With 11 free agents (eight unrestricted, three restricted) this summer and less than $5 million in cap space, the Bruins are going to have a lot of roster turnover before the 2023-24 season.
That means there should be an opportunity for some younger players to compete for roster spots and show that they’re ready to help the NHL team.
The two names that will get Bruins fans most excited are those of their top two prospects: right winger Fabian Lysell and defenseman Mason Lohrei.
So, will either be ready to stick in Boston this fall? Well… Bruins fans might have to be a little more patient.
Appearing on WEEI’s The Skate Podcast, Mark Divver, who covers the Providence Bruins and all things Rhode Island hockey for New England Hockey Journal, NHL.com and Rinkside Rhode Island, said he doesn’t anticipate either Lysell or Lohrei being NHL-ready to start the season.
Let’s start with Lysell. The 2021 first-round pick got off to a strong start in his first pro season, putting up 19 points in his first 20 AHL games through December. But then he struggled at World Juniors (zero points in seven games) and saw his production drop off in the second half (18 points in 34 games, including just one in his last eight). His season ended with a concussion suffered in the first round of the AHL playoffs.
“Well, he didn’t finish on a good note,” Divver said of Lysell. “He got knocked out by a concussion on a real cheap hit in the playoffs. But he wasn’t playing well at the end. After the World Juniors, his production fell way off. I hear people blaming it on fatigue, and he’s only 19 years old. He had a long season starting back last July with World Juniors training camp for Sweden. But just not… he’s got a long way to go in terms of developing the strength that’s needed to play against men. I think it showed as the season went on. He was losing puck battles and his play on the wall was not where it’s going to need to be, because of strength.
“He’s 19 years old [turned 20 in January]. He’s got a boy’s body. He needs to get some man strength. Whether he can do that between now and the start of camp this year, I’m sure he’ll be working on it. But that is something that needs attention. I just, frankly, I expected more out of him. I thought his numbers would be better. He had 37 points, which is not bad for a 19-year-old, first-year pro, but somehow I expected a little more. He could come in next year and have a great year and get the arrow pointing straight up on his development, but I would’ve liked to see a little more this year.”
Lohrei, a 2020 second-round pick, is two years older than Lysell (he turned 22 in January), but less experienced as a pro. Lohrei played a second season at Ohio State University this year, putting up 32 points in 40 games, before turning pro after the Buckeyes’ season ended. He played five regular-season and three playoff games for Providence.
Divver saw a defenseman who’s going to need some more seasoning.
“I don’t see him as a presence in the NHL next year,” he said of Lohrei. “Maybe in the second half of the year he could come up and play a game or two to fill in for someone who was injured. I just don’t think he’s there yet. I mean, he’s a fine prospect. He passes the eye test, skates really, really well for a guy that’s as long as he is. But the thing I noticed when he came to Providence – coaches now always talk about playing fast. That’s a big thing now in hockey. Mason Lohrei did not play fast in his time in Providence. I think that’s to be expected. The pace of the game in the American Hockey League is obviously a lot faster than it is in the Big Ten, or whatever college level you’re at.
“So, Mason was taking longer to process what was going on around him than he’s going to have to. Moving forward, he’s gonna have to speed that up, decide what he’s gonna do faster, move faster. But I think that’s something that some time in the American League is gonna solve. I expect to see stories over the summer and during development camp and training camp that, ‘Yeah, if he has a good camp, he could stick.’ And I’ll be reading those stories and thinking to myself, ‘No, I don’t see it.’ I think he needs some time in the minors, and I think the staff in Providence – Ryan Mougenel is tremendous with young defensemen.”
To that last point, Divver relayed a story about how the Providence coaches would review every puck touch Lohrei had with him, a level of individual attention that isn’t always possible with the busier NHL schedule.
Listen to the full podcast with Divver, which also includes his thoughts on Georgii Merkulov, Johnny Beecher, Marc McLaughlin, Brandon Bussi and other Bruins prospects, in the player above.