(Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Cameron Hubscher, who attended the recent Prospects Challenge tournament in Buffalo and volunteered his insight on Bruins prospects. Instead of a post rehashing what we saw in the tournament, he elected to do a more detailed piece on Mason Lohrei. We appreciate his insight.)
It’s an exciting, is a little bit nerve-wracking, time for Boston Bruins fans.
A new season means new opportunities for the up-and-comers in the system to push for a spot on the Opening Night roster.
While a spot out of training camp is not guaranteed, Mason Lohrei is certainly a player to watch.
The mobile, slick defender is considered one of the top prospects in the Bruins pipeline. After watching him perform at the Buffalo Sabres Prospect Challenge, here are two reasons Lohrei will be in the NHL sooner rather than later.
Note: All clips have been taken from a single game (Bruins vs. Canadiens in the Prospects Challenge) for the sake of consistency.
A unique blend of size and style of play
Lohrei is now listed at 6’5” and weighing 211 lbs, placing him on the taller side of the scale for NHL players. But his ability to generate offense separates him from your typical big man on the backend.
Similar to defenders like Brent Burns and soon-to-be star Owen Power, Lohrei sees his large wingspan as an advantage on the offensive side of the puck.
While those are lofty comparables and it will take significant growth in his play to reach the same level of performance as those two players, he possesses a similar build and style of play.
His style of play is that of a “two-way” defender. At the moment, he executes better in the offensive zone, but his play at the Prospects Challenge demonstrated massive strides from his draft season to his last season with the Buckeyes.
Due to his long reach and mobility, his active stick is his best asset. He challenges opponents early, breaking up plays before they reach dangerous areas in the defensive zone:
This aggressive style works well against college-caliber forwards — now, the task will be to take on stronger, faster NHL forwards.
(More likely than not, going against the likes of Milan Lucic in practice during training camp will be an eye-opener for the young Lohrei.)
In transition, he plays like the prototypical defenseman hockey fans have become accustomed to watching over the last 5-10 years in the NHL.
He uses his skating to be a one-man breakout or draw attention to himself so that he can move the puck and make in-stride passes to his teammates:
One particular ability that stood out in transition is how well he maneuvers his opponents into doing what he wants them to do and moves where he wants them to move. He uses deception through puck manipulations and weight shifts as he moves up the ice, and keeps the forecheckers guessing:
In the offensive zone, Lohrei is often moving into in prime positioning to receive passes from a teammate:
He is also an excellent quarterback on the power play. Lohrei doesn’t “over stick-handle” the puck. Instead, he keeps the puck positioned in a way that he can move efficiently along the blue line, pass to his options on either side, or shoot the puck.
In other words, he is always ready to release the puck:
He also presents himself in an extremely elusive way. At the point, Lohrei straddles the line on his inside edges, allowing for more explosive movements in whichever direction he decides to go. It also prevents the defender from attacking him dead-on.
Another reason to get excited about Lohrei is his high shot rate. During his final year in the USHL, Lohrei scored an outstanding 19 goals in 48 games as a defenseman.
Undoubtedly, being a dominant player in the league allowed for a greater number of shots than he would typically get against higher competition.
And yet, in his most recent college season at Ohio State, Lohrei produced an impressive 2.35 shots on goal/game. As a defenseman, this is extremely impressive.
(This rate of production is similar to an earlier comparable: Brent Burns has been known to be a shot machine from the point through his career, averaging 2.77 shots on goal/game.)
With his desire to get shots through from the point, Lohrei has the making of a high offensive contributor.
The “Draft + 1” & college ascension: comparable stars in the NHL today
While researching Lohrei, the first thing that stood out was that he was passed up in his first year of eligibility at the NHL draft.
As a result, I decided to find similar career paths for elite defensemen who took longer to get drafted, played outside of Canadian major junior, then played college hockey, and/or played outside of Canadian major junior or college after their draft year.
I came up with three names: Devon Toews, Jacob Slavin, and Brandon Montour.
Listed below are descriptions of their ascensions and they relate to Lohrei:
- Devon Toews: Drafted as a 20 year old after getting passed over twice while playing in the BCHL, a Junior A hockey league in British Columbia, Canada. Only after playing an entire season with Quinnipiac did he get drafted. He then spent another two seasons in the NCAA. In his last season, Toews produced 30 pts in 40 games. This is an extremely similar production rate to Lohrei’s (32 pts in 40 games). In comparison, both players were passed up while playing Tier 2 junior and producing exceptionally well in those leagues. They then produced at similar rates in the NCAA for 2 years after they were drafted.
- Jacob Slavin: Jacob Slavin was drafted at 18, differentiating him from Lohrei. But his comparable is after being drafted, Slavin went back to the USHL for an entire season before going to college. With both Lohrei and Slavin playing their Draft + 1 season in the USHL, it primed them for success at the NCAA level. It is worth mentioning that Slavin and Lohrei play a very different style of game, yet their ascension to success in hockey follows a very similar trajectory. They both dominated in their respective play styles at the USHL level following being drafted and proceeded to 2 seasons in the NCAA before turning pro.
- Brandon Montour: Brandon Montour’s story is highly unique. Playing in the GOJHL, a Junior B hockey league in Ontario, Canada, during his Draft year and Draft +1 year, he only made his way to the USHL during his 20-year-old season. After an impressive performance, putting up 62 pts in 60 games for the Waterloo Blackhawks, the Ducks drafted him in the second round of the 2014 NHL draft. The interesting comparison between Montour and Lohrei is their 20-year-old season in the USHL and their point production the following year with their respective college teams. Both defensemen produced over a point per game in the USHL (Montour 62 pts in 60 games & Lohrei 59 pts in 48 games) and nearly a point per game in their freshman season in the NCAA (Montour with 20 pts in 21 games & Lohrei with 29 pts in 31 games).
There is no doubt that Lohrei is an unfinished product.
In watching the Prospects Challenge games, there were many times when he forced passes and mismanaged pucks. There will be a learning process as he transitions from the college-style game to the pro ranks.
He will have to continue adding urgency to his game and refine the timing of lower-percentage plays.
Ultimately, it is a luxury that the Bruins should only have to refine his natural abilities.
With an impressive build, a unique style of play for his build, and an elevation to his game wherever he plays, Lohrei has all the tools to become a difference-maker for the Bruins.
Combined with an interesting comparison to other players who were passed over in the Draft or took extra time in juniors before going to college, there is evidence that Lohrei can follow the trend and jump into a role as an NHL regular with just a little time in the AHL.
(Editor’s Note #2: Cameron wrote this piece prior to the start of the preseason. Lohrei has had a pretty decent preseason showing thus far, solidifying many of the points Cameron makes.)