June 17, 2024

Bruins recall exciting prospect from AHL

The Bruins recalled left wing Georgii Merkulov from AHL Providence on Friday, per the AHL’s transactions log (via the New England Hockey Journal’s Mark Divver). In a corresponding transaction, the Bruins assigned center Patrick Brown to Providence to stay at the maximum of 23 players on the active roster.

This is the first recall in Merkulov’s career. The 23-year-old is in his second full season in the Bruins organization after signing as a free agent in 2022.

Bruins' Merkulov named AHL Player of the Week | TheAHL.com | The American  Hockey League

Merkulov’s development path has been unique, to say the least. First eligible for selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, he posted 22 goals and 46 points in 64 games with the MHL’s Kapitan Stupino in the Russian junior ranks in his draft year but did not get selected by an NHL club and wasn’t on the radar of most scouts in the public sphere.

In 2019-20, Merkulov got off to an incredibly disappointing start with two points in ten MHL games and no points in six games with HK Tambov in the VHL, Russia’s second-tier pro league behind the KHL. With an NHL career in mind, Merkulov made the choice mid-season to come stateside to continue his development, signing a tender with the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms to finish out his junior career.

That choice proved fruitful. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic interrupting his playing schedule, Merkulov was productive as a member of the Phantoms, posting 20 goals and 73 points in 74 games there across the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.

The 5-foot-11 winger then opted to pursue a collegiate career, committing to Ohio State for the 2021-22 season. As a rare 21-year-old freshman, Merkulov exploded offensively, matching his USHL career goal total of 20 in just 36 games for the Buckeyes while adding 14 assists. That breakout finally put him on the map for NHL teams, and, after just one NCAA season, he inked a three-year, entry-level deal with the Bruins as a free agent in April of 2022.

Merkulov continued his momentum in his first pro season. Last year with Providence, he led the Bruins’ primary affiliate in goals (24) and points (55), earning a spot on the AHL’s All-Rookie Team in the process. Through 31 games this season, he’s again leading the team in both categories with 14 goals and 30 points.

Now in the second season of his entry-level deal, Merkulov’s offensive production in Providence has forced the Bruins’ hand to give him an NHL look. He will look to unseat Jakub Lauko or Oskar Steen for a fourth-line role and could make his NHL debut in one of Boston’s two remaining games before New Year’s Day.

AHL: BELL - Merkulov becoming key part of Bruins' future

Brown, 31, heads down to Providence for the sixth time this season. He’s failed to lock down the fourth-line center spot in Boston after signing a two-year, $1.6M contract as a UFA last summer and has been relegated to extra forward status. The Bruins have ferried him between leagues often since he last cleared waivers on November 18 to limit his time on the NHL roster and extend his temporary waiver exemption.

In ten NHL games, Brown has recorded one assist and a -1 rating while averaging 8:29 per game. He’s played just twice in December, including an appearance in the Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Sabres on Wednesday, in which he posted a -1 rating and went three for six in the faceoff dot in 7:24 of ice time.

Merkulov carries a cap hit of $925K compared to Brown’s $800K, but with Derek Forbort and Milan Lucic on long-term injured reserve, the Bruins have enough money in their salary pool to accommodate the minimal difference. He will be a restricted free agent when his ELC expires in 2025.

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