Grading the Bruins' 2017 draft picks
Grading the Bruins' 2017 draft picks
It wasn’t a weekend to remember for the Boston Bruins, but the first draft without head scout Keith Gretzky after his departure to the Edmonton Oilers certainly doesn’t feel like a train wreck. Instead the B’s seemed to play it safe with their picks, and went more toward safe, solid players rather than taking fliers on high-risk, high-reward picks.
The selection of two-way defenseman Urho Vaakenainen, for instance, feels like a choice of a player the Bruins think might be a solid pro for the next decade with good all-around skills, smooth skating and potentially limited offensive ability. They let names like Finnish power forward Kristian Vesalainen and dynamic skilled winger Kailer Yamamoto go by the boards in selecting Vaakenainen, similar to last season when they selected solid center Trent Frederic over the dynamic Alex Debrincat at the end of the first round.
Perhaps the Bruins wanted to take the sure thing with a system that’s already overblowing with prospects or perhaps they didn’t want to go high-risk in a draft class that’s considering one of the weakest in the last 10 years. Either way it was simply an average, safe draft for the B’s. Here are the representative grades on Boston’s picks from last weekend.
Urho Vaakenainen – Defenseman (JYP, 18th overall pick)
Vaakenainen had his skating ability compared to Paul Coffey by assistant GM Scott Bradley, and clearly he’s a solid prospect having played in the Finnish Elite League as a teenager over the last couple of seasons. He can skate, he can defense and he’s part of an extremely talented generation of Finnish hockey players coming up through the ranks right now. But the jury is out on Vaakenainen at the offensive end of the ice. There’s a chance he’s simply going to be a straight-up, meat-and-potatoes D-man who can play at both ends, but isn’t going to be a very high-event kind of player in the attack zone. This pick feels like Vaakenainen could also be an eventual left-shot replacement for Jakub Zboril in Boston’s prospect cupboard if the Bruins decide to include the other former first-round pick in a trade over the next few months. While Vaakenainen wasn’t a reach where he was selected, he feels like an extremely safe pick for an organization that should be willing to take a few chances with their first round selection. If he develops to a great level offensively, then this becomes a much better pick obviously.
Comparable Bruins: Matt Hunwick.
Jack Studnicka – Center/Right Wing (Oshawa Generals, 53rd overall pick)
The aptly-named Studnicka had a strong season for the Generals with 18 goals and 52 points in 64 games, and really came on down the stretch and in the playoffs as an 18-year-old prospect. He has good size at 6-foot-1 and 171 pounds, with solid offensive skill and the flexibility to project as a winger or a center. Studnicka was a bit lower in the rankings for some NHL teams because his emergence was so sudden last season for the Generals, but he raised his profile while dominating during the OHL playoffs. Studnicka has good bloodlines with a father who played hockey at the University of Maine, and he also has a B’s connection having played some midget hockey for Torey Krug’s father in the Detroit area. It’s always difficult to project offensive potential at the next level, but the B’s scouts feel like Studnicka is going to be a skilled scorer at the pro level.
Comparable Bruins: Drew Stafford.
Jeremy Swayman – Goaltender (Sioux Falls USHL, 111th overall pick)
The 6-foot-2, 187-pound Alaska native was the only goalie selected by the Bruins. He played for a pretty poor Stampede team, but showed the kind of size, athleticism and competitiveness that the B’s scouts like to see in a goalie. Swayman is going to a good program at the University of Maine and works with the same personal goalie coach as Zane McIntyre in the summer. The 2.90 goals against average and .914 save percentage certainly don’t jump out at the casual observer, but it can sometimes be tricky to truly evaluate a goalie when they’re constantly under siege as Swayman was in the USHL last season. The fact that the Bruins were mulling a selection of another goaltender in this draft as well gives you an idea they are not 100 percent sold on this player, and their recent track record with drafting goalies hasn’t been particularly good given the way Daniel Vladar has looked. The B’s have to hope he becomes the next Jimmy Howard or Ben Bishop for the Black Bears.
Comparable Bruins: Zane McIntyre.
Cedric Pare – Center (Saint John QMJHL, 173rd overall pick)
This is a selection that I don’t quite understand. The 6-foot-2, 201-pounder has good size and strength, and he definitely plays with an energetic style that you’d want from a heavy, fearless type of player. But with just five goals, 16 points and 24 penalty minutes in 64 games, Pare doesn’t seem to really have any sort of calling card as a player besides being a big body. He didn’t score much in a third- and fourth-line role for the Sea Dogs, and he wasn’t a big enough physical force to be recognized with penalty minutes. His offense was also very limited in the Saint John run in the Memorial Cup playoffs. The Bruins hope that there is more offense and a little more skill to his game than he showed this past season, but this kind of player feels like a project, or an eventual fourth line type, that you don’t need to spend a draft pick on.
Comparable Bruins: Byron Bitz.
Victor Berglund – Defenseman (Modo, 195th overall pick)
The 6-foot, 165-pound Berglund is the kind of player that is more of a risk pick with some high upside. Berglund is skilled, creative and a good skater on the back end, and has more of a natural offensive bent to his game than his Finnish counterpart drafted in the first round. Clearly Berglund has some strength training to do given his current 165-pound frame, but that can absolutely be taught (unlike the natural skill level). The five goals and 15 points in 37 games for the Modo junior team is a pretty good indication of his offense, and it was a bonus that he was able to survive in 12 games played in the men’s league as a teenager. Berglund is clearly a bit of a project given his size, but all of Boston’s Sweden-based scouts were enthusiastic about selecting the D-man in the seventh round. Going for some offense and playmaking is commendable, but you’d like to see that approach in the first round as well.
Comparable Bruins: Matt Grzelcyk.
Daniel Bukac – Defenseman (Brandon Wheat Kings, 204th overall pick)
The 6-foot-5 defenseman is a very raw prospect coming off his first season in North America, and it was clear that he was in the process of gaining a comfort level as the season wore on. Still, two goals and 17 points to go along with 38 penalty minutes for a player that size that can also skate is extremely good value at that late point in the draft. Bukac made cameos at the World Under-18 Championships and the Ivan Hlinka Tournament for Team Czech Republic last season, and it will be interesting to see if he busts through for the bigger national teams in the next couple of seasons. The Bruins could have checked off the big D-man box much earlier in the draft if they’d selected the massive Nicholas Hague in the first round, but instead they found that player with their last pick in the draft.
Comparable Bruins: Robbie O’Gara