined for nine games of experience, and it should be no surprise to see them both on the list below. While this stat could allude to a failure to draft NHL regulars, the realistic truth is that the organization has done a good job stockpiling these “bubble” prospects that might have earned a role already, had the big league squad been less deep. This has been a winning formula for the Bruins, one that they should continue with for as long as it works. However, with in-house or free agent veterans filling out most of the roster this season, there will once again be limited space for someone to climb up from Providence, whose team success has become a testament to the depth in Boston’s prospect pool

As noted before, the cream still rises to the top, and the following is a list of the most likely prospects to earn an NHL spot for the 2020-21 season:

 

Forwards

C – Jack Studnicka – The most likely candidate to earn a full-time gig in training camp. He looked good in limited regular-season action, while also contributing as an effective forechecker in five 2020 NHL playoff games. In a standout rookie campaign for Providence, he led the team in virtually all offensive categories. There isn’t much left to prove, so the question now will be finding space for him in Boston. Of all players on this list, Studnicka is the likeliest to force a would-be starter out of the lineup.

 

C – Trent Frederic – Frederic was a force for Providence last season, leading the AHL in penalty minutes, while also chipping in with solid playmaking and shot volume. His physicality has developed nicely as a pro and would be a welcome addition in Boston.

 

LW – Anders Bjork – After battling injuries during his first years as a pro, Bjork managed to stay healthy for an entire season in 2019-20 (we’ll give him the credit, even though the campaign was cut short). After a brief stint in Providence to start the year, Bjork earned a role on the NHL roster and never looked back. The team rewarded him with a three-year extension in the offseason, and it appears as though he is in the big leagues to stay. He may never put up the offensive production that was expected after an impressive NCAA career, however, he should still manage to contribute as a depth winger for both Boston and deep-league fantasy teams.

 

RW – Karson Kuhlman – After making the NHL roster out of camp, a mid-season leg injury derailed Kuhlman’s development. He bounced between Boston and Providence after returning to full health and struggled to produce in a bottom-six role with the big club. Regardless, he showed enough to earn a spot last year and should be a front-runner to do so once again this season.

 

Defensemen

LD – Jakob Zboril – A member of Boston’s infamous 2015 first-round trio, Zboril has taken strides to develop as a sound defender in Providence. After managing a modest 19 points in each of his three AHL seasons, the Bruins rewarded him with a two-year extension this offseason. He will be eligible for waivers starting in 2020- 21, and after a strong training camp last year, he should have a good chance at making the NHL roster.

 

LD – Urho Vaakanainen – While he is not an offensive difference-maker, Vaakanainen’s game has always been built around his defensive prowess. With two pro seasons in North America under his belt, it would be no surprise to see the young Finn earn a full-time role this year; defenders with his size and consistency are always sought after. However, if the Bruins decide to go with someone who has a little more offensive upside to try and replace Torey Krug, Vaak could be left contributing once again in Providence for 2020-21.

 

LD – Jeremy Lauzon – With 35 games of regular-season NHL experience, Lauzon has been slowly earning the organization’s trust during his three years as a pro. He was given a two-year contract extension in February and will be eligible for waivers this season. He possesses the tools to contribute offensively in the NHL, however, his path to both fantasy and real-world success will likely come through his physicality and defensive game.

 

Risers

C –  Jack Studnicka – His debut season as a pro was a resounding success, and his arrow is pointing straight up. His development has been exciting to watch, and it will not be long now before Studnicka is rewarding both the Bruins and fantasy managers alike.

 

G – Dan Vladar – After bouncing between the AHL and ECHL for a few seasons, Vladar took a major step forward in 2019-20. He led the AHL in both goals-against average (1.79) and save percentage (0.936), while finishing second in wins. Boston’s crease will be shared by Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak for at least one more year, however, both netminders are free agents at the end of the campaign. This paves the way for a possible full-time role for Vladar in 2021-22.

 

G – Jeremy Swayman – The recent Bruins signee had a fantastic NCAA career, recording a save percentage of 0.927 over 100 games in his three years as a Maine Black Bear. In his third and final season, he led all college goalies in total saves, while finishing tied for second in save percentage. He has firmly planted his flag not only as a riser in the Bruins’ system but as one of the top goalie prospects league-wide.

 

C – Curtis Hall – Hall had a remarkable production spike in his second NCAA season. He went from 11 points as a freshman, to nearly a point-per-game as a sophomore. His physicality and production were bright spots for the middle-of-the-pack Yale Bulldogs and earned him a spot on the US World Junior squad. Unfortunately, the Ivy League canceled its winter sports, leaving Hall without a team for the upcoming season. He has a few options available to him, including turning pro earlier than he may have expected. His development will be important to monitor over the next few years.

 

RD – Victor Berglund – The young Swede makes this list after signing his entry-level contract in June. He is having a wonderful year in the SHL and should join the Bruins for his first full North American campaign once the NHL/AHL seasons begin.

 

LD – Jakub Zboril & Jeremy Lauzon (D) – Both defensemen make the “risers” list after receiving contract extensions in the offseason. Both will be eligible for waivers, giving the Bruins added incentive to keep them in the NHL to start the year.

 

Fallers

C – Ryan Fitzgerald – Currently a UFA, Fitzgerald consistently produced modest point-totals in his three years with Providence. He has yet to make his NHL debut, and it remains to be seen if the Bruins will give the 26-year- old a new contract. He is currently playing for Krefeld in Germany with his brother Casey. If he is re-signed by Boston for the upcoming season, it is unlikely that he will see NHL ice time given the team’s deep forward group.

 

RW – Zach Senyshyn – With great tools comes great responsibility. Senyshyn possesses the speed and the shot to be a difference-maker but has yet to put it all together at the AHL level. He has lacked game-by-game consistency, and as a result, was given a modest one-year contract extension this offseason. Look for that to motivate the former first-rounder, who will hopefully have a breakout 2020-21.

 

C – Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson – Once hailed as a potential long-term solution at center for the Bruins, Forsbacka-Karlsson returned to Sweden last season and will remain there once again in 2020-21. His production and defensive play were both solid during his time in the AHL, and GM, Don Sweeney has noted that the former second-round pick fully intends on returning to Boston in the future. For now, he will remain in his home country, where he will look to add consistency to his game as he gains more professional experience.

 

C – Peter Cehlärik – After four successful AHL campaigns during which he recorded a total of 136 points in 185 games, Cehlärik decided to sign a two- year contract this summer with Leksands in the SHL. He has appeared in just 40 NHL games to date, went through NHL waivers unclaimed, and previously voiced his frustration with the Bruins’ coaching staff. He will not appear on the list of the team’s top 20 fantasy prospects below, strictly because it is unlikely he returns to play for Boston. If he returns later in his career as a UFA, he would likely provide solid production for whichever team takes a chance on him.

 

Prospect Depth Chart

Boston’s “next man up.” This section combines a player’s NHL readiness and upside.