20 Under 25: Bruins' exciting young core is starting to take shape

20 Under 25: Bruins' exciting young core is starting to take shape

20 Under 25: Bruins' exciting young core is starting to take shape originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins haven't integrated a ton of young players into meaningful roles at the NHL level over the last 15 years. Some of that is attributed to poor drafting, but it's more because of so many veteran players -- Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, etc. -- playing so well for so long, more than 10 years in some cases.

The Bruins have been a contender in the Eastern Conference for much of the last 15 seasons. As a result, the team has been very willing to trade prospects and draft picks for immediate help. This has depleted the prospect pool and made it harder to replenish the system. Making the playoffs almost every year doesn't earn you high draft picks, either. Just two of the Bruins' own picks have been in the lottery since 2009.

After more than a decade of a Bergeron-Krejci-Chara-Rask core, the team is finally building the next wave of long-term Bruins. General manager Don Sweeney has taken plenty of criticism for the team's lack of success in the draft since he took over the role just prior to the infamous 2015 NHL Draft. But a lot of his picks have actually turned out pretty well.

The team's mismanagement of the No. 13, No. 14 and No. 15 overall picks in the first round in 2015 has been well-documented. They could have had Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor and Thomas Chabot; instead, they ended up with Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn. We don't have to relitigate that draft for the 100th time, but it's important to remember that DeBrusk is a top-six winger and Brandon Carlo (a 2015 second-round pick) is a top-four defenseman. That's not a bad haul.

In 2016 the Bruins chose Boston University defenseman Charlie McAvoy -- a top-five player at his position in 2023 -- instead of his Terriers teammate Dante Fabbro. It was a franchise-altering choice. Boston also selected Trent Frederic near the end of the first round in 2016. It took him a few years to hit his stride, but he's currently on pace to score 20-plus goals for the first time in a power-forward role.

The following year, the Bruins found University of Maine goalie Jeremy Swayman in the fourth round. He currently ranks fifth in second percentage and third in GAA, and potentially could be a Vezina Trophy finalist this season.

The abundance of veteran departures over the offseason opened the door for young players to make the NHL roster in camp and the preseason at a level rarely seen in Boston of late.

Two recent draft picks took advantage of the opportunity: Matthew Poitras (2022 second-round pick) and John Beecher (2019 first-round pick). Talented right wing Fabian Lysell (2021 first-round pick) could be next to get a chance in Boston. Defenseman Mason Lohrei (2020 second-round pick) recently played 10 games for the B's before heading back to Providence two weeks ago.

Sure, the Bruins have whiffed on a bunch of draft picks in the last decade. Which team hasn't? But since 2014, they've also drafted the league's best right wing (David Pastrnak), a top-five defenseman (McAvoy) a top-10 goalie (Swayman) and other players who are, or likely soon will play meaningful roles at the NHL level. That's not too bad.

A core of Pastrnak, McAvoy, Swayman, Poitras, Lohrei and others (Lysell?) for the next seven to 10 years is an exciting prospect for the Bruins and their fans. This franchise has only one Stanley Cup title (2011) since 1972, but few teams in the league do a better job of staying relevant and competitive than the Bruins.

Here's a look at the five Bruins candidates in this year's "20 Under 25" contest. (Editor's Note: You can vote in this year's contest here or in the voting module at the bottom of this article.)

Matthew Poitras, C

Poitras was the No. 1 story of training camp and the preseason when he parlayed a surprisingly excellent performance into a spot on the Opening Night roster. His performance over the first nine games -- three goals, two assists -- led to the Bruins keeping him beyond game No. 10 and thus burning the first year of his entry-level contract.

Poitras has impressive poise with the pick, very good playmaking ability, an underrated shot and a willingness to fight for puck possession despite his lack of size.

Consistency is a battle he has yet to win. Poitras has one goal and three assists over his last 13 games. That said, 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 24 games for a player not expected to make an impact until 2024-25 is pretty good.

John Beecher, C

Boston's 2019 first-round pick won the fourth-line center role in camp. He has just five points (four goals, one assist) in 23 games, but he's making a strong impact defensively.

Beecher leads the team with a 56.2 faceoff win percentage. He also ranks fifth on the team in shorthanded ice time per game among forwards. He has started fewer than 15 percent of his shifts in the attacking zone, a sign that head coach Jim Montgomery trusts the rookie center in defensive situations.

The University of Michigan product brings a physical, defensive presence to the ice each shift, along with a little offensive production. He's been a nice fit on the fourth line.

Fabian Lysell, RW

Lysell didn't show enough in camp and the preseason to win an Opening Night roster spot, but it wouldn't be surprising if he makes his NHL debut at some point in 2023-24. The Swedish winger has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 18 games for the AHL's Providence Bruins this season.

Lysell's speed and goal-scoring ability are among the reasons why expectations remain high for him.

Jakub Lauko, LW/RW

Lauko missed seven games after suffering a nasty cut from a skate blade that just missed his eye. When on the ice, Lauko provides a physical presence, above-average speed and a little offense in a fourth-line role.

Mason Lohrei, D

Lohrei played 10 games while Matt Grzelcyk was out of the lineup. The Ohio State product showed his impressive playmaking skill, smooth skating and ability to create offense for himself and teammates. That area of his game is already NHL-caliber.

He needs work defensively, which is why he went back to the AHL last week. Opponents outshot the B's and created more scoring chances at 5-on-5 during Lohrei's 10-game showing. Boston also was outscored 11-7 at 5-on-5 with Lohrei on the ice.

Lohrei still projects to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL. Nothing has changed in that regard. He's just not totally ready for a full-time role in Boston yet.