A glimpse at what might have been for the Bruins
If only the Bruins had taken...
Clearly, the Bruins have done some good things in drafting and development since Don Sweeney took control of the hockey ops along with B’s President Cam Neely three years ago. The Black and Gold have restocked the prospect cupboard and begun producing youthful NHL talent that is making an impact for the Bruins.
NHL players Brandon Carlo, Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy have been products of the new youth movement and there is another second wave of young players coming after spending some development time in Providence. With McAvoy leading the way, the hockey future is bright in Boston and the Bruins have hit on enough of their recent draft picks to deem themselves successful.
But the dirty little secret for the Bruins is that the talent they’ve yielded from the amateur draft the past couple of years could have been even better, more explosive and talent-filled, if they’d taken a few more calculated risks with their high picks. The Bruins passed over three of this season’s top four producers in the NHL rookie scoring race. It’s a fact that needs to be reflected in B’s draft evaluations. With the knowledge that not every prospect is going to pan out for every time, here are some players that the Bruins might just be kicking themselves for not drafting when they had the chance:
(2015 draft, taken 16th by the New York Islanders) – This one is probably the most painful for everybody involved because the Bruins passed over this playmaking center from the WHL not once, not twice, but three consecutive times with the 13th, 14th and 15th picks in the first round. Instead, they selected defenseman Jakub Zboril at 13. He’s still struggling to become an impact player at the NHL. At 14 they took Jake DeBrusk, a solid selection with offensive tools, NHL pedigree and good size and strength, who looks like he’ll be an NHL forward for a nice, long career. Then, with the final first-round pick they reached for a young player in Zach Senyshyn, a winger for the Soo Greyhounds who wasn’t expected to be drafted until the second round. Senyshyn is a fine prospect who’s finding his way in Providence in his first pro season, but the overwhelming sense was the Bruins reached a little bit with his selection. They expected to use their first-round picks to move up and select Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin, but that deal never materialized on draft night. Instead, the Bruins selected Senyshyn and have watched helplessly as the skilled Barzal has turned into one of the NHL’s most dangerous rookies for the Islanders. Barzal now leads all rookies with 26 points in 27 games and has seven goals and 19 assists to go along with his plus-6 rating. His speed and skill are off the charts when it comes to making things happen on the ice. Now, Bruins fans are left to wonder what it could have been like if Barzal was their third-line center when injuries began to hit earlier this season. The Bruins doubled down with big, skilled wingers with two of those three picks in the first round. Now, it seems Barzal, a smaller, skilled center, might have been the better way to go.
(2016 draft, 39th by the Chicago Blackhawks) - Again, the Bruins had a choice between a solid, safe and predictable prospect at the end of the first round 2016 and a high-risk player who racked up massive offensive totals in the OHL. The first choice for the Bruins was Trent Frederic, a big, strong center in the mold of David Backes who’s currently a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin and is trending to be a big-bodied center with decent offense and two-way ability. In DeBrincat, the Bruins passed on a prolific scorer at every level the’s played at, and one who racked up 167 goals over three junior hockey seasons despite standing 5-foot-7 with a smallish frame. So, what has he done in the NHL? Well, DeBrincat has 11 goals and 20 points in 28 games and has routinely been the most exciting, electric player in the Chicago lineup with his size and strength limitations counting as total-non-factors. Essentially, the Bruins passed on taking a calculated risk with an OHL scoring machine in DeBrincat, and instead played it safe and selected Frederic as a player who ultimately projects to be a physical, productive third-line center just like his NHL role model, David Backes.
(2015 draft, 23rd by the Vancouver Canucks) - Another player taken shortly after the Bruins made their three consecutive picks in the first round, Boeser is using his size and shot to become a rookie sensation. In fact, Boeser has 13 goals and 25 points in 25 games and has been one of the young Canucks who’s been able to keep Vancouver competitive this season with a young roster that’s short on depth, size and toughness. Boeser should have been on Boston’s radar as a player going the college hockey route that’s seemingly preferred by the B’s front office, and as a player who clearly didn’t require a strong long-term commitment to stay in school given the way things played out for him. Add to all of this that the Bruins drafted a couple of wingers like Boeser, and one has to wonder if they considered him much at all over their eventual choices in DeBrusk and Senyshyn.
(2015 draft, 17th by the Winnipeg Jets) - Connor is another immensely talented winger the Bruins passed over in making their three consecutive picks in 2015. The 6-1, 182-pound Connor has nine goals and 17 points in 22 games and is on pace for 31 goals and 59 points as a rookie for the Jets. He has speed to burn, an accurate shot and the kind of size/strength combination that should keep defenders from attacking him too much with or without the puck. Like Boeser, Connor was also a college hockey player before opting out and signing with the Jets. In terms of development, both Connor and Boeser are way ahead of Senyshyn and clearly would have been more valuable to the B’s this season as the organization searched and scoured for injury replacements.
(2015 Draft, 18th by the Ottawa Senators) – The Bruins might have taken the wrong lefty-shooting defenseman prospect from the Saint John Sea Dogs when they chose Jakub Zboril instead of Thomas Chabot. Chabot is up in the NHL while Zboril works to improve his game in the AHL. Chabot has a goal and six points in nine games for the Senators since being called up this season. Chabot got the better of the playing time and was given more of an offensive role with Saint John while serving as a teammate with Zboril and now he’s already being given power-play time and an offensive role with the Senators. With the Bruins badly in need of another left-shot defenseman capable of playing a productive, frontline role, Chabot might have been the guy if they’d opted to draft two defensemen with the three consecutive first-round picks rather than going for two wingers and the D-man Zboril. Now, the Bruins will have to cling to the hope that the light will eventually go for Zboril, or perhaps they’ll luck out with a second- or third-round pick like Jeremy Lauzon as the Bruins have other young D-men traveling through the various stages of the organizational pipeline.