A bright future? Here's how Bruins' top prospects fared in 2022-23 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Bruins are in a tough spot entering the 2023 NHL offseason.
They have less draft capital than pretty much every team in the league after making lots of trade deadline moves over the last couple years. They don't own a first-round pick until 2025, and they don't own a second-round selection until 2026.
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Boston's prospect pool also ranks among the worst. In fact, The Athletic's most recent rankings in January had the Bruins at No. 30, ahead of only the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Bruins roster reset: List of 2023 free agents, salary cap update
That said, there are still some good prospects with NHL potential in the system. Here's how the Bruins' top seven prospects fared during the 2022-23 season.
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7. John Beecher, C
The Bruins will need a bottom-six center if Tomas Nosek leaves in free agency. Beecher is a potential candidate for that role. He excelled on the penalty kill with the P-Bruins this past season and played with the kind of physicality you need from a fourth liner. His size, at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, is ideal for a bottom-six role, too.
One of the hopes with Beecher when the Bruins selected him at the end of the first round in 2019 was that he could be somewhat of a reliable scorer at the NHL level. His offensive game hasn't developed as expected -- 12 goals in 70 career AHL matchups -- but he has become a solid defensive-minded forward who can be trusted to make the right plays and win puck battles in his own zone.
6. Brett Harrison, C
Harrison was a third-round pick of the Bruins in 2021. He didn't put up eye-popping scoring numbers in the OHL this past season, but he did improve on his 2021-22 totals. He tallied 69 points (34 goals, 35 assists) in 65 games between the Oshawa Generals and Windsor Spitfires, after posting 61 points (27 goals, 34 assists) in 65 games for the Generals in 2021-22.
Harrison signed his entry-level contract last August. After three seasons in the OHL, it's time for a full campaign in Providence. It's unlikely he'll make his NHL debut in 2023-24, but he's definitely a prospect to watch given Boston's needs at center long term.
5. Jakub Lauko, LW/RW
Lauko is on the edge of being a prospect and someone who could be in the NHL full time. He got 23 games of regular season action for Boston this past season, and he tallied seven points (four goals, three assists). He also appeared in three games during the first-round series versus the Florida Panthers.
Lauko spent most of the 2022-23 season with the Providence Bruins. He scored 10 goals with seven assists in 35 AHL games.
The Bruins could have a few bottom-six spots open in training camp because Nick Foligno, Tomas Nosek, Garnet Hathaway and Trent Frederic are all free agents this summer. Lauko plays a strong power forward-type of game and has the potential to provide some valuable scoring depth on the fourth line. It also helps that Lauko is versatile enough to play both left and right wing. Lauko looked more confident late in the regular season, and if he has a good training camp, the fourth-line left wing position could be his to lose entering the 2023-24 campaign.
4. Georgii Merkulov, C
Merkulov's first full season in Providence was a fantastic one. He led the team with 24 goals and 55 points in 67 games. He is a very gifted player offensively with the ability to consistently create scoring chances for himself and teammates. He's dangerous on the power play as well. His patience and poise with the puck on his stick is impressive for a 21-year-old.
Merkulov's ability to score at a high rate at center is important for the Bruins. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are both 37 years old and free agents this summer. Center is going to be a huge position of need going forward for Boston, and Merkulov is well-positioned to earn ice time in that role in the near future. Merkulov still has plenty of work to do defensively, but there's been noticeable improvement in that area of his game since he left Ohio State.
Whether it's at center or on the wing, Merkulov has a shot to make the NHL roster next season.
3. Matthew Poitras, C
Poitras, who signed his entry-level contract with the Bruins last week, has become a very exciting prospect following a fantastic season for the OHL's Guelph Storm.
The 2022 second-round pick saw his offensive production increase from 50 points (21 goals, 29 assists) in 68 games for the Storm in 2021-22 to 95 points (16 goals, 79 assists) over 63 games in 2022-23. His 79 assists were the second-most in the OHL last season.
Poitras' vision, playmaking skill and high hockey IQ are among the attributes that make him a prospect to keep a close eye on. When you look at the Bruins' prospect pool, Poitras probably has the best chance of anyone to be a legit top-six center at the NHL level.
2. Fabian Lysell, RW
Lysell came into 2022-23 with plenty of hype after a fantastic debut 2021-22 season in the WHL. He was Boston's 2021 first-round pick and one of the few forwards in the prospect pool with legitimate top-six potential at the NHL level.
The Swedish right wing started his first AHL season strong. He scored the game-winning goal on opening night and found the back of the net eight times before joining Sweden for the World Junior Championships in December. The World Juniors is where Lysell's season started to go downhill. He was held scoreless with just nine shots for Sweden, and then he returned to the P-Bruins and scored just six goals over the final 37 games, including the playoffs.
Lysell took a hard hit up high from Hartford Wolfpack defenseman Adam Clendening in Game 3 of Providence's division semifinals series. It was a dirty hit, and Clendening was suspended three games as a result. Lysell didn't play in Game 4 when the P-Bruins were eliminated.
He finished with 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 54 AHL games, which aren't bad numbers at all, especially for a 20-year old playing against the best competition he's ever faced in a full season. Lysell still needs to be more consistent offensively, but there's a ton to like about his skill set. The shot, speed and playmaking ability are all really impressive. Additional experience in the AHL would serve him well, but there's a chance he could make his NHL debut next season.
1. Mason Lohrei, D
Lohrei had a strong 2022-23 season for Ohio State and helped lead the Buckeyes to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. He tallied a career-high 32 points (four goals, 28 assists) in 40 games for Ohio State.
Lohrei, who's listed at 6-foot-4 and 203 pounds, has a very good two-way skill set and plays with plenty of composure. He has an impressive offensive game as a playmaker and someone who can run a power play. He's an excellent skater, his positioning is consistently good and his shot has power. Lohrei is strong on breakouts, too, either by skating the puck out of the defensive zone and up ice himself or by delivering a hard, accurate pass to a teammate.
Lohrei has a bright future with top-four potential in the NHL. Getting some more AHL experience to adjust to the pro game and continue improving defensively would benefit him. It wouldn't be shocking if Lohrei got an NHL opportunity at some point next season, but the Bruins already have five left-shot defensemen on their roster in Hampus Lindholm, Matt Grzelcyk, Derek Forbort, Jakub Zboril and Mike Reilly. Dmitry Orlov is one, too, but also a free agent this summer.
The Bruins will be pretty close to the salary cap next season and likely for the foreseeable future. In order to re-sign veterans and make in-season trades, they'll need young, low-cost players to step into NHL roles and make an impact. Lohrei being one of those players would be a massive help for Boston.