By: Andrew Johnson | Follow Me On Twitter @justyouknowwhyyy
No sport elicits such deep discussions over our team’s respective team’s drafts and prospects quite like hockey. We hem and haw over attributes like speed, awareness, hands, size, compete level, a 200-foot game, et al, but no matter what, it’s an inexact science with even the Scott Wheelers and Corey Pronmans of the world – considered to be the foremost authorities on the subject – having success rates akin to your local weathermen. When it comes to those diamonds in the rough: the kids in the lower rounds who you swear are going to be the next Henrik Zetterberg, or at the very least the next Michael Ryder, hockey fans tend to be effusive and insistent that these guys will climb the mountain.
What about the players in the American Hockey League? The thousands of players who start from the ostensible bottom after their amateur careers finish up? The college and junior free agents who sign minor league deals in the AHL and even in some cases lower down the pecking order in the ECHL? There is a 2-4% success rate of those players securing deals in the pros, whether they be NHL contracts or their two-way counterparts, The Bruins have had a surprising amount of success over the years finding those said diamonds.
With Defenseman Connor Clifton recently turning an AHL deal into a 3 year NHL contract, not far behind was Slovakian Winger Robert Lantosi turning an AHL deal into a one-year, two-way contract this past April; this proves if you can play no matter your path, a league will come calling. The Bruins as an organization like to fill their coffers in this way, and there are four kids right now that fit into this category, and even though the odds aren’t in their favor, never tell them the odds! Every one of them to a man has a puncher’s chance at working their way up the pecking order, the long shots: Alex-Olivier Voyer, Andrew Peski, Cooper Zech, and Brady Lyle.
Alex-Olivier Voyer – RW – Sherbrooke
In April of 2020, the Bruins signed the 21-year-old right-shooting, right-winger to a two-year AHL deal. A graduate of the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix after starting his Junior career with the Rimouski Oceanic, Voyer’s calling cards are an aggressive style and leadership qualities. A prototypical power forward with a propensity to drop the gloves and a resident of “the dirty areas.” Voyer has a scoring touch that saw his last two years garnering even split among his points (73 goals and 73 assists for 146 points in 131 games), and though the ‘Q’ is notorious for bloated scoring numbers, especially among their 19-20-year-old contingent.
Voyer’s development curve into a productive power forward in a league that prioritizes speed and shiftiness oversize and grit is very encouraging and makes him someone to keep an eye on. He possesses the skills that Bruins fans crave en masse. Look for Voyer to ply his trade in Providence’s bottom 6 while he refines his defensive game.
Andrew Peski – D – North Dakota
BNG’s own Michael Digiorgio did an excellent deep dive into the 23-year-old Peski’s journey from a 4 year Stalwart on the North Dakota Blue line to a contract with Providence, so I’ll keep it brief here: Peski is a big (6’2, 220 lb) stay at home right-handed defenseman who continues a recent yet rich Bruins tradition of scouting the NCAA far and wide to pick stout, smart, no-frills, coachable (won most Improved player award in 2017 for UND, which speaks to a constant desire to continue to get better) players with leadership qualities.
Peski’s experience as a top penalty killer in a very successful Fighting Hawks program (and even before that as one of the leaders of the 2015 USHL’s Clark Cup winners Tri-City) ticks all the boxes of what Don Sweeney and John Ferguson Jr. have been trying to build top-down in the organization for the last few years. Peski has some of the tools that the Bruins are looking for. With a keenness to improve his skating and puck-moving abilities, Peski has a shot at significant playing time for the Baby B’s when the season starts back up in February.
Cooper Zech – D – Ferris State
Parlaying a two-year deal out of an Amateur Try-Out that ended a drifter’s journey that saw him play in four different leagues in four years, including NCAA’s Ferris State, into a successful playoff run that saw him emerge as a viable rotational option. After a successful rookie season in Providence that saw him score 14 points in 46 games, the 21-year-old Zech is a defenseman and by all physical metrics. Cooper is undersized for professional hockey at 5’9 and 165-pounds, yet has had success everywhere he’s been. With one of his stops winning defenseman of the year in the BCHL, he’s a shifty and fearless kid.
He has similar comparables to current Bruins defensemen Connor Clifton, Matt Grzelcyk, and even former Boston blueliner Torey Krug. Zech has used his AHL minor-pro development rounding out his defensive side of the game, but with the base of his game featuring swift skating with a bullet of a pass. Zech has a surprising amount of strength and aggression that belies his size, Zech falls into the proto-modern puck-moving defenseman coveted in today’s game. Zech is currently out on loan for HK Nitra in the Slovakian League. Getting much needed playing time during the COVID-19 induced stoppage.
Brady Lyle – D – Owen Sound
Lyle is, for my money, the most intriguing of the AHL bunch. Another big kid coming off of a very successful year in Juniors. Averaging over a Point-Per-Game with 65 points in 63 games – as a Defenseman to boot is no small feat. What makes Lyle so intriguing was his positioning in central scouting in his draft year: at one point, Lyle was in the top 50, clocking in at 48th in the Central Scouting Database among North American skaters in 2018, a position that generally would put one in the 4th or 5th round. Why Lyle wasn’t drafted remains a mystery, but what isn’t a mystery is his style of play and the chip on his shoulder.
Starting his career with the North Bay Battalion and later moving to the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL, it was with Owen Sound where Lyle developed an all situations game, earning coach Stan Butler’s trust as a leader (as shown by the A on the sweater) and as someone whose game had few holes. A physical bent with mobility to match and a howitzer of a point shot. Lyle holds the Attack’s all-time mark in goals by a defenseman with 43, and while every scouting report holds very high praise for his game along with confusion about why he wasn’t drafted, yet, their loss was Providence’s gain, as the 21-year-old right-handed defenseman signed a two-year deal with the Providence club back in April.
While the long and winding road that leads to Boston’s door may be on an incline for these four, they all own an intriguing skill set that at least gets them their start. Due to the Bruins organization’s propensity to trade higher draft picks and draft later due to the franchise’s success as a whole, the Bruins tend to look a little harder at the older Juniors and college free agent pool to fill it all up (see 2-way deals for winger Matt Filipe and defensemen Jack Ahcan and Nick Wolff for proof). And while TD Garden ice may be a pipe dream all told for these guys, they’re here, that gives them a real shot. So don’t tell them the odds.