Bruins

Don Sweeney admits infamous 2015 NHL Draft weekend 'was a steep learning curve'

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Don Sweeney admits infamous 2015 NHL Draft weekend 'was a steep learning curve'

BRIGHTON – Perhaps it’s because the Bruins made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season, or perhaps time simply has mellowed any raw feelings over the four-plus years that have passed since then.

But Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was about as forthright as he’s ever been on the very first NHL draft weekend he ran as GM of the Black and Gold, and the “steep learning curve” that took place when things didn’t go off without a hitch for Boston.

“It was a steep learning curve that weekend for us for an absolute certainty. We did put forth a plan as to what we were going to try to accomplish as an organization,” said Sweeney. “We have accomplished some of those things, we haven’t accomplished the ultimate goal and that’s really what it’s all about. You are proud, as I’ve referenced our team last year and the growth of each individual player is part of that and what they contribute. And other players who come along are a part of that will contribute as well.

“I don’t look at it in one myopic time event, I look at the big package every day and try and get better at the decisions that we have to make. And people who are part of our staff at that time, we’ve learned and grown from that and are hopefully making better decisions going forward. Hopefully the club reflects that and the success we’ve had reflects that.”

A draft pool stocked with talent produced some very good players for the Bruins, of course, as second-line left winger Jake DeBrusk and shutdown defenseman Brandon Carlo are both products of that draft.

Carlo was the very reason why Sweeney was asked about as he signed a two-year deal worth $2.85 million per season as a second-round pick that went very right for the B's. But there were also some big misses as their biggest goal from that weekend was to trade up in the first round and get a young franchise defenseman with Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski as their biggest targets.

Instead, the Bruins traded Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton to amass six selections in the first two rounds of that draft, and then were left with three consecutive selections in the middle of the first round when they failed to trade up. Obviously they took care of that defenseman need a year later when they drafted Charlie McAvoy around the very same part of the first round, but in hindsight, they missed badly in the first round.

They obviously hit with a solid player in DeBrusk, who scored 27 goals in his second NHL season last year. But barring a big turnaround for both players, they missed with the other two first-round picks in Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn. When one considers that Mat Barzal, Kyle Connor and Thomas Chabot were taken with the next three picks in the first round, the Bruins missed badly with both of those players given the comparable talent available.

Connor could have been the top-6 winger they’ve been missing the last couple of seasons, and the dazzling Barzal certainly would be the heir apparent in the middle to aging top-6 centers David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron.

Later in the first round Brock Boeser and Travis Konecny, and in the second round Sebastian Aho, were selected as well, further adding to the missed opportunities for the Bruins. They’ve rebounded to further replenish their prospect pool in subsequent drafts and obviously the future is bright for a team with a talented roster coming off three straight playoff appearances and a Stanley Cup Final run last season.

Clearly Sweeney has done enough to make everybody forget the 2015 draft whether it’s signing guys like Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak to team-friendly deals, or learning his lessons well enough from some of the early missteps to be named the 2019 NHL General Manager of the Year.

So it’s clearly not all bad, but it still stings for many around the organization when they think about what happened at draft weekend four years ago.

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Talking Points: Torey Krug steps up the physicality, shows leadership in Bruins win

Talking Points: Torey Krug steps up the physicality, shows leadership in Bruins win

GOLD STAR: He didn’t factor in the scoring at all, but credit Torey Krug as one of the Bruins leaders that stepped up and showed some attitude in a needed win over the Penguins.

It was Krug that got into a shoving match with Patric Hornqvist in front of the bench, and then continued it with a hockey fight after they both got out of the penalty box.

Krug finished with six shot attempts and a takeaway in 16:06 of ice time, but it was really a team-wide showing of physicality and attitude that elevated the game of the Bruins and got them back into the winning flow against Pittsburgh. Krug was one of the key guys that got them there even as he was an unlikely 5-foot-8 combatant that won his bout with the sandpaper-playing Hornqvist.

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BLACK EYE: Evgeni Malkin was pretty invisible for the Penguins in this one. He was challenged early and often by Zdeno Chara in the game and that seemed to render him pretty ineffective after that point against the Bruins.

Malkin finished pointless with a minus-2 rating and had a whopping three giveaways over his 19:21 of ice time. It was a harmless little swipe at Jaroslav Halak in the first period that really started setting things off as Chara grabbed Malkin and roughed him up in the corner afterward. That started the two big-bodied players going at each other for the better part of the evening.

Most times Malkin is going to lose that battle as he did on Thursday night.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins fell down by a 1-0 score early in the game as Sidney Crosby scored in the opening minute, and that could have been a big time problem on another night. But the Bruins were determined to make this a prolonged, invested all-around effort right from the drop of the puck. They did exactly that when they fought back to tie the game, and then go ahead by a goal when Par Lindholm redirected a Karson Kuhlman pass down low.

The Bruins outshot the Penguins 12-10 in the period and overcame the early deficit with some hard-nosed, determined physical play and some digging in by their bottom two lines coming up with a couple of goals in the secondary scoring department. Once they did that they had the momentum on their side.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jaroslav Halak had been struggling a little bit of late, but he pulled together after allowing a bad goal in the first period to the Penguins.

Halak stopped 29-of-30 shots and was brilliant at the end of the second period when the Penguins went on a 2-on-none shorthanded breakaway with Halak making four different saves to keep Pittsburgh from tying up the game. He stoned Zach Aston-Reese at least four different times with point blank chances from the front of the net and never buckled even as the B’s broke down just a little bit.

Halak's performance is a good sign that he is going to backstop the B’s to some good things as he’ll be given the starting nod for a few games in a row with Rask (concussion) on the shelf right now.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the number of registered hits for Chris Wagner on the stat sheet, which is kind of ridiculous given that the fourth line winger threw at least four or five of them in a tremendously physical game against the Penguins.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I thought tonight was a pretty good first step to getting back to who we are.” –Bruce Cassidy on the B’s overall effort in a 4-1 win over the Penguins.

NHL Top 10: Who are the league's best right wings right now?

NHL Top 10: Who are the league's best right wings right now?

Arguably the most explosive talent in the NHL resides at the right wing position where the top two players (David Pastrnak and Patrick Kane) are on pace to easily cross 40 goals and 100 points this season, and the third player is last year’s Hart Trophy winner.

There’s also the amazing young talent at the NHL’s right wing spot with players under 25 years old that include Pastrnak, Brock Boeser, Andrei Svechnikov, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Travis Konecny.

In other words, this is a stacked list that doesn’t even include Patrick Laine. These are the top-10 right wings in the NHL right now.

Click here for Joe Haggerty's full right wing rankings