A big background presence at Bruins development camp, which concluded Friday, was Mason Lohrei, who is recovering from knee surgery.
Lohrei, the Bruins’ second-round pick (58th overall) in the 2020 draft, is arguably Boston’s top prospect on defense. Though he wasn’t on the ice this week, he reconnected with his fellow Black and Gold hopefuls, and continued to strengthen his knee.
“I’m in a later phase now,” he said. “I start skating in a couple weeks here. Excited for that. Been itching for a while.”
The lanky 21-year-old, nearly 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds with a frame topped by a shock of auburn hair, will return to Ohio State after a glittering debut that had the Bruins wondering how long it would be until he could help the left side of their defensive unit.
Lohrei, who led USHL defensemen in scoring (19-40–59) in 2020-21, his second year in that league, brought his offensive game to campus in Columbus. Skating on the top power-play unit, the freshman ranked fifth among NCAA defensemen in points per game; he had 4-25–29 in 31 games.
The defensemen ahead of him on that list included three top-five picks — Ottawa’s Jake Sanderson, fifth in 2020; Buffalo’s Owen Power, first in 2021; and New Jersey’s Luke Hughes, fourth in 2021 — and a 24-year-old, Tampa prospect Nick Perbix.
Lohrei could turn pro and try his hand in Providence this fall, but the Bruins as an organization have a lot of left-shot defensemen (nine, including unsigned restricted free agent Jack Ahcan) and Lohrei believes he left something on the dining hall table.
“Going back and continuing to work on my game and get stronger, quicker, work on my defending, little details like that is really intriguing to me,” he said. “And then I grew up dreaming of winning a national championship. Go back and try to accomplish that this year.”
How far away does he think he is from the NHL?
“I try not to focus on that stuff too much, but it’s exciting,” he said. “You kind of feel yourself getting closer. It’s every kid’s dream to play in the NHL. Hopefully make that jump sooner than later.”
Bruins director of player development Jamie Langenbrunner sees a player who moves well for his size, creates plays, and distributes the puck.
Another major plus, Langenbrunner said, is “his frame. He’s filling out. He’s going from a boy to a man . . . At 6-5 or whatever he is, to move like he does is pretty impressive.”
Lohrei concedes he “definitely” needs to get stronger defensively.
“Being more physical, harder to play against that way,” he said. “Talked a lot this year with Jamie and Adam [McQuaid, Boston’s player development coordinator]. Working on my stick, working on my gap, closing quicker and faster. I want to play against the other team’s best players and shut them down. It’s something I take a lot of pride in.”
🎥 B's defense prospect Mason Lohrei on his rehab from a knee procedure: "It’s going well...I’m in a later phase now. Just trying to strengthen as much as I can and get back on the ice soon. I start skating in a couple weeks here."#BruinsDevCamp | @MassGenBrigham pic.twitter.com/NVdDFpPvs9— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) July 15, 2022
Final camp observations
• Swedish winger Oskar Jellvik (fifth round, 2021) put his skill on display all week, and scored two pretty goals in the end-of-camp scrimmage. “Not a guy we see a lot,” Langenbrunner said of the 19-year-old, who will head from the Swedish junior league to Boston College. “He popped a lot. His skill level, his creativity.”
• Matthew Poitras, the second-rounder from the 2022 draft, showed his hockey sense and vision in short-area games, shaking defenders with some killer cutbacks. Langenbrunner also saw “his willingness to play inside.”
• Johnny Beecher “has the leader mentality,” Langenbrunner said. “He looks like a pro.” He will head to Providence as one of their anticipated top players.
• Langenbrunner praised the skill and courage of Riese Gaber, the undersized (5-8, 180) and undrafted winger who returns for his junior season at North Dakota. “Just a good hockey player. A guy we’ll definitely track, and when he’s ready, I’m sure we’ll be there.”
• What will it take for sniper Georgii Merkulov to reach his ceiling defensively? “Time,” Langenbrunner said, “and a buy-in from him.” Merkulov, who is a lot of fun to watch in a 3 on 3 setting, is likely to play top minutes in Providence.
“I love Georgii,” Lohrei said of his former Ohio State teammate, who turned pro after his freshman year. “He’s a fun guy to have around. Obviously, he can score goals. Skilled, shifty, smart player. Yeah, scores goals — that’s all I’ve got to say about him.”
• Lohrei is in a group chat with his fellow Bruins defensive prospects. They send each other video clips to watch.
• The Bruins are unclear whether they will bring over Matias Mantykivi, a sixth-rounder in 2019 who will head back for his fourth season in the Finnish Liiga. Mantykivi (12-19–31 in 51 games last year), a left-shot center, plays second-line minutes for Ilves Tampere, the club that counts Tuukka Rask as an alum.
• Bruins prospects Riley Duran and Ty Gallagher will skate at USA Hockey’s national junior evaluation camp from July 24 to Aug. 3 in Plymouth, Mich. Duran, the Woburn forward entering his sophomore season at Providence, is a physical winger. Gallagher, a hard-shooting defenseman, will be a sophomore at Boston University. They are two of 60 players invited, a list that includes top American draft picks Logan Cooley (No. 3 overall to Arizona) and Luke Hughes.
The camp will help narrow the field for the 2022 World Junior Championship, to be held Aug. 9-20 in Edmonton. That tournament was originally scheduled for last Dec. 26-Jan. 5, but was postponed because of COVID concerns in Western Canada. The 2023 World Juniors remain booked in the traditional post-Christmas slot, and will be played in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Moncton, New Brunswick.