Editor's Note: With the 2020 NHL Draft beginning Tuesday, it's time to look back on recent drafts for the Boston Bruins and examine what went right and wrong for them, beginning with 2017.
The Bruins had six picks in the 2017 NHL Draft and chose to take a defenseman in the first round for the second consecutive season.
Urho Vaakanainen was the choice for Boston at No. 18 overall. He was one of three defensemen the Bruins selected with their six selections in this draft.
The Bruins have only drafted two goalies since they took Malcolm Subban in the first round back in 2012, and one of them was from this class, Jeremy Swayman.
Boston traded two of its 2017 draft picks before the trade deadline during the 2015-16 season. The B's gave up a 2017 second-rounder as part of the trade that brought winger Lee Stempniak from New Jersey to Boston, and they parted with a 2017 fifth-rounder in the deal that sent defenseman John-Michael Liles from Carolina to Boston. Neither trade helped the Bruins much as they failed to reach the playoffs.
The only reason why the Bruins ended up with a second-round pick in this draft is because the Edmonton Oilers had to send one to Boston after hiring former B's general manager Peter Chiarelli.
Three years later, how should we assess the Bruins' 2017 draft, and what might the future hold? Let's take a look.
Overview of draft picks
No. 18, Round 1: Urho Vaakanainen, D
No. 53, Round 2: Jack Studnicka, C
No. 111, Round 4: Jeremy Swayman, G
No. 173, Round 6: Cedric Pare, C
No. 195, Round 7: Victor Berglund, D
No. 204, Round 7: Daniel Bukac, D
What went right for the Bruins?
It's still too early to accurately grade the Vaakanainen pick, but there are reasons to be optimistic about his talent. The 21-year-old smooth-skating Finnish blueliner has played the last two seasons with the AHL's Providence Bruins, where he's tallied 28 points in 84 games. Vaakanainen made his NHL debut this past season and played five games, showing he could handle the pro atmosphere. He's an excellent skater and shows promise with an impressive two-way skill set.
Studnicka could end up being Boston's pick from this draft class. He led the P-Bruins in scoring with 49 points in 60 games during the 2019-20 campaign, which also saw him make two appearances in Boston. One of Studnicka's best attributes is his versatility. He can be effective at center and on the wing.
Here's what Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said when asked about Studnicka in July:
"I think he's a very good player, very talented," Bergeron explained. "It's pretty amazing seeing him from training camp to now -- he's taken a huge step forward. He seems to just be getting better, got stronger also. His speed -- he seems to be getting faster, which is scary. Very good player, smart, seems to play the right way. ..."
Swayman recently completed his third season for the University of Maine and won the Richter Award as Division I's top goalie. He finished with a 18-11-5 record and his .939 save percentage was the second-best in the NCAA. Swayman also was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award but didn't win. The next step for him will be taking his talent to an even higher level in the AHL at some point.
What went wrong for the Bruins?
There's really not a ton to dislike about this draft from the Bruins' perspective, although that could change fairly soon based on the development of these players. If Vaakanainen doesn't turn into a top-four defenseman, the Bruins' future on the blue line could look pretty bleak given the lack of elite prospects at the position throughout their organization.
One criticism for the Bruins is it's unlikely any of their late round picks will make the NHL level, at least not in Boston. Pare is no longer part of the organization, and Bukac returned to his home nation of the Czech Republic to play in its professional league this season. Berglund signed his entry-level contract with the B's in June, so it remains to be seen whether he can crack the NHL lineup.
Vaakanainen should be able to make the NHL roster for the upcoming 2020-21 season and carve out a role on the third pairing. He likely will battle Jeremy Lauzon, Connor Clifton and others for ice time. Vaakanainen doesn't need to put up huge scoring totals for the B's -- just reliable, steady play in all three zones.
Studnicka is one of the few prospects in the B's system with top-six potential, and it wouldn't be surprising if he eventually became the second-line center soon after David Krejci departs, whenever that happens. In the meantime, he should be able to give the Bruins a much-needed jolt of speed and goal scoring ability in the bottom six next season.
Swayman is still a ways away from being NHL-ready, but you have to be encouraged by his play in Maine.
Overall it's looking fairly good for the Bruins in regards to their 2017 class. There's a good chance at least one of Vaakanainen and Studnicka turns into a very good player for many years. If that happens, you'd have to look back at this draft favorably for Boston.