That’s a wrap for 2022 Prospects Challenge

BUFFALO – The Boston Bruins finished up at the Prospects Challenge with a 3-2 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils on Monday. Boston won two and lost one in the annual event.

The Bruins trailed 1-0 and 2-1, but first Johnny Beecher and then Georgii Merkulov evened the score. In the shootout, Merkulov made a slick move for a goal and Fabian Lysell buried a wrister. At the other end, Brandon Bussi (19 saves) stopped both Jersey shooters for his second win of the weekend.

Here are quick hits on three players who had good performances in the three games:


The 5-foot-11 winger was in the thick of the action in every game, whether he was scoring goals or pushing the buttons of opposing players.

Toporowski, 21, a free agent out of the WHL who signed an AHL deal with Providence, plays with a chip on his shoulder.

No one has to tell him to shoot, that’s for sure. He let bombs fly from all over the rink.

“He was as advertised from a shoot-first mentality,” GM Don Sweeney said before Monday’s game.

“The interior-ice play has been pretty consistent in (the first two games). Needs to continue for him because he can’t just be a one-trick pony in this league. Obviously he does shoot the puck past the goaltender with regularity at all the levels he’s played at despite his size. That will be a calling card for him.

“But I really like the feisty competitiveness, as I mentioned, getting to the interior ice. He’s a player that has put himself on our radar in getting into main camp and playing with established players as well. We’ll see how the details hold up.”


Boston’s first-rounder in 2019 scored a goal in all three games and led the team in scoring with 3-1-4.

His best performance was on Monday, when he was engaged from start to finish.

“That’s how he’s got to play. We all talk about his feet, his separation. He’s got to sometimes lean in on guys and he did that (Monday). He was excellent,” said coach Ryan Mougenel.

“The first two days he had some really strong flashes,” said Jamie Langenbrunner, director of player development and player personnel adviser.

“The obvious one is his speed, his ability to skate by defenders. The game winner in Game 1 was one of those where he almost looks like he glides by a defender to finish, then here again today he creates a chance and rips it off the post. (Monday) I’ve liked his engagement level better. He’s getting inside more, making it difficult on the other team by using his body more.

“That’s what we’re going to be stressing with him for however long it takes, to bring that every shift, that consistency in using his God-given talent of size and strength and skating ability all the time. It’ll be a process, we know that. He’s giving us more and more each day and that’s what we want,” he said.

Beecher should have plenty of juice heading into his first NHL training camp later this week.

“He’s buying in. He scored some goals, watched the puck go in the net. Hopefully that confidence that he should have translates to big camp,” said Mougenel.


Poitras, drafted in the second round in July, is listed at 5-foot-11, 173 pounds.

Off the ice, he could pass for a high school freshman. On the ice, though, he’s wise beyond his years.

Poitras put up only one assist, but he created chances for Toporowski, Lysell and Merkulov.

Asked what he liked about Poitras, Langenbrunner quickly answered, “His instincts.”

“I think he has a good feel for the game. You can see what he’s trying to create. Whether it’s worked every time in the execution yet, it’s about what you expect for a young kid in this tournament.

“He’s been good especially in small areas, where a lot of the pro game is played. It’s played in tight little areas. He has a good feel for it, a good stick, ability to handle defenders.”

In watching him with Guelph of the OHL last season, Langenbrunner noted “his ability to elevate in big games, in big moments, playoffs, and play in tough situations. Obviously, (the Prospects Challenge) isn’t that yet, but it’s a step for him and he’s been as advertised, what we expected.”

Poitras looks like a good prospect and it will be interesting to watch him progress as he matures.

“He’s got a lot of physical development left in him,” Langenbrunner said.

Notes from Buffalo on Bussi, McLaughlin and Merkulov

BUFFALO – Brandon Bussi had to navigate through some potholes on his journey to an entry level contract with the Boston Bruins.

A native of Long Island, he committed to St. Lawrence University in 2016 at age 18 while playing for the New Jersey Titans of the NAHL. After moving on to the Amarillo Bulls, his game veered off track.

“Junior hockey was a little tough on me. I bounced around,” said Bussi, 24, who is expected to get the start against the Devils on Monday morning in Boston’s final game at the Prospects Challenge.

“Honestly, I think it was more mental than physical. I had the toolset physically but mentally, early on, leaving home for the first time was rough on me. Some rough games kind of sat in my head a little too much and I harped on the negatives more,” he said.

In 2017-18, Bussi moved to a lower-level league with the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders of the NCDC, playing out of Syosset, Long Island.

“Getting home and being able to resettle was huge for me,” he said.

When he moved up to the USHL in 2018-19, he was ready.

“Going through the adversity toughened me up and then (coach) Mike Hamilton gave me an opportunity in Muskegon as an undrafted age-out who played in the NCDC. It is a good league but it’s a pretty big jump to make to be a starter in the USHL,” said Bussi.

“For him to give me an opportunity, let me take the net and go, ‘It’s your net as long as you want it,’ it was good to have some trust.”

Bussi rewarded that trust by going 33-12-4 with a .915 save percentage for the Lumberjacks and earning a scholarship at Western Michigan.

As a junior last season, Bussi led Western to the NCAA Tournament, posting a 26-12-1 record. At the Northeast Regional in Worcester, he backstopped an overtime victory over Devon Levi and Northeastern.

The 6-foot-5 netminder signed a one-year ELC with Boston on March 30 and finished the season in Providence.

“Once I faced some adversity and learned that I’m at my best when I’m having fun and playing the sport that I love, success started coming and I just kind of rode it out to now,” he said.

Bussi started Friday’s 5-4 win over Ottawa. The Bruins fell behind early and trailed for much of the game, but clawed back to tie the score. As the game was winding down in the third period, Bussi made a terrific pad save and seconds later Johnny Beecher scored the winner at the other end of the ice.

“Obviously as a goalie you don’t want to be giving up four goals. In the first period it really felt like I needed to make a save to kind of settle us down. It didn’t come but sometimes as a goalie those are the kinds of games you like playing,” he said.

“You don’t want to be in them too much, but I felt good the whole time and being able to fight through and make big saves down the stretch in a close game shows a bit of character. It felt good to get the win.”

He’s ready for Boston training camp and for the regular season, which could see him playing some games in Maine as well as in Providence.

“I’m going to play wherever they tell me to play. I’m going to compete hard. I want to have a good training camp to prepare for the season and for the first game, wherever I end up.

“Everything’s kind of a progression. The end goal is everyone wants to play in the NHL, right?”


Since 2015, participating in the Prospects Challenge has been a rite of passage for young players with hopes and dreams of playing for the Boston Bruins, regardless of whether they are first-round picks or free agent signings or if they’ve already logged NHL games.

First-rounder Charlie McAvoy played in it in 2017 a few months after he’d made his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup playoffs the previous season.

This year, undrafted Marc McLaughlin is in Buffalo. He played 11 regular season games and scored three goals in the NHL last spring after signing a free-agent deal out of Boston College.

“I think it’s real good for young players to go through (the Prospects Challenge), it’s part of the process. We talked a little bit about other organizations, some of their guys aren’t playing. It’s more the message than anything at times, right?” said Ryan Mougenel, who is coaching the Bruins here.

“I think that’s an important message that everything you get here, you earn. You have to go through the process. Our process – it could be through Maine or through Providence. That’s how this game works. We want guys always to be the best version of themselves for the Boston Bruins.”

For McLaughlin, who scored a goal and an assist in Friday’s win, the tournament is a step toward “getting his game in the right place” heading into Boston training camp later this week, Mougenel said.

“Marc’s going through that. There’s going to be ups and there’s going to be downs. This is a good way to get his game consistent and understand what he’s got to do to go into camp and have success.”

With a strong camp, McLaughlin has a chance to earn a bottom-six job to start the season.

Mougenel calls him a student of the game.

“I think that’s real important for a guy like that. He knows those things he’s got to work on and he’s committed to doing it. He’s got an NHL (caliber) shot. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to have to really embrace some penalty killing, especially up there.

“If you’re a right-handed shot and can alleviate some of the stress they put on some of the guys on the kill, that’s one way he can get some minutes up there. That’s what it’s about, finding ways to create minutes for yourself. That’s one of the tools he can put in his toolbox.”


Over the coming months, as Georgii Merkulov works his way through his first full season as a pro, “there’s going to be a lot of teaching moments,” says Mougenel.

Playing at center with Fabian Lysell and Jakub Lauko against the Senators and at wing with Matt Poitras and Lysell against the Penguins, Merkulov was held off the scoresheet.

“His game right now, he’s kind of trying to find what works. I said it before, but he’s a guy who’s spent a career valuing different things – possession, making plays. And sometimes those plays are right in front of you,” said Mougenal after practice on Sunday.

“You don’t have to go back to make it more than what it is. He’s a guy that if there’s a play of front of you, he has to make it. He’s coming back with the puck a little bit too much. It’s to be expected with an offensive player. He really values those things. It’s going to be a process, for sure. As a staff we have to have the patience for it.

“The one goal last night, there was an opportunity to get a puck into an area behind their D, and he comes back, chucks a grenade off the wall to Fabian (Lysell) and it’s in the back of our net…  Just get it behind them and go to work.

“He’s going to learn those things. There’s lots of teachable moments for all of us. His hockey IQ is off the chart. He sees plays that I don’t see. He puts pucks in amazing places, even in practice. He’s a really smart kid away from the rink. He’s an impressive kid. I’ve got a lot of time for him.”


Merkulov’s impressions of the Prospects Challenge:

“It’s interesting hockey. So many good young players. It’s fun to play. Obviously it’s different from Providence and AHL. I actually think this hockey is faster than AHL. It’s fun. It’s good to play some games before training camp.”

With Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle and others lined up ahead of him on Boston’s depth chart at center, the 21-year-old rookie is realistic about his chances of making it to the NHL this season.

“I have to work on my game in the D zone,” he said. “I’m not in a rush to make the team this year.”


Ryan Mougenel: “I come from a background of junior hockey, but I’m a big advocate for college hockey because the runway is so much longer.”

Notes from Day 2 in Buffalo

BUFFALO – The Boston Bruins rookies erased a four-goal deficit before losing, 6-4, to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Prospects Challenge on Saturday.

For the second day in a row, the Bruins dug a hole and then rallied. Down by four in the second period, they got goals from Ryan Humphrey (2), Curtis Hall and Johnny Beecher and tied the game in the third period before the Penguins pulled away with two more scores.

Five of Pittsburgh’s six goals came on the power play.

Here are three quick hits from the game:


Poitras, Boston’s second round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, was slotted in as the third-line center when the line charts came out a couple of hours before the game.

But as puck drop approached, he was moved up to the first line between Georgii Merkulov and Fabian Lysell.

The idea, according to assistant general manager Evan Gold, was to get a look at Poitras with skilled players on his wings.

While Poitras’ line didn’t produce any points, they did create chances. Poitras, 18, a shifty center with a high hockey IQ, was around the puck all afternoon.

He set up Lysell for some good opportunities and nearly had a goal himself in the third period, but was robbed by Taylor Gauthier in the Pens’ net.

“It feels good to be playing on the first line with Merk and Fabs, great players,” he said.

“I thought we jelled pretty well, probably should have had a few goals. I know I missed a tap-in, but it’s going to come. I thought we played well. Those two guys are so skilled it creates a lot of space for me and kind of allows me to do my thing.”

He had 21-29-50 in 68 games with Guelph last year. He’ll return to the OHL this season.

“He sees a lot of plays. He makes a lot of plays. He’s got a little subtleness to his game. I like him and Lysell together, for sure. They made some nice plays, those two,” said Bruins coach Ryan Mougenel.


Beecher scored a goal for the second straight game, banging the puck home from in tight after Luke Toporowski’s blast hit the post. That knotted the game at four.

He lost 10-15 pounds over the summer and he believes it’s helped his game.

“It feels good. I think I’m getting up and down the ice much faster for the entire game. My legs aren’t as tired by the end of the third period. I think my speed and the consistency of being able to get up and down is huge for me, especially with speed being my biggest asset,” he said.

“I’m really comfortable at 215 (pounds). It’s plenty of weight for physicality. We’ll see how it is coming down the stretch for my first pro season, but as of right now I love where I’m at.”

Moungenel sees a difference from last spring.

“He can sustain a lot more than he could when we first got him in Providence at the end of the season,” he said.

“We were really banged up at the time and he was playing a ton of minutes, so it was not really a fair assessment. But now I can see the difference in him on the bench, he’s ready to go. He’s going to play minutes for us, important minutes on the PK.

“There’s things in his game that I like. I like that he’s finding ways to score. I’ve talked about that, too. He’s got to find different ways to score, it can’t just be with his feet all the time. Use his shot, tips, wraps.

“A little bit more Joe Pavelski-ish. If you can blend the two, where you have an IQ for the net, you have a plan, you have a template, I think he’s a guy that can manufacture offense that way.”


A last-minute invite to rookie camp after 2021 third-rounder Brett Harrison of Oshawa was injured, the undrafted Humphrey was all over the scoresheet with a pair of goals and 12 penalty minutes.

A native of Michigan who played for Victory Honda and Honeybaked while growing up, Humphrey skated for the U.S. in the U-17 Five Nations Tournament in 2019. He had 25-37-62 with 82 PIMs in 68 games with Hamilton of the OHL last season.

“I feel like I’m a hard-nosed, gritty guy with a touch of skill. I can bury my opportunities if I get them, but I’m willing to do whatever I can for the team and play my heart out for the guys,” he said.

Both of his goals were scored from close range, the first on a redirect of a shot by Jacob Wilson.

“Anywhere by the net, I feel comfy scoring from in tight,” he said.

With about 14 minutes left, Humphrey was assessed 12 minutes in penalties — a minor for slashing and a misconduct. Inexplicably, he was sent to the dressing room even though he should have been eligible to return for the final two minutes of the game.

“The faceoff before, I got high-sticked” in the mouth with no call, he said. In response, “I just went over with maybe a little hard chop on the guy’s laces. (The referee) said he didn’t want me starting anything and gave me the boot.”

Mougenel liked what he saw from Humphrey.

“I loved him and J.D. Greenway together. I thought they did a real good job. He’s a fiery guy. He’s from Detroit, kind of showed it tonight that he’s got some grit. He was on the short end of that call,” he said.

Undrafted the last time around, the 19-year-old winger is eligible for the 2023 NHL Draft.


Johnny Beecher: “It was heaven on earth in my eyes, the University of Michigan. I cherish every second I spent there, but I’m excited for this new journey. To put the books down for a little bit is definitely great but hopefully I can get back eventually and try and finish up my degree (in sports management).”

Good day for Bruins youngsters at Prospects Challenge in Buffalo

BUFFALO – It was an encouraging day for the Bruins youngsters on Friday as they bounced back after a sluggish start to win their opening game at the Prospects Challenge.

Boston trailed 2-0 and 3-1 to the Ottawa Senators in the first period but rallied for a 5-4 win.

Luke Toporowski led the attack with two goals, Marc McLaughlin recorded a goal and an assist, Fabian Lysell scored a goal and Johnny Beecher set up a goal and potted the winner with under three minutes left in the game, turning a defender and depositing the puck in the net.

Here are three quick hits from the game:


The most dynamic Bruins prospect used linemate Jakub Lauko as a decoy on a two-on-one before wiring the puck past Sens’ goalie Mads Sogaard for a goal in the second period.

Impressive, too, was the play he made in the defensive zone late in the game. With an extra attacker on for the Senators, Lysell won a battle with the much bigger Jake Sanderson along the boards and muscled the puck out of the zone.

“He’s a player that, when he touches the puck, you get excited. I’m no different than anybody else watching him. There’s things in his game I love. I loved his second effort to get the puck out with the goalie pulled. I thought that said a lot about the kid,” said Bruins coach Ryan Mougenel.

“He’s a special kid, he’s fun to be around, I really enjoy him. He’s got things in his game that probably, like all of us, have to get better at the next level. This is what it’s about, the process, for him, taking it day by day.’’


Toporowski’s father, Kerry, put up 505 penalty minutes for Spokane of the WHL in 1990-91.

Luke’s game is offense. The 21-year-old left winger averaged a point-per-game in his last two seasons of junior hockey, with Spokane and Kamloops last year and Sioux Falls of the USHL in the COVID year of 2020-21.

His flair for scoring was on display against the Senators. He was in perfect position to bury the rebound of a Marc McLaughlin shot in the first period and he ripped home a one-timer from distance in the third period, tying the game at four.

Toporowski signed a two-year AHL deal with Providence earlier this year.

A native of Iowa, he was regarded as a very good prospect while playing as a youngster for Chicago Mission. He signed with Spokane of the Dub, where his father and brother played, at age 15.

“I went on a couple of (college) visits but Spokane was always the team I wanted to play for,’’ he said.

He didn’t let being passed over in the draft hold him back.

“When it first happened and I didn’t get drafted I was a little bummed, but I think that motivates you even more and I think that will stick with me and will be something I’ll always have in the back of my head,” he said.

Mougenel likes what he’s seen from Toporowski.

“He’s a hockey player. He’s a guy that likes to play on the inside. He’s not afraid of it and he doesn’t really need a second chance to score. He’s shoot first. There’s not a lot of rebounds with him, he seems to find the back of the net. He really impressed me a lot (on Friday). He impressed me a lot in development camp, too. Some of those competitive traits really showed up with him early on,’’ he said.


Abate signed an AHL deal with Providence out of Omaha of the NCHC last spring. He brought with him a reputation as guy who gets under the skin of opponents. He played to that identify on Friday.

The 6-foot-2 winger finished his checks and dished out a steady stream of chirps, even after the final buzzer. Earlier, when a Senator plowed Matthew Poitras of the Bruins into the boards, Abate immediately responded by knocking down an Ottawa player well after the whistle.

“I loved the juice that he brought,’’ said Mougenel. “It’s something that we need in Providence is some abrasiveness in a guy that can play. I think that’s important. I turned to Marc McLaughlin on the bench and said, ‘I know why you fought him (in the USHL).’ He would have annoyed me as well.

“I’ve been very transparent with Joey, what he needs to do to find minutes with the team. That’s how he’s got to play. Be an irritant, kill penalties and provide a value where you can be on the ice and not be a liability. He did everything I expected, came as advertised.”


Luke Toporowski on former WHL opponent Fabian Lysell:

“Me and him had lots of battles. We went at it a lot with words and on the ice. We hated each other, essentially. He’s a great player. He plays with so much tenacity and then you see his skill take over. I think that’s what separates him from everybody else.

“Now we’re teammates and we’re getting along and we’re buddies. I’m happy to be on this side of the bench with him.”