The Bruins showed off their depth on Sunday, beating the Carolina Hurricanes -- the second-place team in the East -- on the road despite resting Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Hampus Lindholm, and having Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno and Derek Forbort still out injured.
Skate Pod: Bruins sweep Lightning, Hurricanes
They could be on the verge of adding another player who would provide even more depth in the present, and hopefully be much more than that in the future. A little closer to home, down in Bridgeport, Conn., Mason Lohrei’s season ended when his Ohio State Buckeyes lost to Quinnipiac in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
And with that, Lohrei Watch is on. Lohrei, the Bruins’ second-round pick in 2020, is one of their top two prospects along with right wing Fabian Lysell, who has spent this season with AHL Providence. Considered a bit of a reach when the Bruins selected him 58th overall, Lohrei now looks like anything but with the way he has developed over the last few years.
As a freshman last year, Lohrei had 29 points in 31 games, a rate of offensive production that trailed only 2021 fourth overall pick Luke Hughes among freshman defensemen.
As a sophomore this year, Lohrei had 32 points (4 goals, 28 assists) in 40 games. While the offensive output stayed roughly the same, Lohrei continued to develop his all-around game while also working his way back from offseason knee surgery. He was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team and was one of three finalists for the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
This weekend’s regional served as a showcase for Lohrei, especially Friday’s 8-1 win over Harvard. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound defenseman had a goal, two assists and four shots on goal in that game and was a plus-4. He was dominant at both ends of the ice and could seemingly do whatever he wanted against a Crimson team that had a very good season, but a very bad day.
The assist below, in particular, was an example of Lohrei’s Hampus Lindholm-esque ability to use his size and skating to escape forecheckers and singlehandedly turn defense into offense. Lohrei is No. 6 in red.
Sunday didn’t go as well for the Buckeyes. Despite outshooting Quinnipiac 35-17, they fell 4-1 to the No. 2 team in the country. Lohrei was a minus-3, which is a tough stat line obviously, but he still had some impressive shifts, including the one below where he showed off his shiftiness and playmaking a couple times.
Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold raved about Lohrei after the game, flat-out saying that he “should probably be in the NHL right now and probably will be in about a day or two, is my guess.”
That remains to be seen, but it is certainly not out of the question. Pecknold is not alone in believing that Lohrei is ready to make the jump from college to the pros; ESPN’s John Buccigross and Colby Cohen said as much during their broadcasts of his games this weekend. If the Bruins and Lohrei are on the same page in believing that as well, the defenseman could sign with Boston early this week. General manager Don Sweeney was in Bridgeport to watch Lohrei on Sunday.
With Derek Forbort injured, the Bruins could make room for an eighth defenseman and get Lohrei into a couple NHL games before the end of the regular season. The downside to doing so is that it would burn a year of control off Lohrei’s entry-level contract. The upside is that they would get a better idea of how Lohrei’s game translates to the pros right now and whether he could factor into their postseason depth chart picture.
Expecting Lohrei to be a regular contributor right away, a la Charlie McAvoy upon leaving Boston University in 2017, is probably a stretch. But potentially moving ahead of someone like Jakub Zboril into the eighth spot (when everyone’s healthy) on the D depth chart wouldn’t seem to be out of the question. Even if he proves to not be NHL-ready, playing for Providence during an AHL playoff run would be a valuable experience.
The other option, of course, is for Lohrei to go back to Ohio State for his junior season. That would probably be disappointing for some Bruins fans who are ready to see Lohrei, especially since he’s already 22 and especially since the Bruins are likely to lose some of their defensive depth this summer. But he has developed well in his two years there, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world, and shouldn’t be ruled out.
You can never have too much depth. The Bruins know that, and they’ve shown they already have a lot of it, including in Sunday’s undermanned win over Carolina. Now we wait to see if they add even more by signing Lohrei this week.