By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins made franchise history with their four-pick 2020 NHL Draft class.
For the second time since Don Sweeney took over as the team’s general manager in 2015, the Bruins began and ended their draft without a single Canadian selection, with 2020 joining 2016’s Canadian-less class. (For the record, that happened just once in franchise history before Sweeney took over, and that came back in 2002.)
But for the first time in team history, the Bruins went with an all-American draft class.
“To tell you the honest truth, we’re trying to look at the best player available,” Sweeney said of the four-player class. “Obviously, we’re cognizant of a development path and what the players upside is depending on where you’re picking. In some cases, you’ve targeted two or three players and you’re tapping into European scouts because one of them may be playing in that environment and all of a sudden, they’re off the board.”
The Bruins did stick with Americans from start to finish though, with picks ranging from Louisiana to Woburn, and with their focus remaining on building the culture that’s become an obvious point of emphasis.
“I have to applaud our staff for the amount of detail they put in over an extended period of time. And obviously unusual circumstances, to try and make sure to put is in a position where we’re drafting a player that we really, really like,” Sweeney added. “That we know very well, that we’ve done enough background work on, that we feel fits into the identity and the culture and most importantly, the talent that we’re looking for. Hopefully we’ve done that.
“It doesn’t matter to me where the player is playing. Obviously, you want to look at the development path for each and every one of them and provide the resources necessary after you do choose them.”
So let’s dive into who the Bruins took this time around…
Second round (No. 58 overall): Defenseman Mason Lohrei
With their first pick of the 2020 NHL Draft, the Bruins went off the board to most with their selection of defenseman Mason Lohrei with the No. 58 overall pick.
A 6-foot-4 defenseman, Lohrei put up eight goals and 37 points in 48 games with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL this past season. He had a 19-point edge over the Gamblers’ second-highest scoring defenseman, and was just six points behind Jesse Tucker for the most points among all Green Bay skaters.
“I’d consider myself a two-way defenseman, pretty skilled,” Lohrei said. “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.”
The Bruins certainly like the size attributes Lohrei, who has grown half a foot over last three years, brings to the organization.
“Physically, there is a lot of growth to the player,” Ryan Nadeau, the B’s associate director of amateur scouting, said. “He’s gotten significantly bigger. He was a player that had somewhat recently transitioned from forward to defense, and then made the jump from Culver right into a USHL team. We really like the way he made the that transition and his game continued to grow over the course of the year. Certainly, someone whose development and his path this year was intriguing for us.”
“A long stick, really good defensively, and impossible to get around,” said one USHL player who went against Lohrei. “He’s got a ton of skill and thinks the game really well, too.”
Lohrei is also the son of David Lohrei, who was a head coach in USHL, CHL, and ECHL from 1990 through 2013.
But as mentioned, the pick certainly did come with some criticism, as the Bruins made Lohrei the 58th-fastest player off the board despite being ranked as the 132nd-best North American skater, according to Central Scouting.
The Bruins have their own list, however, and stuck to it.
“I think they’re all resources,” Sweeney said of the NHL’s Central Scouting rankings. “Obviously, the central scouting and different groups that put together mock draft lists and do an exhaustive studies on their own behalf, I think they’re all resources. Ultimately, we’re really in this business, you’re paid for your expertise and your opinion. I think we put together a list, we went over it exhaustively and went back over it in terms of the players we thought had a chance to be in the spots.”
Lohrei will play the 2020-21 season in Green Bay, and begin his collegiate career at Ohio State University in 2021.
Third round (No. 89 overall): Forward Trevor Kuntar
Staying in the USHL, the Bruins took forward Trevor Kuntar with the No. 89 overall pick.
A 6-foot, 203-pound forward capable of playing both center and wing, Kuntar recorded a team-leading 28 goals and 53 points in 44 games for the Youngstown Phantoms (USHL) this past season. Kuntar’s 28 goals ranked as the third-most in the USHL, while his 58 points were the 10th-most among all USHL skaters.
“Big, heavy, and hard to play against,” a USHL source said of Kuntar. “Good skill, smart.”
Another source described him as a ‘high motor’ player with a knack for scoring big goals.
“In watching [Kuntar] year over year, the continued growth to his game, his skating has improved,” Nadeau said. “He just works hard and he’s constantly a kid that is really abrasive to play against. That continued this year and we’re very intrigued with the growth that he’s had.”
“I think I worked really hard in the offseason and I love to train and compete,” Kuntar, who said he tries to play like Jamie Benn and Matthew Tkachuk, said. “I think I just kept getting bigger and stronger and faster. Just kind of all around. My coaches really had a huge influence on me. They really kind of taught me how to hone in on my assets.”
The son of Les Kuntar, a goaltender who played for the Canadiens in 1994 and whose career included a stop with the Worcester IceCats during their inaugural season, Kuntar is headed to Boston College, where he’ll play for Jerry York just 20 minutes away from TD Garden.
Fifth round (No. 151 overall): Defenseman Mason Langenbrunner
After sitting out the fourth round as a result of last year’s trade for Marcus Johansson, the Bruins stayed within the family with their fifth-round pick, drafting defenseman Mason Langenbrunner with the 151st overall pick.
But the Bruins made it clear to the 6-foot-2 Langenbrunner, the son of Jamie Langenbrunner, who works for the Bruins in a player development role, that he wasn’t drafted because of the name on his dad’s checks.
“Going back through the interviews, last spring and before the draft was originally supposed to happen in June, the people I was talking to – the organizations and stuff, they all just kept repeating, this isn’t because your dad is working here or any of that,” Langenbrunner, who plays high school hockey for Eden Prairie, offered. “[The Bruins said] we love you as a player and if we’re going to pick you then, we just want you to know that it’s nothing on your dad but because we see something in you and your potential of what you can be. That’s I would say last spring is when I started to realize that.”
(In case you’re wondering, this isn’t the first time that the Bruins drafted a player directly related to someone in their front office. It happened back in 2012, too, when the Bruins drafted defenseman Matthew Benning with a sixth-round selection. Benning was the nephew of then-assistant general manager Jim Benning.)
A source told 98.5 The Sports Hub that Langenbrunner is a definite project, but that he plays with exceptional speed and pace.
“I think it’s somewhat unique and there seems to be in hockey a lot of bloodlines and different players who continue through the system,” Nadeau said of Langenbrunner’s selection. “I think it happens a lot that there’s players where you even know their parents well or you’ve met them and known them since they were kids. It actually seems to happen quite a bit.
“I think we’ve all been in that situation. There are some similarities for sure between some of those situations, but again, we do our best to distance it and do our best to evaluate it as hockey players and put them on our board in where we see them for making a good draft pick and a good selection for the Bruins.”
Langenbrunner put up five goals and 19 points in 25 games of high school action last year, and is a Harvard commit for 2021.
Sixth round (No. 182 overall): Forward Riley Duran
The Bruins concluded their 2020 draft (they traded their seventh-round pick to the Maple Leafs for a 2021 seventh-round pick when it came time) with the drafting of Woburn, Mass. native Riley Duran.
A 6-foot-2 center, Duran put up 22 goals and 44 points in 27 games for Lawrence Academy last season. Duran also appeared in 36 total games for the Cape Cod Whalers 18U, and will take his game to Youngstown in 2020-21. And the Bruins couldn’t help but love what they saw out of Duran during his in-town sample in 2019-20.
“We like the path that [Duran] has, we like the competitiveness,” said Sweeney. “He’s playing center right now. We think he can also play the wing, which he played an awful lot. And he has growth and opportunity in his game that we covet.”
“I love to compete, I love to get the puck low, and I love to get the puck to the net,” said Duran. “One of my favorite players growing up was Charlie Coyle. I just always remembered watching play at BU for half that year and then following him on to his pro career. He plays a 200-foot game, he can score goals and he can lay the body, so that’s what I like to play.”
A source described Duran as a player with a ‘pro skills package’ and with a definite ability to move-and-shoot.
Duran was the lone Massachusetts native drafted by the Bruins, and continued what has been a clear trend of sorts from this regime, with the Bruins putting an emphasis on local talent that wants to wear their hometown sweater.
“It’s a privilege to play for the Boston Bruins, I believe that,” said Sweeney. “I believed that as a player and I believe that as a manager. I think some players are wired to want to play here in their home environment. This is a tremendous organization to play for and the city itself, as you guys all know, they will buy you a beer when you win. And they will tell you when you’re not playing well, and that’s just a fact of life. As a competitive person and an athlete, you really don’t want it any other way.”
But before trying to make his way to Boston, where beers or boos await him, Duran will take his talents to Providence College and play for the Nate Leaman-coached Friars in 2021.