Ranking Bruins’ top 25 prospects (No. 20-16): College free agents, 2020 picks make the cut

(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

With the 2020-21 NHL season still a ways away, let's spend this week assessing the state of Boston's pool of prospects. The Bruins' pipeline of young talent may not be as extensive (and impactful) as a number of other franchises across the league, but there are still a number of young skaters and netminders in Boston's system poised to make the jump up to the NHL ranks in the coming years, or at the very least elevate their stock down in the AHL, collegiate, junior and international ranks. 

As such, we've decided to rank the top 25 prospects in the Bruins' system, highlighting a number of young skaters and goalies that could be donning black and gold sweaters up in Boston within the next few seasons. Here is a look at our previous selections: 

No. 25 - 21: Local products, undrafted talent highlight first grouping

We continue our rankings today, moving on to No. 20-16: 

(Note: We're going to count any prospect with 20+ games of service time up in the NHL ranks as "graduated" from our list, with youngsters like Jeremy Lauzon, Karson Kuhlman and Connor Clifton exempt from these rankings.) 

20. Cooper Zech, Defenseman 

Age: 21
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 166 pounds
2019-20 Stats (Providence Bruins/AHL) - 45 games, 2 goals, 14 points
Drafted: Undrafted — Signed contract with Boston in March 2019

Now, where have we heard this before?

An undersized, playmaking defenseman from Michigan — looking to prove doubters wrong after signing with Boston as an undrafted free agent.

It's pretty easy to draw parallels between Zech and Torey Krug Krug's father, Kyle, actually cut Zech from his Under-16 AAA minor midget team a few years back — but the 21-year-old blueliner still needs more time to marinate down in Providence.

Zech arrived on the scene after playing just one season for a rebuilding Ferris State program, with the freshman earning heavy minutes and the keys to the team's power play right out the gate. Zech made the most of his lone collegiate season, scoring eight goals and posting a team-high 28 points over 36 games with the Bulldogs. Zech became the first rookie to lead Ferris State in scoring in 31 years, while his 0.78 PPG led all freshman defensemen across the D-I ranks.

“I think he stepped in at Providence and quite frankly, surprised us all with where he was,” Bruins player development coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner said of Zech last summer. “I saw him four times maybe in college … He was putting up good numbers on a team that struggles to score. His mobility and his ability to see the ice and it all translated very quickly in the American League.

"I think the biggest surprise for us is how much courage that kid has. He’s an undersized defenseman, but you wouldn’t know with the way he plays. He takes hits, he throws the body. Some similarities to Torey in that competitiveness of him. … He’s going to get every opportunity."

Making the adjustment from a collegiate freshman to the pro player in the AHL brought its fair share of challenges for Zech, who will also need to pack some more muscle on his frame if he wants to make it through the grind of an AHL/NHL campaign. The arrival of another playmaking in Jack Ahcan will also bring additional competition for Zech, especially when it comes to valuable reps on the man advantage. 2021 is shaping up to be a telling season for Zech, who will be looking to move his way up Providence's depth chart.

19. Mason Lohrei,  Defenseman

Age: 19
Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 205 pounds
2019-20 Stats (Green Bay Gamblers/USHL) - 48 games, 8 goals, 37 points
Drafted: Round 2 (No. 58 overall) - 2020

Given that Lohrei has been a part of the Bruins' organization for ... *counts on fingers* ... less than four weeks, the 19-year-old defenseman makes his debut on our prospect rankings a bit further down than what some might expect from a second-round pick. Some of that placement also has to do with the fact that Lohrei was a bit of an unknown on many draft boards, as NHL Central Scouting penciled him in at No. 132 among North American skaters in their pre-draft rankings, while The Athletic tabbed him as going in the seventh round in their last mock draft.

Still, even if the blueliner flew under the radar of some (and will require a couple of seasons of development before inking an entry-level contract, there's a lot to like about Lohrei's game, which seems tailor-made for today's NHL. Even though he's a bigger body, Lohrei is ready and willing to operate with the puck on his stick — whether it be in transition or even in the offensive zone. Granted, the skilled skater can operate a bit more freely against USHL competition as opposed to what awaits him in the pro ranks, but it's tough to not be intrigued by the wide range of tools that Lohrei flashes on every shift.

“I’d consider myself a two-way defenseman, pretty skilled,” Lohrei said last month. “I take a lot of pride in how I defend, how I defend the rush, how I defend in my own zone, shutting things down and making good breakout passes to the forwards. But then once that happens, then the fun stuff begins. I get to jump up in the play and get pucks back. Use my skill and then I see myself as – I can play in all situations. Five-on-five, power play, penalty kill, stuff like that. Start games, finish games. I think I’m just a pretty simple player overall. I like to try to control the game when I’m out there, and when I have the puck.”

Lohrei, who should dominate as a 19-year-old in the USHL this season (he will head to Ohio State for the 2021-22 season), still has a ways to go before you see him in a black and gold sweater. Still, there's an awful lot to like here in a prospect that has a rather lofty ceiling if his skills translate over against higher levels of competition.

18. Robert Lantosi, Forward

Age: 25
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 185 pounds
2019-20 Stats (Providence Bruins/AHL) - 50 games, 11 goals, 31 points
Drafted: Undrafted — Signed AHL contract with Providence in July 2019

Ah, the curious case of Robert Lantosi.

At first glance, Lantosi's steady level of production in his first season in North America is awfully encouraging, with Boston being rewarded for signing the young forward after a couple of productive seasons over in Slovakia’s top hockey league.

While the switch to a smaller sheet of ice often leads to some serious growing pains for speedy, skilled forwards such as Lantosi, he managed to serve as one of Providence's top surprises during the 2019-20 season, ranking sixth on the team in scoring with 31 points over 50 games. He also buried three of his five shootout chances on the year.

Lantosi still has some work to do when it comes to rounding out his overall game, but the Slovak could very well earn a look up in the NHL ranks if Boston's forward corps is missing a few bodies due to injury. However, even though Lantosi can and should continue to be a productive forward in the AHL, it remains to be seen just what his ceiling is up in the NHL ranks, especially as an older prospect at 25 years old.

On a rebuilding NHL team with less depth, a player like Lantosi could conceivably crack a lineup and remain a regular in a bottom-six role. But with the 2021 Bruins, such a scenario is a bit tougher to map out for Lantosi, who likely would be far higher on this ranking if he was a few years younger. He should put up some numbers down in Providence, but it remains to be seen if he can make an impact in the immediate future for a club like Boston.

17. Kyle Keyser, Goaltender  

Age: 21
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 179 pounds
2019-20 Stats (Providence Bruins/AHL) - 6 games, 3.21 GAA, .890 save percentage
Drafted: Undrafted — Signed contract with Boston in 2017

After a standout campaign with the Oshawa Generals in 2018-19, expectations were high for Keyser in his first season of pro hockey, with the Coral Springs, Florida native looking to earn some regular reps down in Providence. But the 2019-20 campaign proved to be a lost season for Keyser, with a concussion limiting him to just six games of AHL action (and one game down in the ECHL). While the 21-year-old netminder will be looking for a clean slate in 2020-21, it remains to be seen where the reps are going to be, as the likely scenario will have Dan Vladar and Jeremy Swayman battling for the No. 1 spot with the P-Bruins.

Letting Keyser build his game back up down in Atlanta would likely be the preferred route for Boston, but with the Gladiators opting to voluntarily suspend their season due to COVID-19, it remains to be seen where exactly Keyser will able to earn regular minutes this year. Finding a landing spot for Keyser (and other ECHL prospects) will have to be addressed by the Bruins, as a still promising goalie like Keyser desperately needs an avenue to put last year's disappointment in the rearview mirror.

16. Quinn Olson, Forward

Age: 19
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 170 pounds
2019-20 Stats (Minnesota Duluth/NCAA) – 31 games, 7 goals, 15 points
Drafted: Round 3 (No. 92 overall)  — 2019

Similar to Lohrei during the 2020 NHL Draft, Boston’s selection of Olson in the third round back in 2019 raised a few eyebrows. The young forward was a bit of an unknown coming out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), with NHL Central Scouting listing him 105th overall among North American skaters.

Olson’s numbers in junior did stand out (20 goals, 66 points and 75 penalty minutes over 54 games), although there was concern about how much of that offensive production was a byproduct of primarily playing on a line next to eventual 2020 first rounder Dylan Holloway (No. 14 overall, Edmonton). 

But Olson eased some of those concerns in his freshman season at Minnesota Duluth, serving as a dependable forward for Scott Sandelin’s Bulldogs. Even though the stats may not jump off the page, Olson held his own despite the obvious growing pains that come with moving from the AJHL to the collegiate ranks, with his speed and hockey IQ standing out in multiple clips of the young forward.

 "Quinn showed me he has got some talent,” Langenbrunner said of Olson last summer. “He got into guys, showed some competitiveness. He is a young little guy, so he didn't show as much physically, he hasn't filled out at all yet. He showed some attitude that way he plays, going to a school that does a hell of a job developing hockey players playing the right way. So, we are excited to see where it goes."

While his ceiling may not be as high as some other forwards on this list, Olson should project as a steady, two-way forward that can bring a lot of energy (and feistiness) whenever he hops over the boards. Thank of a refined Karson Kuhlman, with more of a mean streak. Still, don't sell Olson short as just a bottom-six, plug-and-play winger. He has plenty of room to grow up in Duluth, and the potential is there for him to become a consistent scorer at that level (and perhaps beyond) thanks to his knack for operating in Grade-A ice and generating quality looks down low.