Just a day after 19-year-old Matthew Poitras earned a full-time spot up in Boston, another top Bruins prospect is poised to make his NHL debut against the Maple Leafs on Thursday night at TD Garden.
Boston announced on Wednesday morning that it recalled defenseman Mason Lohrei up from Providence, with the playmaking blueliner expected to step into one of the two starting roles vacated following Matt Grzelcyk’s upper-body injury and Charlie McAvoy’s four-game suspension.
Lohrei, who was packing his bags with his teammates down in Providence ahead of a road trip down to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, got the call into the coaches’ office at 12:27 p.m. on Tuesday. The P-Bruins’ bus was scheduled to depart at 12:30 p.m.
“Obviously, great to be back,” Lohrei said Wednesday after practice. “Happy to be here. Ready to get to work.”
Lohrei was one of three Providence D-men called on Thursday, joined by Ian Mitchell and Parker Wotherspoon.
During Wednesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, Lohrei skated with Brandon Carlo, with Bruins coach Jim Montgomery noting that the 22-year-old rookie will likely log heavy minutes out of the gate.
“We heard he’s just getting better and better since the season started, which is a sign of a guy who is a good hockey player,” Montgomery said of Lohrei. “In camp, he was excellent. So we feel he can go in and do a really good job for us — playing alongside Carlo. … I think you’re gonna see him out there a lot.
“We think he’s ready for this league and we think that he’s gonna play well in this league. I don’t know what the minutes are gonna be, but he’s playing top-four minutes so it should be anywhere from 18 to — depending on special teams.”
Even though Boston opted to send Lohrei down to the AHL for additional seasoning at the end of training camp, the 2020 second-round pick accelerated his path to the NHL ranks thanks to a strong preseason slate.
Lohrei already boasted a high ceiling as an NHLer given his profile as a playmaking defenseman. But his 6-foot-5, 211-pound frame makes him a unique and valued prospect capable of both eating up heavy minutes in the D-zone and landing punches down the other end of the ice.
“I think everybody starts to see the talent and the vision that he has the creativity, the confidence to be able to execute offensively,” Don Sweeney said of Mason’s play last month. “Whether that’s from his own goal line or the offensive blue line. The biggest adjustment to the National Hockey League is really defending against the top players … because they lean on you, and they press you. Mason’s going to have to continue to go through that. There’ll be some growing pains associated with it.”
As Lohrei navigates the elevated competition found in the NHL ranks, especially on Thursday against Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and a stacked Toronto forward corps, Carlo will look to provide a steadying presence next to him as a stout, stay-at-home defender.
It’s a mentorship role that has come full circle for Carlo, who began his NHL career in Boston while skating alongside Zdeno Chara on Boston’s top D pairing in 2016.
“Overall, I think just the biggest things that I’ve learned from Zee, especially in these early stages of playing together, is communication on the ice,” Carlo said Wednesday. “And as long as we’re doing that, we’re going to sort things out in the defensive zone, through the neutral zone and whatnot.
“When we get back on the bench, just if he sees something that he wants me to do differently, that’s the way you build the chemistry between a pairing. So I think for both of us, just continuing to communicate as much as possible. He’s a smooth skater, great player, and he’s going to do just fine.”
The Bruins might have to field a D corps with three AHL call-ups in place on Thursday against Toronto. Not only will Lohrei and likely Mitchell need to slot in for Grzelcyk and McAvoy, but Montgomery noted on Wednesday that Derek Forbort is “questionable” to play due to an injury.