Bruins roster reset, top prospects update entering pivotal 2022 NHL offseason

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Bruins roster reset, top prospects update entering pivotal 2022 NHL offseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

There is a lot of work for Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney to do over the offseason if this team is going to make a deep run in the playoffs during the 2022-23 NHL season.

The B's roster has serious flaws, particularly at center, where Patrice Bergeron's future is the biggest storyline impacting the team. But Boston's issues go beyond center. This team has a concerning lack of scoring depth, and that was evident in the first-round playoff series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes when 15 of the 18 goals scored by Boston forwards were from the top-six.

With not many free agents to re-sign and no first-round pick in the upcoming 2022 NHL Draft, Sweeney might have to get creative in the trade market to make impactful upgrades to this group.

Here's a Bruins roster reset with an update on the team's top prospects as the offseason ramps up.

CENTERS

Center will be a closely watched position this offseason. Bergeron leaving would be a massive blow to the team. Not only is he still Boston's most valuable forward and an elite player, the franchise is woefully unprepared to replace him. Sure, replacing a Hall of Famer is always going to be tough, but the Bruins' lackluster drafting and poor player development at the position has left them with zero prospects or players already on the NHL roster capable of stepping into a top-six center role.

2022 NHL offseason: Full list of Bruins free agents, contracts to watch

Even if Bergeron stays, the Bruins still need to find another top-six center. Erik Haula filled that job well over the second half of the regular season, but he struggled to score in the playoffs and isn't the ideal No. 2 center on a title contender. One problem for the Bruins is the free agent market is pretty weak in regards to top-six centers. Can the Bruins convince Claude Giroux to come to Boston? He reportedly rejected them at the trade deadline in favor of the Florida Panthers.

Regardless of what Bergeron decides, the Bruins need to put a larger emphasis on drafting and developing centers. They had a decade to trade for, sign or draft suitable replacements for Bergeron and David Krejci and they've come up with nothing so far.

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LEFT WING

The Bruins have pretty strong depth at left wing, especially if DeBrusk remains in Boston next season despite his trade request. Marchand is the best all-around player at the position and signed for three more seasons at a very team-friendly $6.125 million salary cap hit. Hall is signed through 2024-25 at a reasonable cap hit of $6 million.

Nick Foligno was arguably the worst signing the Bruins made last summer. He had a poor finish to the 2020-21 campaign with the Toronto Maple Leafs but that didn't deter Sweeney from signing Foligno to a two-year deal with a $3.8 million cap hit. Foligno was awful, scoring just two goals in 64 games (and none in the playoffs). Good luck trading that contract.

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RIGHT WING

The Bruins could certainly use more depth at right wing. Head coach Bruce Cassidy was forced to use natural left winger Jake DeBrusk and natural center Curtis Lazar at right wing for large stretches of the season.

David Pastrnak had another stellar campaign with a team-leading 40 goals in 74 games. Only five players have scored more goals than Pastrnak since the start of the 2019-20 season. He is entering the final year of his contract in 2022-23. The Bruins should do everything possible to sign him to an eight-year extension. He's the most talented offensive player on the team.

Bruins GM gives update on potential David Pastrnak contract extension

Craig Smith had a decent regular season in 2020-21 after signing as a free agent. His second year in Boston was much worse, although he did battle injury at times. Smith tallied 36 points in 74 games -- only four more than he did last season when he played in just 54 games. He scored only one goal in his last 23 games, including the playoffs. Smith needs to be far more productive offensively for the Bruins to have the necessary scoring depth in the 2023 playoffs.

If top prospect Fabian Lysell proves to be NHL ready in the fall, he could provide the Bruins with a much-needed scoring punch at right wing.

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DEFENSEMAN

  • Charlie McAvoy, RD

  • Hampus Lindholm, LD

  • Brandon Carlo, RD

  • Matt Grzelcyk, LD

  • Connor Clifton, RD

  • Derek Forbort, LD

  • Mike Reilly, LD

  • Josh Brown, RD

  • Jack Ahcan, LD

The Bruins have arguably the best top pairing in the league with Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm. McAvoy is a top-five defenseman and Lindholm is a two-way star. They are both signed through 2029-30.

The drop off on Boston's blue line after those two veterans is a real problem, though. Brandon Carlo had a rough playoffs, and Matt Grzelcyk was even worse. In fairness, Grzelcyk was battling a shoulder injury that needs surgery.

Forbort was an excellent offseason pickup. He came as advertised -- a classic defensive defenseman who plays with physicality, blocks shots and kills penalties.

The Bruins didn't get very much scoring production from their blue line in Round 1 of the playoffs. Boston defenseman combined to tally nine points (two goals, seven assists), and five of them came from McAvoy himself. The Hurricanes' defensemen were much more potent offensively, and it was one of the major factors in the series.

One area where we could see some movement in the offseason is the left side of the blue line. There are five left-shooting defensemen on Boston's roster. Trading one of them -- perhaps Grzelcyk or Reilly -- for a middle-six forward would make sense.

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GOALIES

  • Jeremy Swayman

  • Linus Ullmark

The Bruins are well-positioned at goaltender going forward.

Swayman had a solid rookie season, posting a 23-14-3 record and a .914 save percentage in 41 appearances. He also won Rookie of the Month honors in February. Swayman replaced Ullmark as the postseason starter entering Game 3 and won three of the five games he played.

Overall, Swayman showed enough for the Bruins to be comfortable with him as the long-term starter in net.

Ullmark's presence on the roster is valuable, too. After a slow start -- which was not unexpected given the adjustment of playing in front of a new team and system -- Ullmark really found his stride in the second half of the season. The Swedish netminder was particularly strong over the final two months of the regular season when he outplayed Swayman and posted a .933 save percentage and a 1.81 GAA.

Swayman is entering the final year of his entry-level contract with a salary cap hit below $1 million. Ullmark has a $5 million cap hit next season. It's also the final year where Ullmark has a no-movement clause in his contract (it becomes a modified NTC in the final two seasons). There's no need to trade Ullmark to give Swayman the majority of the starts. The Bruins need two good goalies to get through the regular season and, between them, the team is dedicating just under $6 million in cap space to the position next year. When Swayman signs his next contract, that's when the team could maybe consider moving Ullmark to clear cap space. But there's absolutely no need to do it this summer.

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TOP PROSPECTS

  1. Fabian Lysell, RW, Vancouver Giants (WHL)

  2. Mason Lohrei, D, Ohio State (NCAA)

  3. Brett Harrison, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)

  4. Georgi Merkulov, C/LW, Providence Bruins (AHL)

  5. Jack Studnicka, C, Providence Bruins (AHL)

The Bruins rank near the bottom of most prospect rankings. The Athletic rated Boston's prospect pool the sixth-worst in the league in its January rankings.

The only prospects with star potential are Fabian Lysell and Mason Lohrei.

Lysell had an awesome season for the Vancouver Giants. He tallied 62 points (22 goals, 40 assists) in 53 games during the regular season and played even better in the playoffs with 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) in 12 games. Lysell led the Giants to a historic first-round upset over the No. 1 seeded Everett Silvertips.

Lysell has the potential to be a top-six star at the NHL level. He's only played one season in North America, though, so a full year in the AHL might benefit him. That said, if he has a strong training camp, it wouldn't be shocking if the Bruins gave him a chance to prove himself in the NHL early in the 2022-23 season.

Lohrei has skyrocketed up the list of top Bruins prospects with an excellent two-way skill set at Ohio State. He's a big, smart and well-rounded defenseman who could fill a top-four role in a few years. Lohrei is headed back to the Buckeyes for his sophomore season, per WEEI's Scott McLaughlin, so he probably won't factor into the Bruins' blue line in 2022-23. But there is much to be excited about in regards to Lohrei's development.

Outside of Lysell and Lohrei, there aren't any B's prospects to be super excited about. Johnny Beecher, who recently signed his entry-level contract, had a disappointing season on a loaded University of Michigan squad. He scored just six goals in 34 games. He was Boston's first-round pick in 2019.

The Bruins need a center prospect to develop into a useful middle-six player, and Brett Harrison might be the best hope for that. Harrison was a 2021 third-round pick and tallied 61 points (27 goals, 34 assists) in 65 games for the OHL's Oshawa Generals last season. Keep an eye on his progress.