Hockey is officially back!
The Boston Bruins began their preseason captain’s practices on September 12 as many of the team’s veteran corps returned to the ice for the first time since last May. Following the main event, several Bruins’ prospects took the ice as well hoping to catch the eye of a few coaches.
Among the youngsters skating at Warrior Arena on Monday morning were notable names Fabian Lysell and John Beecher, both former first round picks looking to make the leap to the NHL ranks this season. While Boston continues to develop younger talent, that goal carries significant importance this year with several veterans set to hit free agency following the 2022-23 campaign.
While it’s uncertain which of these prospects will pan out, let’s break things down into tiers to see who might be seeing NHL ice time this season.
Tier 1: Ready to go!
F Oskar Steen, F Jack Studnicka, D Jack Ahcan
A light list here but it’s not always about how or where you start the season. Oskar Steen is the most ready of the bunch and is likely set to start the year as a fourth-line winger in Boston. He’s already seen action in 23 NHL games, registering six points, and finished last season with 15 goals and 20 assists for Providence in the AHL.
Studnicka has seen slightly more top-level action than Steen with 37 NHL games to his credit, yet only seven points and a minus-6 rating to show for it. In Providence last year, Studnicka has 35 points (10g, 25a) in 41 games and showed a more physical, playmaking edge than in the past.
As for Ahcan, the former Hobey Baker Award finalist is entering his age-25 season and perhaps facing his last shot to become a regular contributor for Boston. With the likes of Jakub Zboril, Connor Clifton, and veteran Derek Forbort ahead of him on the depth chart, Ahcan needs to show the same savviness he has during AHL action this preseason to really enter the conversation. There’s no doubt he can hang at the NHL level, but likely as more of depth piece.
Tier 2: By season’s end
F Fabian Lysell, F John Beecher, F Marc McLaughlin
This trio is by far the most intriguing group in this tier list. All three lack experience but bring an exciting upside and amount of pedigree to the table.
Starting with Lysell, who we wrote an extended feature on this summer looking at his upcoming first professional season. The same prediction rings true as Lysell will need a little time to adjust to the pro game before making the jump to the NHL. Regardless of how long that takes, it’s likely Lysell will be seeing regular playing time in Boston by the end of the season.
Beecher is another talented forward with no NHL experience yet and only nine games at the pro level for Providence. While his three-year stay at the University of Michigan might have been underwhelming, Beecher adjusted to the AHL quickly and had five points in nine games to close last season, along with an assist in two postseason games. He should get the call to Boston at some point later this season and could prove to be a solid depth piece with the size and skill to compete at the top level.
As for McLaughlin, the local product played four years at Boston College before signing an entry-level deal last spring with the Bruins. The Billerica, Mass. native played in 11 games for Boston, scoring three goals, before reverting back to Providence for the final regular season game and playoffs. McLaughlin will see an extended look in Providence this year and could make his way back up to the NHL level later in the year, having already gained some organizational trust.
Tier 3: Dark horses
F Joona Koppanen, F Vinnie Lettieri, F Samuel Asselin, D Victor Berglund, D Kai Wissmann
These three forwards and two defensemen could be top contributors all year long for Providence in AHL play, perhaps levying that effort into an NHL call-up.
Koppanen will be entering his sixth season with the Bruins organization coming off a career year where he put up 30 points and was a plus-21. Lettieri is a little older at 27, having split time between the AHL and NHL levels for the past few seasons with the New York Rangers and Anaheim Ducks. His experience could propel him back up to the top level should injuries begin to mount.
Asselin is a similar story to Brazeau, perhaps the biggest success story from the last few years for Providence. Last year was his best season yet, registering eight goals and 22 assists in a team-high 68 games. This might be the year he finally turns the corner, but at 24 he is running out of time.
On the back end, the Bruins need to keep developing depth. Berglund is an interesting case having spent two years in his native Sweden before returning stateside for Providence. In his first full AHL season, Berglund made strides but still lacks the true pro experience to be considered for an immediate NHL call-up.
As for Wissmann, the 26-year-old signed with Boston in June after playing in the German top flight since 2015. Wissmann helped lead his club, Eisbaren Berlin, to its second DEL title last year and followed that up with seven points in eight games for Germany at the IIHF World Championship. It will be interesting to see how he fares early on for Providence, but his 6-foot-4 stature and prior experience indicate he should need little time to adjust.
Tier 4: Keep an eye on
F Jakub Lauko, F Georgii Merkulov, F Justin Brazeau, D Michael Callahan, G Brandon Bussi
These next five players likely need a full year in the AHL before entering the conversation for a spot on the Boston roster.
Lauko will be entering his fourth season in the AHL, at only 22-years-old, and while his point production was down last year he still has the experience and the talent to make it to the NHL. Merkulov was brought in late last season after going one-and-done at Ohio State. The 21-year-old Russian had five points in eight games for Providence after putting up 34 points in 36 games for the Buckeyes.
Brazeau is a similar story as Asselin, having advanced from the ECHL ranks to Providence. After beginning the year with 20 points in his first 18 games for the ECHL Maine Mariners, Brazeau moved up the ladder and put up 31 points in 51 games for Providence. His 6-foot-5 frame and sneaky scoring ability makes him a potential longshot for an NHL call in the near future.
Callahan is no stranger to the Ocean State having played four years at Providence College. He saw action in 15 games last year in the AHL and full season there could be enough to push him into the NHL conversation next season.
In net, Bussi led his Western Michigan team to a 24-10-1 record and an NCAA Tournament berth last year before signing with Boston. In a small sample size at the AHL level, Bussi went 3-2-0 with a .920 save percentage. He will only continue to get better as he sees more ice time and learns alongside veteran backup Keith Kinkaid in Providence this year.