The Boston Bruins are the class of the NHL with at least a 12-point lead over every other opponent in the standings entering Friday.
Boston has the look of an all-time team, and it's currently on pace to break the league records for the most points and most wins by any team in regular season history.
Improving the roster before the March 3 trade deadline is a must for general manager Don Sweeney. He cannot afford to stand pat and not fortify a team with real championship potential.
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“You’ve got to hope you stay healthy, and I think we have a good hockey team. I think we’re deep, but we’re probably going to have to continue to add and supplement," Sweeney said after a Jan. 14 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. "We’ve been blending in some of the players that have played particularly well down in Providence and earned an opportunity, so we’re going to continue to evaluate that if the opportunity presents itself.
"There haven’t been a lot of trades up until this point. We’ll have to see going forward. It’ll take some creativity for clubs like our own that have some cap challenges, but chances are that most of the teams that are hopefully going to get an opportunity to play in the playoffs generally have cap challenges, and we’re no different. We’re going to try to do our best to put the best team we possibly can."
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The problem for the Bruins is they don't have a large stockpile of quality assets to use in trades. The primary reason for that is they have traded three of their last five first-round picks. It's hard to build a strong prospect pool when you are consistently absent from Round 1. The Athletic's new prospect pool rankings released earlier this month had the B's at No. 30 of 32 teams. Furthermore, the B's also don't have their own second-round pick in 2023 and 2024. Add in the fact that Boston is tight against the salary cap and Sweeney will have to get creative if he's going to make a substantial upgrade to the roster.
What does Sweeney have at his disposal to make deals? Here's a look at the Bruins' best assets to use in potential trades between now and the March 3 deadline.
5. Matthew Poitras, C, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Poitras was the Bruins' second-round pick (54th overall) in 2022. He's enjoying a very good season for the Guelph Storm with 49 points (10 goals, 39 assists) in 38 games. He's only one point away from tying his scoring total from the 2021-22 season in 30 fewer games.
Poitras is a high IQ player with good playmaking skill and a willingness to attack the front of the net despite not being the biggest player (5-foot-11 and 175 pounds). He also has a quick, accurate shot and needs to use it more.
The Bruins have failed to draft and develop centers for a decade, and it's one of the reasons why this team doesn't have any good in-house candidates to fill Patrice Bergeron's and David Krejci's top-six roles whenever they retire.
Poitras is Boston's top center prospect. It would be tough to get rid of him, but his departure would sting less than having to trade Fabian Lysell or Mason Lohrei.
4. 2024 first-round pick
The 2024 draft is not as deep as the 2023 class (more on that below), so if the Bruins are going to dangle a first-rounder in trade talks, next year's pick is the one that should go.
One issue for the Bruins is they don't own their second-round picks in 2023 or 2024. So if sellers on the trade market are prioritizing draft capital in return for the top players available, the Bruins' first-round picks are by far their best assets in that regard.
3. Mason Lohrei, D, Ohio State (NCAA)
Lohrei is easily the Bruins' top defenseman prospect. He has an impressive two-way skill set and plenty of size at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. He can play heavy minutes against quality competition and contribute to special teams. Lohrei projects to be a top-four defenseman at the NHL level, and those players are tough to find and even tougher to develop. A top three of Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm and Lohrei on the blue line for the rest of the decade is an exciting possibility for the B's.
That said, you often have to give up something good to get something good at the trade deadline, and Lohrei is one of the few Boston prospects who is highly rated. Trading him for a rental would be a mistake. Moving Lohrei for a top-four defenseman with term on his contract would make sense depending on the player.
2. 2023 first-round pick
The 2023 NHL Draft is loaded with high-end talent, and it's not just super prospect Connor Bedard getting scouts excited. The first round should produce a ton of good players. Even if the Bruins win the Stanley Cup and pick 32nd overall at the end of the first round, they could pick up a pretty solid prospect.
So it's not surprising that only three first-rounders from this draft have been traded to this point, and only one -- the Panthers' 2023 first-rounder sent to the Montreal Canadiens as part of the Ben Chiarot deal last season -- has been moved without protections. The Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning dealt their 2023 first-round picks last season, too, but both selections are top 10 protected.
For comparison, 14 of the 32 picks in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft were not made by the original team that owned that selection.
The strength of this draft class will make it difficult for a lot of teams to trade their 2023 first-round pick. If the Bruins are going to part with this selection, it needs to be for a meaningful upgrade -- someone like Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat or Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
Giving up this pick for a pure rental would be a poor move for a franchise that has dealt several first-rounders in recent seasons and has one of the weakest prospect pools in the league.
1. Fabian Lysell, RW, Providence Bruins (AHL)
Lysell is the only prospect in the Bruins' system that has legitimate top-six potential. He plays with speed, he's a very good playmaker and he's been an effective goal scorer at every level.
After posting 62 points (20 goals, 42 assists) in 53 games for the WHL's Vancouver Giants and leading them to a first-round upset in the playoffs last season, Lysell has made a smooth transition to the AHL for the 2022-23 campaign. He has tallied 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 26 games against bigger, stronger and more experienced competition than what he faced in Canada last year.
Lysell is the team's top-rated prospect and has the potential to be a long-term NHL contributor.
Those types of players are not easy to trade, but if the right deal comes along, the Bruins must be aggressive in upgrading a roster that currently ranks as the Stanley Cup favorite.