There is no greater hindsight move involving Bruins players than the first round of a stacked 2015 NHL Draft where the Bruins had three consecutive picks.
Instead of securing elite talents like Mat Barzal, Brock Boeser, Thomas Chabot, Travis Konecny or Kyle Connor — all of whom would have addressed current holes on the Bruins roster at the NHL level, the Bruins missed badly with two of those first three picks in selecting defenseman Jakob Zboril and winger Zach Senyshyn.
The Bruins obviously made a good pick with the middle first rounder in taking left winger Jake DeBrusk, as he’s developed into a solid top-9 left wing.
But Zboril and Senyshyn haven’t even really been above-average AHL players during their time in Boston and can safely be called busts at this point in their pro hockey careers.
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That’s left the Bruins in a perpetual state of searching for a top-6 goal-scoring wing after plenty of them went later in that first round, and forced them to give up assets last season for Charlie Coyle when they couldn’t develop their own heir apparent at the center position.
Don Sweeney has subsequently copped to the mistakes made in that draft and the “steep learning curve” for the Bruins after he took over the managerial reins from the fired Peter Chiarelli.
“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 [of our team] 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.”
Obviously, it wasn’t all bad as the Bruins did a good job in the second round while landing defensemen Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon, who are both factoring into the big picture in Boston. But the first round remains a big-time gaffe in player selection that’s had a long-lasting impact on the Bruins organization even as they have built up a team that got all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season.
The master plan for the Bruins draft weekend was to trade up in the first round and get a young franchise defenseman like Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski and fulfill their need for a young No. 1 defenseman-in the-making.
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. Instead of securing the No. 1 D-man in that draft, they instead took care of that need a year later when they drafted Charlie McAvoy around the very same part of the first round.
When one considers that Mat Barzal, Kyle Connor and Thomas Chabot were taken with the next three picks in the first round after Senyshyn, the Bruins missed badly with both of those players given the comparable talent available.
Passing on a talent like Barzal three straight times, only to watch him land with the New York Islanders with the very next selection, is something that can’t be glossed over with the “drafting is hard” argument. Barzal was on pace for 23 goals and 72 points at the time of the 2019-20 regular season going on pause and Connor was about to hit the 40-goal mark for the first time in his NHL career in Winnipeg.
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, Boeser and 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.
So the 2015 NHL Draft isn’t the catastrophic event that it might have been otherwise. But that weekend could have also set the Black and Gold up as a dynasty for the next decade if they had executed by landing better young players.
That’s a hindsight that’s unfortunately going to stick with Sweeney and Co. for as long as they’re running the operation in Boston, and even despite the many good decisions they've subsequently made since then.