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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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: Bruins take 4 on Day 2- On the long-range plan

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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 LA Kings, Vegas, Colorado 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 isn’t a lot to write home about. Beecher is an impressive physical package with enough talent to play in the NHL, but he doesn’t quite have the offensive wow factor of other players who were on the board at 30. He’s likely going to play in the league for a long time, so to get a good fit like Beecher bodes well for the B’s 2019 draft, but the rest of the class is harder to project.

They didn’t land any top-end talent in any of the rounds 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. Quinn Olson could end up becoming a solid middle tier prospect in the organization and one player who becomes more of a fan favorite after they watch him in development camp.

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.

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.

3 Amigos: 2019 Boston Bruins Draft Preview

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No time for a podcast this time around, but the 3 Amigos have gotten together to provide a snapshot of some of the players we like/think could be draft options for the Boston Bruins.

The B’s pick grid is not ideal- no 2nd or 4th-round picks, which, with the team picking near the end of every round save for the seventh, means that they probably need to hit in multiple rounds after the 1st (selection 30). Of course- this goes without saying. The Boston scouts have done a nice job in recent years going back to 2014 of finding some good values in the middle/latter rounds.

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