With the Boston Bruins having six picks in the top-52 selections of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and just five more scheduled for rounds 3-7 (the B’s moved their fifth-rounder to Minnesota in exchange for the Wild’s fifth in 2016), there hasn’t been a great deal of attention placed on the four players the team took later on.
However, if the club believes that its first and second rounds will build a future foundation of promise, the selections of forwards Cameron Hughes and Jack Becker could tip the scales towards 2015 being a seminal draft class for this franchise. We have a long way to go before it can compare to Bruins hauls in 1979, 1980 and 2006, but the value and upside the team and others feel it got from this duo of raw-but-talented players is encouraging.
Hughes, acquired with the 165th overall selection in the sixth round, came into the season with the promise of being a top-two round selection according to scouts. A product of the Spruce Grove Saints of the tier 2 Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), the same club that brought Matt Benning to the 2012 draft, Hughes is a Western Canadian who passed on the traditional major junior route to play in the NCAA for the University of Wisconsin last season.
Here’s an except on him from the 2015 Red Line Report draft guide:
“We really like this slick centre’s vision and imaginative playmaking with the puck. Plus, he’s a very gritty, feisty kid who never backs down from a physical confrontation despite his mediocre size- aggressive attitude.”
That’s the kind of skill set that resonates with a team like Boston, whose president, Cam Neely, has talked repeatedly of infusing that “hard to play against” mantra back into the organization.
“He probably made the jump to Wisconsin too early,” said an NHL scout highly familiar with both Huges and Becker. “Had he stayed in junior another season he probably would have gone earlier- perhaps end of the second round or solidly in the third because he would have put up bigger numbers.”
The scout went on to say that he thinks Hughes arrived in Madison at about 140-150 pounds and the lack of strength showed. It isn’t that he didn’t get a lot of opportunities at first, but that the lack of physical readiness when playing against mostly 20-23-year-old men wore the 17-year-old true freshman down. Being on a poor team didn’t help Hughes much, either.
“He’s a creative playmaker,” the scout said. “He’s very intelligent and competitive and skilled. He doesn’t back down from anything, kills penalties, blocks shots and then will skate down to the other end of the ice and score. If there is something I think he could work on it’s his skating. He’s not a poor skater, but when you look at a player with his average size, you want him to be a little quicker and faster out there.”
Hughes demonstrated his impressive skill set at Boston’s development camp last week, standing out for many of the things the scout described, and as he grows and develops physically, watch for him to break out in a big way for the Badgers if not this year, certainly as a junior.
Mark Staudinger, who covers Western Canada for RLR, keeps going back to what Hughes did at Spruce Grove last season as a far better indicator of his potential than the one over-his-head physically year at Wisconsin:
“He was so skilled and smart,” Staudinger said of Hughes in the 2014 AJHL playoffs. “But he’s a tough little SOB, too. He sticks his nose in, fights hard along the boards and wins puck battles against bigger guys because he’s so tenacious.”
Becker, who was Boston’s final selection in the seventh round at 195th overall, is a different animal from Hughes.
The Mahtomedi High School (Minnesota) forward is the son of Russ Becker, whom the NY Islanders drafted in the 11th round, 228th overall in the 1984 NHL draft as a Virginia, Minnesota HS standout who went on to play at Michigan Tech. Cousin Aaron Miskovich was a 1997 Colorado Avalanche draft pick and had a brief pro career, so there are some bloodlines in the mix.
“I saw him earlier in the season and he was this tall kid who was really lanky, couldn’t skate very well, but people told me to just watch- that has the highest work ethic of any player in Minnesota and teams will be kicking themselves for not drafting him,” the NHL scout said. “I went back to watch Becker in April and I was shocked at how good he was.”
Becker was felled by a bout with mononucleosis early in the season, usually a harbinger of a ruined year. But to Becker’s credit, after recovering from the illness, he came back strong to play his best hockey.
“He plays a straight-ahead game,” said the scout. “He goes through people and right to the net. He gets his points by going straight in to to the blue paint and has the hands to score goals in tight. What I like about him is that he has NHL habits already: the stops and starts, he gets back quickly when the play goes the other way, he goes to the net and stops. Those things you don’t tend to see at the high school level when kids can dominate without doing the little things that are so important at the next level.”
Good friend and Red Line scout Dan Shrader saw Becker multiple times this season and smartly listed him in the RLR final rankings.
“He’s not a facilitator but is a great crash and bang type,” Shrader said. “He’s terrific with the give and go net drives. He’s a bit thorny (in his development) and needs time but could be a player when all is said and done. No one in Minnesota high school hockey crashed the net harder than Becker this year.”
Becker will spend a season in the USHL and then is off to Wisconsin where he might get an opportunity to team up with Hughes in the 2016-17 season.
In all honesty, past trends show that you can’t bank on great production from players taken in the latter rounds of the NHL draft, but in Hughes and Becker, the B’s appear to have a duo that are only beginning to scratch the surface of their potential. As the old saying goes- time will tell.
To take it on home, here’s their ‘Last in Line’ anthem from the great Ronnie James (RIP):