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In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock this offseason, the 2023-24 Bruins depth chart is going to look very, very different from the 2022-23 iteration that rewrote the record books (during the regular season, at least).
Boston lost franchise stalwarts Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to retirement, while other fixtures and valuable contributors like Taylor Hall, Tyler Bertuzzi, Dmitry Orlov, Nick Foligno, Connor Clifton, Garnet Hathaway, and Tomas Nosek are all playing elsewhere.
As the Bruins look to retool their roster, Don Sweeney and Boston’s front-office staff are hoping internal candidates like Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle take big steps forward.
Boston doled out plenty of contracts this summer in hopes that the likes of Milan Lucic,James van Riemsdyk, Morgan Geekie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Patrick Brown, Danton Heinen, Alex Chiasson, and Jesper Boqvist can shore up other vacancies up and down the lineup.
But as the Bruins begin a new chapter without pillars like Bergeron and Krejci in place, could this be the season where an influx of young talent carve out regular roles?
Here’s a rundown of some younger players to keep tabs on, especially with rookie camp set to open on Wednesday morning at Warrior Ice Arena.
If the Bruins are looking to find viable candidates for a fourth-line role, it might be good to start with the player who was one of the final cuts from the 2022 training camp roster.
The former Boston College captain and North Billerica native isn’t a flashy player. But the 24-year-old can play both center and wing, has an underrated shot, and boasts a sound two-way game.
After a solid first season in Providence in 2022-23 (13 goals, 30 points in 66 games), McLaughlin will likely get another shot at trying to carve out a spot at 4C or 4RW with Boston this fall.
Steen is in the same camp as McLaughlin as a relatively polished player in the AHL ranks who’s looking to land a larger role moving forward. The 25-year-old forward has appeared in 26 total games with the Bruins over the last three seasons, posting seven points (three goals, four assists) over that stretch.
With 193 games of experience (and 100 points) with Providence, Steen has little left to prove in the AHL. But it remains to be seen if the 5-foot-9 forward has the skillset to consistently stick in the lineup at the NHL level.
Beecher is one of the more intriguing prospects in Boston’s system.
When it comes to sizing up his potential in the NHL, most tend to hone in on his standing as a former first-round pick (just the second Boston has had in the last five years) and his lack of production so far down in Providence (23 points in 61 games).
Now 22 years old, Beecher likely doesn’t project as a top-six pivot in the NHL.
But as a fourth-line fixture down the middle? There’s a lot to like if he continues to round out his game.
Beecher is arguably the best skater in Boston’s system, with that fleet-footed skillset complimented by a 6-foot-3, 209-pound frame.
Even if he doesn’t necessarily boast a high-end offensive game, Beecher could be a menace against NHL competition thanks to his forechecking ability and physical presence.
If he continues to take steps forward in his development, he could fit into the mold of a Sean Kuraly — with a bit more of a prickly disposition.
He likely isn’t an odds-on favorite to earn a roster spot out of camp, but Beecher has a tremendous opportunity in front of him if he keeps building his game. Even though players like Patrick Brown sit ahead of him at 4C, the chances should be there for Beecher to leapfrog a few NHLers on the depth chart in 2023-24.
With both Bergeron and Krejci hanging up their skates this summer, all eyes are focused on Boston’s crop of center prospects in hopes of some internal reinforcements in the coming years.
Boston’s inability to draft and develop a proven top-six pivot over the past decade has loomed over a franchise operating on borrowed time as Bergeron and Krejci grew older.
But some hope does reside in 19-year-old Matthew Poitras, who has seen his stock soar since Boston selected him in the second round of the 2022 NHL Draft.
A poised and crafty playmaker, Poitras stuffed the stat sheet last season with the OHL’s Guelph Storm — scoring 16 goals and dishing out 79 assists over 63 games.
Poitras impressed during July’s Development Camp, with his patience with the puck and processing ability allowing him to orchestrate Grade-A looks.
He may not be an explosive skater, but Poitras has a knack for driving toward Grade-A ice and capitalizing off of a collapsing defensive structure. Rarely does he skate to the outside and wait for passing lanes to develop.
Poitras has plenty of upside, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he gets an extended look during camp and preseason action. Still, it might be asking a lot for a teenager to go from the OHL to the NHL in the span of one season.
In some respects, Poitras is in unenviable no-man’s land as far as his preseason path.
If he doesn’t make the Bruins roster this fall, he cannot be re-assigned to Providence and will have to report to Guelph — where he will likely put up an impressive stat line, but won’t be tested to the same degree as he would against AHL competition.
Poitras may be at least another year away, but he’s worth watching this preseason for the Bruins. There’s a lot to like here.
Unlike other Providence regulars like Beecher, McLaughlin, and Steen, Merkulov holds a bit more promise thanks to his higher offensive ceiling.
The 22-year-old forward has rewarded the Bruins after they signed him after his freshman season at Ohio State. He earned a spot on the AHL’s 2022-23 All-Rookie Team, leading Providence in scoring with 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists) over 67 games.
Merkulov has the offensive tools to be a middle-six regular at the next level. But he’ll have to shore up his play down the other end of the ice if he wants to regularly earn minutes with the Bruins in the years ahead.
Expect Merkulov to earn plenty of looks during preseason play this month. But given the assortment of NHL veterans and PTO candidates already on the roster, Merkulov might need to marinate in Providence a bit longer before earning a legitimate shot up with Boston.
Signed by Boston last month after an impressive collegiate career at Harvard, the 22-year-old Farinacci has arguably already asserted himself as one of the Bruins’ most promising pivot prospects next to Poitras.
Even though he may not have the offensive upside of a Poitras, Farinacci is projected to be an effective two-way center in the pro game if his development goes smoothly.
He’s yet to face AHL/NHL competition, but Farinacci’s refined game should allow him to hit the ground (or ice) running this fall, whether it be with Providence or Boston.
It doesn’t take very long to see why Lysell was a highly-regarded prospect taken in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft.
Given Boston’s dearth of high-end talent found within its prospect pipeline, Lysell has been a breath of fresh air. The 20-year-old Swede is already a plus-skater with a knack for both gliding into Grade-A ice and carving up defenses with an array of dangles and dekes.
This stands as a pivotal camp for Lysell, who is looking to put an AHL campaign marked with plenty of ups and downs in the rearview mirror.
Still, questions remain about Lysell’s ability to withstand the physical toll of pro hockey, as well as both his defensive game and his overall competitive level.
The Bruins should give him every opportunity to fight for a roster spot during camp. But much like Merkulov, Lysell has quite the uphill climb if he wants to beat out the likes of Frederic, Geekie, Heinen, Chiasson, and others for a middle-six spot on the wing.
The Bruins are already expected to return most of the same blue-line grouping that led the NHL in goals against last season.
But an already talented segment of the roster could receive yet another major lift if a blue-chip prospect like Lohrei carves out a role with Boston.
It remains to be seen what Lohrei’s floor is now that the 22-year-old blueliner has gone pro. But his ceiling is also sky-high, given his unique skill set.
There are plenty of young defensemen across hockey who have poised, playmaking capabilities like Lohrei (61 points in 71 games at Ohio State). But few offensive-minded D-men also hop over the boards at 6-foot-4 and 209 pounds.
At the next level, Lohrei could carve out a role as a third-pairing, power-play specialist who is better suited for a bevy of sheltered O-zone starts. Or if he really hits, he could become Boston’s version of John Carlson.
But as tantalizing as Lohrei’s game is, patience should be preached when it comes to his development this season. He’s a gifted playmaker, but Lohrei stands to benefit from some reps down in Providence this winter, especially as he continues to stabilize his D-zone play.
Add in the fact that Boston’s D corps is already chock full of established NHLers, and a lot has to fall Lohrei’s way for him to start the year with the Bruins. A late-season promotion might be the best course for him, especially if he helps push Boston over the top ahead of a potential playoff push.
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