CHICAGO- The Boston Bruins entered the 2017 NHL Entry Draft with six selections and just three in the first three 111 slots after making a total of nine picks in the first two rounds in the previous pair of years. The B’s held onto all of their picks, but didn’t come away with a lot of draft excitement and buzz, even if several of the players they chose appear to have the talent and potential to one day play for the parent club.
Assistant GM Scott Bradley returned to the helm of running the B’s draft with previous amateur scouting director Keith Gretzky leaving Boston last August to take the same position with the Edmonton Oilers, where he was reunited with former Bruins boss who hired him, Peter Chiarelli. This draft class reflects Bradley’s value-based philosophy and willingness to take less risk in favor of drafting players who embrace the team’s style and represent better potential roster fits.
Here’s a quick recap of all of Boston’s picks in the draft’s two days and what fans might expect from the new arrivals down the road:
Urho Vaakanainen, Rd 1.- pick 18
Left defense; 6-1/181; 01 Jan 99; JyP Jyvaskyla (Finland- SM Liiga)
Central Scouting rank: 8- Europe; Red Line Report: 50 ISS: 34 Hockey Prospect: 11
Talent analysis: Good height and long limbs; plus-skater who can move with speed, quickness and agility. Breaks out pucks efficiently with head up. Will join the rush and can handle the puck effectively from the blue line when the play is in the offensive zone. Smart defensive player who uses his length and reach to deny paths to the net. Not overly physical and prefers to use angles, gap work and a quick stick to keep opponents from generating scoring chances. Six points for JyP in his second pro season in the SM-Liiga, but could be on the verge of breaking out offensively with SaiPa next season.
Pick analysis: Vaakanainen was the eighth-ranked European skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service and projected to go around where the B’s drafted him. Some public lists had him closer to 11-13 range, while others had him solidly in the second round. The Bruins were looking to add a quality left-shot defenseman and when countryman Juuso Valimaki went off the board to the Calgary Flames at 16, the team went with another of Finland’s quality young D who was a member of both of his country’s successful two most recent U18 squads (gold, silver in 2016-17) and the very disappointing 2017 U20 World Jr. Team. Vaakanainen is not all that flashy or dynamic a player, but he is mobile, skilled and represents a potential blossoming offensive upside that may not be reflected in his pedestrian stats. He’s probably not a high-end prospect, but a solid complementary kind of player who further strengthens the future left side and gives GM Don Sweeney more options to move some of the prospects out in potential packages for NHL-level trades.
On the board at 18: F- Kristian Vesalainen; F- Ryan Poehling; F- Kailer Yamamoto; F- Eeli Tolvanen; F- Klim Kostin; F- Robert Thomas; D- Nic Hague; F- Filip Chytil; D- Connor Timmins; F- Isaac Ratcliffe; D- Pierre-Olivier Joseph; G- Jake Oettinger
Jack Studnicka, Rd 2.- pick 53
Center; 6-1/172; 18 Feb 99; Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Central Scouting rank: 120- North America; Red Line Report: 68; ISS: 41; Hockey Prospect: 73
Talent analysis: Rangy center’s stock really came on after a disappointing regular season got a surge with strong OHL playoff and subsequent World Under-18 tournament performances. His thin, reedy build will require significant off-ice conditioning work to add some mass and strength to. Above average skater who has the quick-burst to get to pucks in short areas and can also beat defenders in open ice. Handles and shoots the puck well; has the offensive tool kit to put up bigger numbers in the OHL next year and beyond. A smart, hard-working two-way center who is good on faceoffs and understands the importance of three-zone hockey. Solid citizen and leader type- will have a letter on his jersey at some point.
Pick analysis: Doesn’t project as a top-line offensive threat but has the potential to develop into a solid third-line center with a second-line ceiling if he can take another step in his development. Rankings for Studnicka were all over the map, but the reality is- he was a late-rising player whose ability to step up in key moments with the Gennies and Team Canada (albeit in disappointing Hlinka and U18 finishes) speaks well to his pro potential. More Jack-of-all-Trades versus sleek, sexy scoring forward, but there is always value to having these kinds of players on your NHL roster if he can earn a spot one day. There weren’t many complete players of Studnicka’s ability on the board at 53, but there were some prospects with a bigger risk-reward factors, so time will tell if going the safer route was the right decision.
On the board at 53: G- Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen; G- Michael DiPietro; G- Keith Petruzzelli; F- Joni Ikonen; F- Matthew Strome; D- Josh Brook; F- Morgan Geekie; G- Matthew Villalta; D- Ben Mirageas; D- Reilly Walsh;
Jeremy Swayman, Rd 4.- pick 111
Goaltender; 6-2/190; 24 Nov 98; Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
Central Scouting rank: 12- North America; Red Line Report: NR; Hockey Prospect: NR
Talent analysis: High-end athlete with good size who probably isn’t finished growing (his dad is 6-6) checks all the boxes for a developmental project goalie. Excellent quickness and great hands- glove and blocker are effective at catching pucks or directing them away from danger areas. Gets a good lateral push and tracks pucks well. Put up very good save percentage and GAA numbers (.914, 2.90) on a non-playoff USHL club, and was often lost in the spotlight of other bigger-name goalies playing in that league. Needs to be more patient at times- gets caught trying to do too much and will have to put in the work to refine his game and keep getting better. Says all the right things, but the proof will be in the continued progression and body of work.
Pick analysis: Textbook case of the perception of the “shallow” 2017 NHL draft, where many of the more conventional and established names on public lists were passed on by teams who scouted their own players and went with a lesser known commodity in Swayman, an Alaska native who played for a tougher-to-see USHL club. Originally thought to be spending another year in junior, TSP confirmed that Swayman will play at the University of Maine next season. That may or may not be the best for his development, but the B’s and fans will likely have to get used to what could be a bit of a rollercoaster for him in terms of strong vs. shaky outings and stretches of play. Swayman’s pure physical package means that he’s bound to have some quality starts that will generate buzz, but he’s also likely to have some rougher stretches that will underscore the time and patience needed to properly develop a goaltender in this day and age.
On the board at 111: F- Kyle Olson; D- Michael Karow; F- Noah Cates; G- Cayden Primeau; F- Nick Campoli
Cedric Pare, Rd. 6- pick 173
Center; 6-2/205; 24 Jan 99; Saint John Sea Dogs
Central Scouting Rank: 146- North America
Talent analysis: Big-bodied, toolsy center who didn’t see a lot of playing time on a stacked, veteran team that won the QMJHL championship and played for the 2017 Memorial Cup. Strong below the dots and in the corners, but skating needs to improve mainly in the first steps and lateral agility to boost an effective short-area game. Hard shot, but needs to get it off faster. Grinds for pucks and does well to shield them in possession but not overly skilled or creative. At his best when driving the net and using his size to box out defenders.
Pick analysis: This is a pure project selection that drew a mixed bag of reviews, as several NHL scouts informally polled either liked the pick or didn’t. Conventional thought is that Pare, who resembles a blend of Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Spooner in terms of his looks, has a chance to play a more prominent role in Saint John next season. He’s not flashy, but plays that heavy-on-pucks style the Bruins like. Time will tell if they were ahead of the curve in terms of a budding offensive game, or if he’s going to be another in a glut of bottom-line prospects.
On the board at 173: F- Morgan Barron, F- Sasha Chmelevski; F- Cole Guttman; G- Dylan Ferguson
5. Victor Berglund, Rd. 7- pick 195
Right Defense; 6-0/165; 02 Aug 99; MoDo (Sweden)
Central Scouting Rank: 109- Europe
Talent analysis: Small, skilled defender was a total stealth/under the radar pick, as no one we were with at the draft knew who he was. We’ll let Bradley describe him thus: “Our Swedish guys were on top of him. They think he’s a mobile D. He’s skilled, ultra-skilled, and he skates well. Small. Six-footer, but [European scouts] P.J. [Axelsson] and Sven [Svensson] and Victor [Nybladh], they were pounding the table for him and we went along with it and I think we might have something there. Talking to his strength coach after the pick, he’s got him working on putting some muscle and weight on so we look forward to seeing him, too, at development camp.”
Pick analysis: It’s the seventh round. Why not?
On the board at 195: G- Cayden Primeau; F- Sammy Walker; F- Logan Cockerill; D- Croix Evingson; D- Phil Kemp
6. Daniel Bukac, Rd. 7- pick 204
Right Defense; 6-4/195; 29 Apr 99; Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Central Scouting Rank: 173; Red Line Report: 97
Talent analysis: Big, rangy Czech defender is raw and needs a lot of development, but could have a decent payoff down the road. Good skater for his size who will get better and more powerful in his stride as he adds lower leg strength. Long stick- terrific reach. Didn’t put up many points, but had a tough transition to North America with the Wheaties and came on strong at the end. More from Bradley: “He’s raw. He’s a project. Kid from the Czech Republic that played in the Western Hockey League. At the start of the year – he’s come leaps and bounds with his development. Talking to the people – the coaches, the management, and the GM in Brandon, they’re very excited about him coming back to Brandon. They’re expecting big things from him. We look forward to seeing him in camp.”
Pick analysis: When you’re picking this late, taking a project D with size and upside is a pretty good way to go.
On the board at 204: G- Dayton Rasmussen; F- Nick Swaney; D- Dylan Coghlan
KPD quoted Bradley as saying (about Vaakanainen):
“We’re excited about him. His skating is close to a five in our system. He’s got a nice shot. Compare his skating to [Paul] Coffey at times, a really mobile, transitional defenseman. He’s been playing pro for two years, so he’s got some good mileage under him when it comes to seasoning.”
Do you know what he means by “a five in our system”?
The overall impression I’m getting is that he’s a great skater but other parts of his game are less certain.
On the whole seems like a good pick to me, but then, I like defensemen who can skate.
Michael… Skills are rated from 1-5 with 5 being the highest. A 5 skater is an elite skater.
Thanks, Ed. That is what I thought from the context, but I figured maybe it could have been 2-6 (like baseball) or something else. I’ll gamble on the other tools of an elite skater any day.
Safe to assume that if Gretzky were still here the picks would have been far different? How much of B’s draft success the last few years should be attributed to him as compared to Sweeney/remaining scout staff?
No, not safe to assume that.
Too much credit given by fans to chief scouts when drafts go well, too much blame given to GMs when they don’t.
Will always respect Keith Gretzky for his contributions, but it’s a team effort & many of his scouts are still on the Bruins staff. He’d be the first to tell you fans give him too much respect for work done by many area guys pounding the pavement. – KL
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Thanks for the insight KL!
Completely agree! I just wrote about the draft go check it out would love some opinions!