Under both Claude Julien and now Bruce Cassidy, the Boston Bruins have largely stressed the importance of a lefty-righty balance on the blue line. However, when it comes to loading up the pipeline, that principle doesn’t seem to carry the same weight. The Bruins will continue to add talent to the left side of their defensive ranks, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports the team is set to sign St. Cloud State standout Jack Ahcan.
Ahcan, 22, just wrapped up his senior year with the Huskies and finished his collegiate career with 103 points in 144 games, two NCHC regular season titles, and the “C” on his sweater this final season as well. Ahcan, whose younger brother Roman plays for Wisconsin while youngest brother Grant is committed to St. Cloud State, emerged as an elite talent seemingly out of nowhere as a freshman. The USHL product played his way onto the U.S. World Junior Championship squad, which won gold that year, and finished the NCAA season with 21 points in 32 games. In 2018-19, Ahcan was one of the top blue liners in all of college hockey, finishing in the top ten among NCAA defensive scoring and fifth overall in plus/minus.
Ahcan draws a remarkably close comparison to many of Boston’s existing defensive assets: Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, and even AHL project Cooper Zech. At 5’8” and 185 lbs., Ahcan is a small left-handed defenseman who excels in puck movement, vision, and offensive awareness – a description that fits the whole group. Ahcan quarterbacked the power play at St. Cloud State, much as Krug does in Boston, but also like Krug he is not afraid to throw a big hit and get involved in puck battles. In fact, Ahcan’s skating ability allows him to hunt the puck and create turnovers and offensive chances. Boston has found a way to get the most out of undersized, offensive-minded defenseman and under the tutelage of Krug, Ahcan has a chance to become a special player.
Of course, Krug is set to be an unrestricted free agent, while Grzelcyk will be a restricted free agent this summer. Both are expected to be back next season, but perhaps not for the long haul. A popular projection is for Grzelcyk to be lost to Seattle in the impending 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Boston is too deep up front to protect four defenseman and the likely group of Krug, Charlie McAvoy, and Brandon Carlo would leave Grzelcyk up for grabs. Ahcan could be groomed to be a replacement option in that case.
He will have plenty of competition though. There is no shortage of talent on left side of the blue line in Boston’s organizational depth chart. Although future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara may not be around much longer and Krug is not yet extended long-term, the Bruins have Grzelcyk (for now), veteran John Moore, and rookie Jeremy Lauzon at the NHL level as well. In the AHL, recent first-round picks Urho Vaakanainen and Jakub Zboril will also push for promotion, with the aforementioned Zech in the mix as well. Down the road, 2019 selection Roman Bychkov could also figure into the competition. On top of all of that, the Bruins also signed Nick Wolff from the college ranks just last week. The Minnesota-Duluth defender is an entirely different style of player from Ahcan, but another name eager to show his pro chops. Consider that the right side is well-off at the top level as well with McAvoy, Carlo, Connor Clifton, and Steven Kampfer, and there are far more bodies than opportunities on the Boston blue line. Ahcan is a talented prospect and can learn from some of the best at his particular style with the Bruins, but he has his work cut out for him to be an NHL regular any time soon. If he rises to the task, Boston could look back on this signing as a game-changer.