The Scouting Post has relocated to the heart of USHL territory in the past 30 days and in light of the completion of the recent World Jr. Championship, we figured it’s about time to start shining some light on some of the players who might be of interest not just to Bruins fans, but anyone who has an interest in the annual NHL draft.
(Editor’s note- because of my work as a scout with the Red Line Report and Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, there are some limitations to what I can put out on this blog. Those who remember my 2010 and 2011 Bruins Draft Watch projects probably remember the level of detail and the wide breadth of coverage. Sorry about that, folks- but the hope is that this can point you in a solid direction to go out and do some research on your own.)
2017 NHL draft summary
In talking to multiple scouts and NHL front office members and insiders, the June draft being held in Chicago, is not particularly strong or deep when compared to recent years. At the top of this year’s class are a couple of forwards- Nolan Patrick (recently returned from injury) and Swiss assassin Nico Hischier, who dazzled at the WJC after being this blog’s favorite forward at last April’s U18 championship in Grand Forks. A pair of Scandinavian defensemen in Sweden’s Timothy Liljegren and Finnish all-around guy Juuso Välimäki could be the class of the blue line in 2017. However, the goaltending position is among the deepest and most promising in years, particularly among American puck stoppers- BU’s Jake Oettinger (by way of Lakeland, Minn.) Keith Petruzzelli (Wilbraham, Mass.) and Cayden Primeau (Voorhees, N.J.) are all big, athletic and have high-end NHL potential.
All in all, even if the projections for this draft class aren’t great- there will be eventual NHL stars to be had, so teams have a chance to accomplish their due diligence and find those values and bargains- they’re out there.
Boston Bruins draft needs and outlook
With nine picks in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the last two drafts, not to mention getting some diamonds in the rough in the fourth and fifth rounds during 2014 in Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork, the B’s don’t have to stockpile more picks- quality is the key here, not quantity. That may seem counterintuitive to some fans who simply believe that maximizing draft assets is the way to go, and that opinion is valid. However, Don Sweeney’s recent actions in moving multiple picks for veteran mid-tier players reflects the challenge the B’s have in trying to work their drafted depth onto the NHL roster. Don’t be surprised if Sweeney aims a little higher by trading some of the prospects and higher picks in 2017 or 2018 for NHL players who will make a bigger impact than John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak did.
Forward- The Bruins will likely take a best player available approach in 2017, but all BPAs are not necessarily on a level playing field. Watch for the B’s to prioritize adding depth to the center position ahead of the wings, which boast some quality young names already in Heinen, Bjork, Peter Cehlarik, Zach Senyshyn, Jake DeBrusk and Jesse Gabrielle. It isn’t like the center position is in dire straits, either- Trent Frederic, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Ryan Donato, Cameron Hughes and Ryan Fitzgerald plus big Finn Joona Koppanen will all vying for a limited number of openings in the next 2-6 years. Fitzgerald in particular could shift to the wing, assuming he doesn’t decide to follow the Matt Benning blueprint and sign somewhere else by waiting until August 15 to become an unrestricted free agent, four years after the B’s took him in the fourth round in 2013.
Defense- Where once a major sore spot for the B’s, the last two drafts have made the organization flush with promising blue line futures. Headlined by Charlie McAvoy, the B’s also boast a balanced talent pool: Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk have both looked promising in limited looks with the big club already after being drafted in 2011 and 2012, but the real buzz surrounds players like McAvoy, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril and Ryan Lindgren. Brandon Carlo, the 37th overall choice in 2015, has already made the big time and is quite the fan favorite. Again- more is not always more. With no shortage of quality players in the pipeline, the team doesn’t need to spend another 3 or 4 choices on defensemen- they cold make hay with just one (or two) D-man who is the right pick. Don’t forget about project defenders already in the system such as 6-6 Harvard standout Wiley Sherman and Ferris State’s Cameron Clarke.
Goaltender- This is a key area need in our view. Sure, Dan Vladar looks promising and Zane McIntyre has earned his way to the big club to be Tuukka Rask’s backup. Don’t completely count Malcolm Subban out yet (his recent run in Providence seems to have stabilized his season), but the B’s could use one or two more longer-term developmental projects at the position to keep the depth and competition strong. With a goalie crop as skilled and promising as the 2017 grouping, this is a very good opportunity for the team to bolster their netminders.
The picks- Trades last year have taken a few of Boston’s choices out of play, but the good news is that for now at least, the B’s are getting Edmonton’s second as compensation for Peter Chiarelli. Of course, the Oilers are finally winning again, so that pick is tracking to be in the 50’s as opposed to the 30’s.
All draft positions are TBD and will be determined at the end of the season, but for now, here is where the team will be picking by round if the season ended today (and remember- the Vegas Golden Knights make the NHL’s 31st club and will be choosing ahead of the B’s):
1st round (BOS)- 20th
2nd round (EDM)- 53rd (for Peter Chiarelli)
3rd round- No pick (to PHI for Zac Rinaldo)
4th round- (BOS)- 113th
5th round- No pick (to CAR for JM Liles)
6th round- (BOS)- 175th
7th round (FLA)- 198th (for 2016 B’s 7th), (BOS)- 206th
Keep in mind- Boston’s 52 points only represent a 6-point spread between a whopping 16 clubs, so if the Bruins continue their swoon (not to mention factoring in the various games-in-hand other teams have), you will see some drastic movement on this list.
Now, to the good part. Here are a few players who have piqued our interest and might represent the kind of fit that the B’s could value:
Cody Glass, C Portland (WHL)- They’d likely need to crash and finish in the bottom five or six to have a shot at Glass, but he’s got size and is a fierce competitor- leading the Winterhawks in scoring with 21 goals and 59 points as a 17-year-old. He’s a 6-2 power center who shows tremendous promise and is ideally suited for everything the B’s tend to look for in a forward.
Casey Mittelstadt, C Green Bay (USHL)/Eden Prairie (Minn.) HS- The bloom is off the rose a bit after he left a strong start in the USHL to play at the lower high school level of competition and things haven’t come together as anticipated. Having said that, Mittelstadt is skilled, has a high hockey IQ and brings the kind of style the B’s value. A slip in the rankings while other players rise could see whichever team drafts him come away with excellent value.
Martin Necas, C Brno (Czech)- The Eastern European center is rising fast after a fine WJC. An average, thin frame and outstanding hockey sense plus country of origin will immediately draw comparisons to David Krejci, but where Necas separates himself is in the skating. He’s got tremendous balance and quickness- will probably need a top-10 pick to come away with Necas, though.
Nicholas Hague, D Mississauga (OHL)- Looking for another mobile shutdown D a la Carlo but for the left side? Hague is your guy. Good skater for pushing 6-6, though he isn’t the smoothest in his pivots. At his best when he’s keeping the play simple and not trying to push the offensive envelope too much. Pair him with more of a dynamic offensive player like McAvoy and look out- you could end up with a beastly duo.
Maxime Comtois, LW Victoriaville (QMJHL)- Loved this gritty, speedy 6-2 winger for Canada at the U18s, but his stock is down after expectations were high. When on his game, he’s tenacious, pushing the pace and driving opponents crazy with his agitating, high-energy style. If he can get back to his scoring ways, could be fine value in the mid-first.
Keith Petruzzelli, G Muskegon (USHL)- “Petru-zilla” looks like something special- at 6-6, he has the best potential of any goalie in this draft in our view, but he’s not as refined as others. Still, we wouldn’t be surprised to see some team spend a late 1st or early 2nd on him, and we’d be surprised if the Bruins would be the ones to do it after Subban. He’s so big and fluid- good kid, too- came up through Springfield Cathedral and Selects Academy before trying his hand (and thriving) in the USHL.
Cayden Primeau, G Lincoln (USHL)- Keith’s kid would be excellent value with that Edmonton pick in the 2nd round. He won’t be there in the fourth round when the B’s select again. Big, quick, and has solid fundamentals and the mental toughness to carry a team. Was tremendous in leading USA to gold at the World Jr. A Challenge and is headed to Northeastern, so that will certainly appeal to the B’s in terms of being able to better monitor and develop him.
Okay- that’s just a few names. We’ll be back with others as the season goes on, but we hope this whets the appetite as we draw closer to the end of June.