Best and Worst Bruins Draft Picks 1-30; 1963-2019

Thornton

I recently posted this to the Bruins sub-Reddit- and thought it deserved a place on my blog.

Took a swing at the Boston Bruins historical draft choices, analyzing the team’s selections since the NHL implemented a rudimentary draft system 56 years ago. Bear in mind that in the pre-1969 years, the draft was different- starting in 1963 thru 1978 it was called the amateur draft before changing to the NHL Entry Draft in 1979 when the teams were allowed to draft 18-year-olds. With fewer teams in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, selections outside of 10-20 were 2nd round or later, but for purpose of exercise, I’m going to look at picks 1-30 and call it like I see it.

I’m bucking convention by starting out with 1st overall and work up to 30- in a lot of cases, the early selections for the B’s have not been kind, but in full context- most of the time the team was picking 3-7, it came in the days before the current draft system. And because the B’s had made the playoffs from 1968-97, unless they owned bad teams’ 1st rounders, they rarely got a chance to pick inside the top-10 during that time frame.

1- Best: Joe Thornton, 1997: 1st ballot HHOFer- nuf ced; Trading him opened the door for Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard to join the B’s in 2006, but he’s been everything Jumbo Joe was projected to be as a teen titan with the Soo Greyhounds in 1997. He just turned 40 in July, which, given the shaggy, golden-locked kid who showed up in Boston 22 years ago at not quite 18, seems impossible to square with the grizzled graybeard who has been with the San Jose Sharks for nearly a decade and a half.

Worst: Barry Gibbs, 1966: Journeyman defenseman. He at least played in the NHL to the tune of 796 career games, most of them not with the Bruins. However, Gibbs leads the No. 1 overall bust hit parade not because of what he did, but because of the player who was selected right behind him at No. 2 in ’66 by the NY Rangers. Wait for it…Brad Park. Can you imagine Bobby Orr and Brad Park together on the Boston blue line? It actually happened for a handful of games right before Orr left for the Windy City, but had they been able to play together in their primes, we’re talking at least 2 more Stanley Cups in that era. Yikes. (H/T to Reddit user Timeless_Watch for pointing this out- I moved Kluzak down to HM)

HM: Gord Kluzak, 1982: Oh what could have been? What if…B’s had drafted Brian Bellows or Scott Stevens there instead of Kluzak? Kluzak had knee injuries in junior hockey days and then got blown up in his 2nd NHL season- without the technology to repair knees that we have today, it doomed him to being day-to-day for the rest of his career and an early retirement. He should have been a long-tenured NHL defenseman, but it didn’t happen for him, and unfortunately, he’s more of a footnote in Bruins lore, which is unfortunate.

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Final thoughts on B’s 2019 Development Camp

Truth in lending- no one from TSP was present in Boston, but we’ve talked to a few hockey folks who where. These are just observations meant to supplement what may already be out there in articles, blog posts and message boards from those who saw the action firsthand.

Development camp caveat- you have to take the performances with a grain of salt. B’s player development director Jamie Langenbrunner said it best when asked about 2018 4th-rounder Curtis Hall, when he remarked about liking Hall better in game situations than he does in a skills and drills-centric development camp setting. Some players look like heroes when they just have to showcase their skills and don’t actually have to compete/fight through contact/handle the requirements to play with pace against opponents who are trying to take your head off, and eventually prove they can’t crack the NHL lineup on a full-time basis. Other guys might look less impressive at d-camps, yet become NHL regulars because when it comes to making plays in games, they get it done. This is not to say that it has to be one or the other, but we all have to temper expectations on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to assessing development camp performances from year to year.

Now, on to some notes about players:

Most notable performers

John Beecher, C- Boston’s 1st-rounder wowed onlookers with his pure skating chops, which is not a surprise. As mentioned on this space before, he’s so big and fast that even if he doesn’t evolve into a top scoring threat at the NHL level, he’s going to play for quite a few years because the incoming Michigan freshman has such a high floor at the pro level, and having played behind such dynamic offensive talents at the Program, he might have been denied his due as a scorer. It will be interesting to see how he is employed in Ann Arbor, and one can only wonder if he will be a one-and-done player like Joel Farrabee was at BU this past season. We’re seeing players sign earlier and earlier out of the NCAA, so whether it’s one year or two, the feeling we’re getting is that the B’s will want to bring Beecher into the pro ranks sooner rather than later.

Oskar Steen, F- We talked about him in the first development camp post this week and said we weren’t thrilled when he was drafted. Let’s expound on that: In the 2016 draft, the B’s passed on other smaller/skill forwards like Alex DeBrincat and Vitali Abramov to grab Steen later on. The feeling then was that if you’re going to take a player like that, why not grab the higher-rated guy? Now, hindsight being 20/20- DeBrincat would have been a terrific get for Boston at 29 (Trent Frederic), but to his credit, Steen has developed into an impressive offensive threat in Sweden, finishing 10th in the highest pro league’s scoring, despite being eligible to play junior hockey this past season as a 20-year-old. So, while we (with the exception of 3rd Amigo Reed Duthie, who loved the Steen pick from the get-go) weren’t keen on him on draft weekend, we have seen him evolve as a prospect from a latter-round flyer to a solid NHL prospect who is signed and ready to make his mark in North America. We don’t know where he’ll play this season or what kind of role Steen will have, but with his speed, hands and grit- don’t be surprised to see him play some games in the show at some point. As an older, pro-experienced player, Steen was expected to shine in development camp this week and he did just that…let’s see how he looks against the NHL veterans in September before we get any more hyped on him.

Cooper Zech, D- The slight but speedy defender was signed to an AHL deal and ATO out of Ferris State and made a splash with the Providence Bruins during their playoff run. Now, he might be another of these free agent gems that the B’s scouts seem to be so adept at finding. In 2017, it was Connor Clifton, who after being drafted by Arizona but not coming to terms out of Quinnipiac University, signed a similar deal with Boston and earned a NHL contract. After making a positive impression in his first big league action, Clifton found himself playing in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final…we’re not saying Zech is going to take the exact same glidepath, but he’s doing all the things that point in that direction. Although small, he gets up the ice quickly and puts rocket passes on the tape/has a natural inclination to be aggressive with his play. It’s easier to tame a tiger than try to paint stripes on a pussycat, so Zech is setting himself up to have more opportunities going forward.

Jeremy Swayman, G- He’s a fourth round pick attending his third development camp, so naturally, more was expected of the Maine Black Bear, and he delivered. We talked to one Hockey East assistant coach whose team has been stymied by Swayman’s play in the last two seasons, so there is a lot here in terms of natural size, ability and the mental toughness to keep his team in games while playing in such a competitive conference. In Boston this past week, Swayman showed that he’s continuing to progress in his development and growing as a goaltender as he gains experience and fills out. Between Swayman and Kyle Keyser, the B’s have a couple of goalie prospects who are not high draft picks. Daniel Vladar was a 3rd-rounder in 2015 and is still hanging around, but his development has been slower and there were always some concerns with Vladar’s overall game, particularly in the areas of how he reads the play/sees the ice. Swayman appears to have the edge right now and it will be interesting to see where he is in his progression when he signs and turns pro.

Matt Brown, F- The undrafted UMass-Lowell forward isn’t very big, but he plays bigger- showcasing speed/tremendous puck skills and a natural chip-on-the-shoulder mentality in Boston this week. Unfortunately for the Bruins, if they want him, they will have to sign him as a free agent at some point when he is ready to turn pro, as he is a ’99-born player and therefore ineligible to be selected in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft- the time to do that was in Vancouver. The lack of size and the fact that he was in his final window of eligibility likely contributed to NHL clubs passing on Brown (and in Boston’s case- they grabbed a similar player earlier in Quinn Olson), but he’s one guy to keep an eye on going forward as a player who has always been overlooked coming up through the minor and junior hockey ranks. Like Torey Krug, he feeds off of the snubs and critics/doubters- UML has themselves as a good one.

Other notables

Quinn Olson, F- The Okotoks Oilers (AJHL) standout isn’t very big right now, but plays a gritty, fearless game. Headed to the twice-defending NCAA champs in Duluth, MN this fall, Olson will be in a perfect place to develop on a gradual timeline. He’s got a lot of room to grow and fill out, but one of the things we like about him is that with his quickness, top-level hands and jam/grit factor, he will be able to play up and down the Bulldogs lineup this season. We expect modest production initially, but Olson will likely really take off in years 2 and 3 as pro teams convince UMD’s top players to sign and turn pro- it’s an inevitable happening for all successful teams at every level, so watch for the Alberta native to become an impact NCAA player and garner notice in due time.

Victor Berglund, D- The late 2017 pick is coming along. He’s always had the mobility and skating that catches the eye, but according to one pro skills coach in attendance, he’s figuring out how to use his stick more effectively in offensive and defensive situations. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with his wheels and eyes, so if the puckhandling and defensive awareness are rounding into form, he’s the kind of underdog prospect who is worth tracking as a dark horse to eventually make contributions in Boston.

Nate Sucese, F- Like Brown, the undrafted camp invite is a smallish, skill forward who really stood out during the drills portions. He’s fast, agile and has superb hands/hockey vision. The Penn State scorer has been productive at every level- starting out in the Buffalo Jr. Sabres minor hockey program, playing a year of prep at the Gunnery and then putting up a point-per-game in the USHL with Dubuque in his second junior season before he headed to Happy Valley. Is he a legitimate NHL prospect or more of a ‘tweener? At 23 years old, he was older than most players here, so that gave him an advantage in the camp setting, but we could see Sucese earning an AHL contract next spring after he completes his NCAA eligibility. We’re thinking 50-60 points and Hobey Baker consideration could be in the offing for the rising Nittany Lions senior, but again- with the number of solid NHL draft picks in the B’s system, Sucese is probably a long shot to be signed.

Jack Studnicka, Jakub Lauko and Kyle Keyser didn’t participate in the on-ice activities, but were in attendance and all made their presence known to varying degrees. Lauko’s outsized personality is a welcome sight- his blistering speed and championship pedigree are showing him to be one of the 2018 NHL draft’s top values where the B’s got him in the third round.

The Bruins may not have a lot of elite/top-level prospects in their system, but they have a lot of solid role player types, some of which have a chance to develop into something more than that. When you’re picking later in the draft each year, that’s going to happen, but overall, the team’s scouts have done a good job of finding value players who have a chance to crack the lineup at some point.

We just scratched the surface here, and the various media outlets that cover prospects and rank them by organization aren’t likely to be all that interested in what the Bruins have in system at present, but it’s a solid, if unspectacular group overall that is probably more middle of the pack than bottom-end, even if others might disagree.

 

 

B’s 2019 Development Camp in full swing

None of us are there, so relying on second hand reports, but the second day of Boston Bruins Development Camp is ongoing and a few prospects are attracting notice from various observers.

Here’s a quick recap:

Drafted division

Oskar Steen, F- We’ll admit we weren’t thrilled with Steen’s selection in the 2016 draft, but the ’98-born forward is coming off an impressive breakout season in his native Sweden’s highest pro league, putting up nearly a point per game and finishing 10th overall in scoring. He played center, but whether he slots in the middle in North America or splits out to the wing remains to be seen. He’s fast, agile, skilled and plays with some p & v. During a camp interview posted on the B’s Twitter feed, Steen says he’s coming in to make the big club, but barring a major run at camp/preseason, he’ll likely begin the year in Providence.

John Beecher, F- Boston’s top selection in Vancouver did not disappoint onlookers with his impressive skating/speed, plus won locals over with his declaration that he and his brother broke with family tradition to root for the Boston Red Sox growing up in a New York Yankees household. The Elmira, NY native was a Buffalo Sabres fan on the hockey side, but he’s hitting the right notes in his first look after being taken 30th overall. He’s big, powerful and can really scoot for one so big- if his offensive skills improve, the B’s could have a real prospect on their hands.

Pavel  Shen, F- The 2018 7th-rounder and Russian pro looks the part: decent size, skating and skills. He was a standout for Russia at the 2019 World Jr. Championship tourney last winter and could be a sleeper to develop into a solid NHL player at some point. He can handle the puck in tight spaces and has vision/creativity to make plays. If he pans out, it could be another feather in the cap for a Boston scouting staff that is doing a nice job of finding players from all corners of the globe.

Axel Andersson, D- Boston’s top choice (2nd round) a year ago can really skate- his wheels/footwork is the most impressive asset he brings to the table. The slick Swede checks the boxes for what the Bruins tend to value in their players: highly mobile and sees the ice pretty well. We’re not sure about the overall skill level for Andersson to develop into a top-3 NHL defenseman, but he appears to have the tools to be a role player and special teams asset. Interestingly enough, he was drafted today in the CHL Import Draft 30th overall by the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL- that marks the second year in a row that a CHL team has rolled the dice to select Andersson.

Jeremy Swayman, G- Somewhat of a surprise pick in 2017 simply because there were other more highly-ranked goaltenders in the USHL available when the B’s grabbed him in the 4th round, the University of Maine rising junior has posted two solid seasons in the Hockey East. He’s got the size, athletic ability and production/pedigree to continue to rise up the prospect ladder within the organization. On the downside, fans won’t get to see a head-to-head matchup between Swayman and undrafted free agent Kyle Keyser this week- Keyser is being held off the ice (along with Jakub Lauko and Jack Studnicka) after he got nicked up at some point during his playoff run in the OHL and AHL (plus Black Ace duty with the B’s).

Undrafted division

Kudos to the Bruins staff for having an impressive group of current and rising NCAA players here this week who had notable junior hockey careers. Here are a couple:

Matt Brown, F- The smallish but highly skilled ’99 just finished a 30-goal season with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL and will play at UMass-Lowell in the fall. He’s dynamic with the puck on his stick and plays with some real jam as a feisty underdog who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Brown was a key member of the USA squad that captured gold at the World Jr. A Challenge last December, beating pretty much the same Russian team that knocked out the USA NTDP galaxy of all stars in April at the World U18s. Looking back on it, given some of the players who were picked in Vancouver, Brown should have had his name called at some point, even late in the seventh round- that was probably a mistake for the NHL’s 31 clubs.

Nathan Burke, F- The former NAHL standout with the Aberdeen Wings would have been a top USHL player, but went in to the University of Minnesota this past season. He’s a smart playmaking forward who has excellent vision/hockey IQ and works hard on the details of his game. Although still pretty lean for his 6-foot frame, he’s noticeable for the way he tracks back on pucks and finds quiet ice in the offensive zone. Burke was rumored to be a close candidate to be drafted a year ago as a late bloomer in his final window of eligibility but it didn’t happen. Watch for him to be a high-profile NCAA free agent in 1-2 years when he can pick his destination, and fans will catch a glimpse of what could be this week.

Nick Wolff, D- Two-time NCAA champion with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is big and a nasty, tough competitor who helped anchor a suffocating defense in the NCHC last season. He’s massive at 6-4, and the skating isn’t a strength (especially when Scott Perunovich is flying around the same ice), but he’s a smart defender who uses his size, strength and stick effectively. The assistant captain from 2018-19 was rumored to be considering turning pro in the spring, but opted to return for his senior season, and he should sign a pro contract in the spring of 2020. Wolff attended B’s development camp a year ago and despite numerous offers by other teams opted to return to Boston in 2019. He’s a throwback type…if you liked Adam McQuaid, Wolff is a guy you’ll have time for as a defense-first, physical, hard-to-play against glue role D.

Cooper Zech, D- The B’s signed the Michigan native to an AHL deal after just one impressive NCAA season with Ferris State (where his teammates included Boston prospect Cam Clarke), putting up nearly a point per game. Although he never played in the USHL, Zech helped the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild win that league’s championship in 2018 and though he lacks size, is a fast, tenacious player who is already evoking comparisons to Connor Clifton. Zech doesn’t know Torey Krug personally, but according to Conor Ryan of Boston Sports Journal, Zech said that Krug’s dad Kyle once cut him from the Belle Tire 16U midget AAA team. That would put Zech in some pretty exclusive company…the elder Krug is famous for cutting another player back in the day you might have heard of…Mike Modano.

 

2019 NHL Draft: B’s go with Beecher in 1st round

VANCOUVER–The Boston Bruins selected U.S. National Team Development Program forward John Beecher with the 30th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

As highlighted in the Bruins draft preview piece at this blog, Beecher made sense for the organization on several levels: he’s a big-bodied, versatile forward who can fly (given his big 6-foot-3 frame) and while his skills/overall NHL ceiling as a scoring forward is still up in the air, he’s someone who is going to play in the league because of his pure physical tools.

Here’s more on Beecher from Dom and Kirk:

Dominic Tiano:

Don’t look at the stat sheet and assume John Beecher can’t put up points since he didn’t get the quality ice time to produce with the USDP. That question will be answered as he progresses.  He’s a big body at 6’3” and 209 pounds who possesses superb skating abilities and great top-notch speed. His first steps could use some improvement, but when he hits full speed its excellent.

Beecher is accomplished defensively, knowing his positioning, with good anticipation, good at getting in lanes and willing to battle. If you need a key defensive faceoff win, then he is usually the guy his coaches send over the boards for the puck drop.

I think Beecher’s compete level and his vision is average. For a guy his size, I’d like to see him get in on the forecheck and bang bodies and get more involved in the cycle game. However, what he does do in the offensive zone well is find lanes and soft spots that allow his teammates to find him. He’s an average passer and playmaker so his mentality is to score. Obviously with his size, when he is planted in front of the goal, he’s hard to move, and he can take away a goaltender’s eyes. He protects the puck extremely well and drives possession. Also, very good at gaining the blueline.

I think he projects as a third line center who can kill penalties and you can trust to be defensively responsible. If he can develop more offense with the University of Michigan, that’ll be a bonus. But he and the team might be better served if he transitioned to the wing and with a playmaker, might surprise and could be a second liner.

Can’t expect more from the 30th overall pick.

Kirk Luedeke:

I had Sioux City RW Bobby Brink rated higher here, but Beecher is a Boston-type player for his size/skating combo and it isn’t like he doesn’t have the skill set to evolve into a scoring forward at the NHL level- we have to remember that playing behind major league talents like Jack Hughes and Trevor Zegras meant that Beecher was going to see less playing time and very little PP opportunities on a loaded USA team.

When he gets going, he’s a load to contain, and there is an impressive high floor with Beecher in terms of a late-1st rounder who is going to play upwards of 500 or more games in the NHL because he brings the size/skating combination that will allow him to play up or down the Boston roster eventually. Brink, for all of his guts, skills and playmaking ability, represents more risk for the team that selects him in terms of long-term NHL viability because of his lack of size, but let’s face it- he’s going to be off the board very early on Day 2, and the team that gets him is going to have themselves a steal.

Beecher is a very good player- he makes sense for the modern NHL as a big-bodied forward who can really move and might be a little undersold on this end in terms of his scoring ability. Against Omaha as a 16-year-old in the 2017-18, he went end-to-end and scored one of the prettier goals you’ll ever see, so he has it in him to make plays at the highest level.

All told, Beecher to the Bruins at 30 was not a surprise. How good a selection it will end up being when all is said and done will be debated because it’s not a high-upside kind of pick, but is still likely to make some hay for the B’s.

Editor’s note- Mea culpa on Beecher’s NCAA commitment- he is going to University of Michigan not Ohio State- sloppy on my part for not verifying. Wolverines are getting a good one.