By: Max Weisman | Follow me on Twitter @maweisman
Now that the Boston Bruins have played all their preseason games and speculation about who makes the roster is at its peak, it’s time to give some Bruins prospects their praises as they continue to fight for NHL roster spots. The 2023-24 National Hockey League season officially kicks off on Wednesday night, October 10, 2023.
Where better to start than forward Matthew Poitras? Poitras was the 54th overall pick in the 2022 NHL draft and has been making a strong case to be included on the Bruins opening day roster come October 11. He played in five of the six preseason games, tallying three goals and two assists, including a goal in each of the final two games.
Last season, a member of the Guelph Storm of the OHL, Poitras had 19 goals and 79 assists in 63 games played, a one-and-a-half points per game pace. Poitras is 19 years old, which means he is ineligible to play in Providence, so he will either be a Boston Bruin on opening night or he’ll be going back to the OHL. With this level of production, though, Poitras has hopefully made the decision easy for Bruins management.
Johnny Beecher appeared in four of the Bruins’ six preseason games. Against New York in the first game, Beecher scored a goal and blocked a shot in over 15 minutes of ice time. And against Washington, he added an assist. Center prospect Patrick Brown played Monday night against Philadelphia and did not impress, and with the fourth-line center slot still unclear, Beecher could claim that spot after a solid preseason and training camp.
Last season in Providence, Beecher scored nine goals and added 14 assists in 61 games. He signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Bruins on May 16, 2022, after three years at the University of Michigan.
We’ll stay with the forwards and highlight Georgii Merkulov. He got ice time in the second and third preseason games and appeared on the scoresheet in both games with an assist in each. Any production from center prospects is welcome news for a team that’s pretty thin at the center position; Merkulov also contributed four shots on goal in each game.
Merkulov played a few junior seasons in Russia and on the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL before a year at Ohio State. He signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Bruins on April 9, 2022. In his first full season with the Providence Bruins, Merkulov scored 24 goals and added 31 assists in 67 games. He’ll likely need another season at the AHL level, but he could appear on the big league team a few times this season before he becomes a Bruins regular in seasons to come.
Now, moving to the blue line, it’s Mason Lohrei time. Lohrei played in four of the Bruins’ six preseason games, including the final two against New York and Washington. In the 4-1 loss to the Sabres, Lohrei logged 29:01 of ice time, which led all skaters, and got an assist on the Bruins’ only goal of the night. Against Washington, Lohrei scored his only goal of the preseason, tallying two points over his four games played.
In the Bruins’ first game against the Flyers, a 4-3 shootout loss, Lohrei was paired with Charlie McAvoy in a possible preview of the future of the Bruins’ top defensive pair in the next few years. Lohrei connected with David Pastrnak on a nice stretch pass to set up a good chance in the first period. Lohrei played three years in the USHL and two years at Ohio State. He signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Bruins on May 10, 2023. After appearing in five games for Providence last season, look for Lohrei as a staple of the minor league team this season.
Finally, it’s time to give some love to Brandon Bussi. Bussi got the start in the Bruins’ first preseason game against the New York Rangers and showed out. Bussi made 29 saves on the 29 shots he faced, including some incredible, jaw-dropping saves.
Bussi signed a one-year, two-way contract extension worth $775,000 on June 19, 2023. He played in 32 games with Providence last year with a record of 22-5-4, allowing a 2.40 goals-against-average with a .924 save percentage and one shutout. With reigning Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman as the goalie tandem for the second straight year, look for Bussi to sharpen his goaltending skills in Providence. However, Bussi can and will be a reliable goalie on future Bruins teams.