Why it's probably silly to stress over Bruins draft 'reaches'

Why it's probably silly to stress over Bruins draft 'reaches'

In the NHL draft on Friday, the Bruins used the 18th overall pick on Urho Vaakanainen, a Finnish defenseman who was not a consensus first-round prospect. What idiots. 

Oh, not the Bruins. Well, maybe. Who knows? But the for-sure idiots are people who are inclined to lament the pick. 

This isn’t because I’m necessarily a big fan of Vaakanainen. Like you, I’ve not watched full games of him. It’s because if you blindly criticize an NHL draft pick past the middle of the first round, you are an absolute maniac.

The NHL draft might be the most difficult draft in professional sports. There are sleepers in every draft, but no draft lends itself to going off the board more than hockey. Maybe baseball. Maaaaybe. 

Why? Because players are so hard to project that the best talent evaluators in the world are often incorrect in the long-run. There’s so much projection involved that the 18th-best player at the time of the draft could very well be a nobody at the next level. We cling to the pre-draft rankings for dear life, but Craig Button’s final list is far different from Todd McShay’s big board. This isn’t because McShay is any smarter than Button; it’s because projecting teenagers who haven’t grown into their bodies for a job when they’re 22 is a heck of a lot harder than projecting a 22-year-old for a job when they’re 22. 

Scouts and a lot of media know to a tee what these players are now. There's no questioning their knowledge. Yet what makes the draft so fascinating is that, unlike a draft like the NFL and, to an extent, the NBA, it's more of a question of what they may be. 

Case in point: As part of a piece I wrote for back in 2015, I attempted to quantify what a “hit” and a “miss” was in the first round of the NHL draft. The explanation is in the story, but for our purposes “hit” means NHL regular or close to it. I looked at a seven-year sample and these were the findings: 

Picks 1-10: 62 hits, eight misses
Picks 11-20: 29 hits, 41 misses
Picks 21-30: 20 hits, 50 misses

This isn’t to suggest that teams should throw darts at a board. That would sell short the importance of having good players on entry level contracts, which is critical in today’s NHL. It would also foolishly suggest the work done by scouts isn’t equally critical. 

Yet where the Bruins picked on Friday, they were in the range where they’ve got less than a 50-50 chance of the guy panning out. Taking a risk on a guy they like rather than a bigger name (like there is a “bigger” name than Vaakanainen; just a little name humor) with whom they're not enamored is a totally respectable approach. 

Under Don Sweeney, the Bruins go off the board regularly. Jake DeBrusk was considered a minor reach at 14th overall in 2015; Zach Senyshyn was considered a major reach with the very next pick. Those picks were easier to question considering a presumed top-10 pick was still on the board in Kyle Connor. If they end up being wrong on that, they'll deserve criticism just like anyone who took someone who proved to be a lesser player before the 17th pick. 

A year later, the B’s took Trent Frederic in the first round when there hadn’t been a peep about that kid being a first-round pick. The jury is still out on all of these guys, but they’ve developed well since their selections. 

But going by the book isn't a clear-cut recipe for success, and the B's know it. The 2012 draft wasn’t great. Go look at the late first round of that draft; Tanner Pearson is the exception, not the rule, given that he became an NHL regular. Picking in that range, the B’s took a player ranked in that neighborhood: Malcolm Subban, who has yet to become a starting NHL goalie and may never do so. 

The Bruins would have received a whole lot of what-the-hell-are-they-doings had they taken a lower-ranked goalie in that spot. Yet Matt Murray was in that draft and he ended up becoming a starting goalie as a third-round pick. They’d also have been panned if they took Shayne Gostisbehere, who went in the third. 

Like any draft, guys drafted in later rounds can become great players. Yet the NHL draft usually isn’t going to give you a star in the first round the way the NFL draft does, so you might as well take the guy you like where you want. That’s what the Bruins do, and it’s really not as silly as it sounds. 

Bruins know they 'have to be better defensively' to close out Leafs

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Bruins know they 'have to be better defensively' to close out Leafs

TORONTO – The Bruins have scored less than three goals exactly once in their playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Offense really hasn’t been an issue against a Toronto team that can’t consistently stop the Black and Gold. No, it’s much more about defense and slowing down the Maple Leafs while keeping preventable goals out of the back of their net. 

Some of it is about effectively cutting down the transition, stretch passes that Toronto likes to use to kick-start their offense, and that’s about minimizing the risk-taking offensively while also taking care not to allow leaking, sneaking opponents behind their defense. Some of it is just about good, fundamental defense as the Bruins simply didn’t play 2-on-2 situations very well on rushes from the Toronto forwards in their Game 5 loss at TD Garden. 

All of it is about holding players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri in check as the Bruins have done for long stretches of the series with a steady diet of Zdeno Chara greeting the Leafs franchise center wherever he goes.

“In games like that we have to be a little better defensively,” said Brad Marchand, referring to Game 5’s defeat where they scored three goals. “We can’t expect to score five goals every game, so we can’t be giving up four [goals]. If we’re a little bit better there and continue to pepper away with the shots, hopefully things will work in our favor.”

Bruce Cassidy went through each of the first three goals allowed by the Bruins in their Game 5 loss last weekend, and each of them needed better “rush defense” executed by the Bruins. The first was a simple one-man rush into the zone by Matthews, the second was Andreas Johnsson getting behind the Bruins defense before connecting with Kadri on a perfect pass, and the third was a backbreaking Tyler Bozak score from the slot after the Bruins had just scored and grabbed momentum in the game. All of them arrived via Toronto’s speed and aggressive mindset entering the offensive zone, and that’s something Boston has stifled to a much more effective degree until Saturday night.  

“They make a play up the wall where we’re normally there to contest that, slide and have the appropriate adjustment between the forward and the ‘D.’ We didn’t slide until the rush. That will be addressed and was addressed. That’s what we need to do against Toronto when we have the numbers and we didn’t do it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Then they won a puck at the net where we’re generally good there, but they got it to the net. Give them credit, they got it there. They got it to the net and won a battle by going to the dirty areas. 

“The second goal was a 2-on-2 and a good play, but still a 2-on-2. We need to defend it better from our end. From their end, it’s a nice play. The third goal was a quick up, we were a little late trying to kill it. … We were a little late in every area, we needed a save there and we didn’t get it. So those are the three goals I look at, and I look at the rush defense that could have been better.”

Given that the Bruins have scored 20 goals in the five playoff games vs. Toronto and hit the 40 shots on net three different times in the best-of-seven series, it’s about holding the Leafs down a little more effectively as they’ve done in their three wins. If the Bruins can play sound defense and once again slow down the Maple Leafs track meet on the ice, then it’s highly doubtful this series will be going back to Boston for a Game 7. 


Bruce Cassidy looking to 'tinker' with Bruins lineup for Game 6

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Bruce Cassidy looking to 'tinker' with Bruins lineup for Game 6

TORONTO – After failing to close out the Maple Leafs on home ice in Game 5 and not getting off to a great start in the game either, Bruce Cassidy may end up making a change to the lineup for Monday night’s Game 6 at the Air Canada Centre. 

Cassidy didn’t really elaborate while speaking to the media after Monday’s morning skate other than to say the coaching staff is “deliberating” over the 12 forwards and six D-men, and that they may “tinker” with the lineup. 

“Right now it looks like everybody is at our disposal [from a health perspective],” said Cassidy, referencing the team’s health entering Monday night’s close-out game for the Bruins. “We’re deliberating. Everybody is healthy, so there won’t be anybody out because of health as far as I’m aware of. But we may tinker with the lineup tonight…yes.”


The best guess here is that rookie winger Danton Heinen may be coming out of the lineup after going scoreless in the first five games (a minus-1 with just four shots on net) of this playoff series, and that it might be time for another appearance from highly skilled Ryan Donato on the third line. Certainly Donato could add a little bit more of an offensive dimension to the third line and would become an option for Cassidy to insert into the Bruins power play as well. 

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings against the Maple Leafs in Game 6 based on the morning skate: