VANCOUVER- The Boston Bruins wrapped up the 2019 NHL Entry Draft with four selections covering rounds 3 and 5-7 on the second day here Saturday, taking three forwards and a defenseman.
The team, which came up agonizingly short in its bid to win the Stanley Cup, found itself with the penultimate selections in every round save for the seventh, and appeared to adopt a draft strategy of taking players that they can afford to wait a longer time on to develop versus players in Canadian major junior leagues who would require being signed within two years. This ultimately led to some higher-touted players on public lists and rankings being passed over in favor of prospects whose rights can be held by the team for the next five years, allowing the team to slow-play the integration of prospects into their system. With just two selections in the top-95 and five total, this was one of those drafts where the B’s didn’t generate much buzz the way other clubs with more plentiful and earlier selections like New Jersey, the NY Rangers, the Kings and even the Minnesota Wild, who appear on paper to have done pretty well, were able to do at Rogers Arena.
Here’s a quick recap of Boston’s Day 2 picks, but admittedly, we didn’t know a great deal about the two European players taken.
3/92 Quinn Olson, C/L Okotoks (AJHL): The inbound University of Minnesota-Duluth forward can skate and has offensive skill plus high effort/compete and energy levels. He played much of the season with 2020 NHL 1st-round candidate Dylan Holloway, so it will be interesting to see how much of Olson’s impressive production in Tier 2 hockey last season was a product of playing with the league’s top forward in Holloway. Olson doesn’t possess ideal size, but he plays with a relentless style and is bigger than he looks on the ice because of his pace and willingness to initiate contact. He is heading to a top NCAA program with the 2-time defending champion Bulldogs, and will probably sign and turn pro in about 3 years. He’s like a higher-end Karson Kuhlman to draw a comparison to another former UMD player, and makes sense to the Bruins at the end of the third round, even if he was projected to be picked later on. Some of that has more to do with the lack of exposure the AJHL has to many of the draft publications out there, but Olson is a good player. It’s a sneaky kind of pick, but one that could produce a solid middle-six forward with some modest upside down the road.
Quotable: “Two-way center. Has a great pair of legs. He’s got deceptive speed. He has excellent vision, can make high-end plays. A little undersized at this time, we’re hoping for some development physically. We’re excited about this player as well. If he can develop and put some muscle on, he’s got some jam. He’s put up points in each and every year.”- Scott Bradley, Bruins Assistant GM
5/154 Roman Bychkov, D/L Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (MHL): The B’s drafted this smallish but dynamic-skating Russian, who has received some mixed reviews about his ultimate offensive ceiling. One thing scouts at the draft aren’t divided on however is his feet: he can wheel, able to accelerate to speed quickly and tremendous on his edges, often eluding forecheckers and opening up skating lanes for himself because he can change directions so effortlessly. Although not tall, he tends to use his lower center of gravity to good effect and has a decent stick/defensive game. Bychkov drew positive attention for his performance with the silver-medal winning Russian World Jr. A Challenge and World U18 squads. It marks the second year in a row the B’s have drafted a Russian player after going 2012-17 without a single selection from that country. He’s an interesting flyer kind of project pick in that he compares in style and substance to current B’s prospects Victor Berglund (2017) and Axel Andersson (2018) as defenders who can really skate and move the puck, but who don’t have an established high NHL ceiling. Time will tell on this one, but some out there have time for him.
Quotable: “Feet don’t get tied up in front of own goal’ smartly steps into open turns preventing himself from getting bottled up…smart positional player who adjusts routes at the last minute to surprise puck carriers with fast footwork on startup to jump up and stay with fast developing rushes.”- Mark Staudinger, Red Line Report
6/185 Matias Mantykivi F/L SaiPa (Finland- SM Liiga): This skilled offensive forward has average size and skating, but is crafty with the puck and has some impressive offensive hockey sense when talking to those who have scouted him. An 18-year-old who was able to play both junior and pro hockey this year in his native Finland, it speaks to his potential that one so young is already getting chances to play against men, and his skating may have looked a little rougher because of the transition to the faster-paced pro game. He’s probably not ever going to be a burner or even a plus-skater given his smaller stature, but his hands and offensive creativity are strong suits. Again- there were other North American major junior players ranked higher than MM, but the B’s felt that they could draft him on the longer-term plan and take their time here. Good strategy or ultimately a roll of the dice that will come up snake eyes? We shall see, but we are talking about a pick made that was in the seventh-round range before Vegas joined the league, so it isn’t like the expectations for this pick are out of line with the value it represents.
Quotable: “Very smart player- hockey sense is- we considered not elite but very special or he can be someday.”- Bradley
7/192 Jake Schmaltz F/L Chicago Steel (USHL): The cousin of NHLers Nick and Jordan Schmaltz, this was a surprise pick here just because the newest Bruin is a player we have seen a good bit of going back to the 2017-18 season when he was on the Team Wisconsin 16U midget AAA team that reached the T1 midget title game before falling to the Chicago Mission 16s. Schmaltz has always been a responsible 2-way forward, but he was a raw, physically underdeveloped player as a midget who got better and better as the year went on, ultimately leading to his being drafted as a 2001-born player by Chicago in the USHL draft a year ago and making the team as a 17-year-old. He didn’t play a great deal behind some other more highly-skilled and productive forwards on the Steel, who fell to the Sioux Falls Stampede in the Clark Cup championship last month. There’s not much of a dynamic element to his game- he skates well and is tall and lanky at this point- he’ll have a lot of room to fill out going forward. Headed to the University of North Dakota after another year in the USHL, don’t expect a major increase in points production, but Schmaltz is a smart, efficient forward who should be good for maybe 30-40 as the team’s 2nd-line center. His GM with the Steel is former Bruins scout Ryan Hardy.
Quotable: “He was a real core and anchor for (the Steel)- he anchored their third line this year. They went deep, they went to the finals and we thought he was a big part of their team in his role. He killed penalties and was great on draws. He’s a developing kid- he’s 6-1 and 180 right now and we project him to be closer to 200 pounds and 6-2 when it’s all said and done. He’s a 2-way player and his skating will pick up with some strength.”- Bradley
Final review: With John Beecher going late in the first round, the Bruins draft class is nothing to write home about. They didn’t land any top-end talent but did pick up some interesting prospects who could develop into players who end up being more than the sum of their parts right now. It’s tough when you only have 2 picks in the first three rounds and are going at the end of every round save the last one, so we can certainly see what the Bruins were trying to do here, even if it is a pretty “middle of the fairway” kind of draft.
One of the mistakes fans and casual process observers sometimes make especially with respect to the NHL draft is viewing it in a linear fashion- it not always is, and the approach varies from team to team. Because the Bruins had a lot of picks in 2015-17 plus undrafted free agents put into the mix, they don’t have a great deal of room to draft a lot more OR take players who are going to be forced to sign and turn pro within the two-year pick and sign window mandated for major junior players. Bradley confirmed this after all the picks were in by saying that unless a CHL player was someone they were absolutely sure on this time around, they were looking more at college and European players who can develop on a longer timeline. This explains to a degree why the B’s passed on Arthur Kaliyev and his 51 goals- you don’t have to like it or agree but it there is anything the electric OHL scorer showed, it was despite the impressive scoring, he was not a sure bet- otherwise he wouldn’t have fallen out of the 1st round. Other teams who don’t have as many prospects vying for contracts and spots in the pipeline have to take a more CHL (major junior)-centric approach in their drafting. It’s a cycle and so the B’s are in a different place right now than other clubs- observers don’t have to like it, but it demonstrates the thinking behind some of these selections.
The draft is always tough because people are conditioned to have strong opinions on players the vast majority of fans have never even seen. Just reading this blog might condition you to be a big fan of Bobby Brink to the Bruins for example, but in the end-while they liked him, he wasn’t in the cards because the team felt Beecher was a better fit and player for them in the long run.
Outside of Olson, the rest of the B’s selections appear to be a lot of: hmmm…interesting…maybe…I don’t know kinds of players, but again- the Bruins have their process and stick to it. Drafts are lauded and/or criticized every year so in 2019, if there appear to be negatives than positives it goes with the territory. At some point, Boston’s draft strategy will shift back to some of the more traditional and immediate player pipelines, but for now, we see what they are doing and we have no choice but to wait and see how it all pans out in another 3-5 years or more.