The 2017 NHL Draft could turn out to be a pretty strong one for the Bruins.
Urho Vaakanainen may not turn out to be a home run as a decent top-4 prospect with limited ceiling both offensively and defensively, but the Bruins have a couple of potentially great picks in Jack Studnicka (second round) and Jeremy Swayman (fourth round). Studnicka is the top forward prospect in the organization as a potential top-6 center and Swayman has the best shot to be the future No. 1 goaltender for the Bruins organization as Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak both hit their mid-30s.
They also missed with a couple of later picks on Cedric Pare and Daniel Bukac, but if you’re going to miss on players, doing it in the sixth and seventh rounds is the way to go.
Urho Vaakanainen (1st round, 18th overall)
Some will remember that the name Paul Coffey was tossed around at NHL Draft weekend after the Bruins had selected the smooth-skating Finnish defenseman in the middle of the first round. Well, I’m here to tell you that Urho Vaakanainen is not going to be Paul Coffey.
Certainly, he’s shown flashes over the last few seasons as he’s already had a couple of stints in Boston at 21 years old, and he’s had his moments at the AHL level with nine goals and 28 points in 84 games for the P-Bruins over the last two seasons. He’s a good skater and he can play big minutes, and his offense has been developing at a decent level given his production after showing less offensive ability as a younger player. He was touted as an advanced defensive D-man when he was drafted and interestingly enough that’s actually been an area of his game where he hasn’t been particularly impressive.
Vaakanainen has a pretty active stick and can skate his way out of trouble, but he’s not very physical at 6-foot-1, 185-pounds and doesn’t really project to be a shutdown defenseman when he’s finally a regular at the NHL level. He’s also had some concussion issues including this flagrant elbow from Mark Borowiecki that ended his first stint with the Bruins. Vaakanainen is still a work in progress, but it doesn’t feel like he’s ever going to be the kind of NHL defenseman that the Bruins got in the middle of the first when they picked Charlie McAvoy, does it?
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Jack Studnicka (2nd round, 53rd overall)
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Studnicka turned into a legit offensive stud in his final couple of OHL seasons and was impressive in his first AHL campaign with 23 goals and 49 points in 60 games with the P-Bruins. He’s developed into the top forward prospect in the Bruins organization and has size, skating ability, competitiveness and an ability to put the puck in the net that makes him the closest thing to a top-6 heir apparent to Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci at the center position.
It would have been interesting to see if he would have been pushed into any kind of duty with the Bruins down the stretch this season, but he will be NHL-ready within the next couple of seasons as Krejci enters the final year of his contract next season. Studnicka looks like a can’t miss guy for the Black and Gold and an excellent second-round pick as potentially their best player taken in this draft.
Studnicka scored a goal during this season’s preseason after taking a puck off his face. Now that’s a hockey player.
Jeremy Swayman (4th round, 111th overall)
The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Swayman is another potential gem in this draft after being drafted following his USHL career with the Sioux Falls Stampede.
Swayman improved each and every season with the University of Maine before capturing the Mike Richter Award as college hockey’s top goaltender this past season. He finished with a .939 save percentage for the Black Bears this past season and showed great size, athleticism and competitiveness while standing out for an otherwise average Maine team.
Swayman will enter next season as the best candidate to be a future No. 1 goaltender for the Bruins after signing a pro contract with the Bruins last month. This is a fourth-round pick that shows a lot of upside for a B’s group that’s going to need a young goalie with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak both in their mid-30’s right now.
Here’s Swayman in action during a 4-2 win over BU this past season.
Cedric Pare (6th round, 173rd overall)
The good news is that the 6-foot-4, 212-pound Pare had an excellent final junior season with 37 goals and 88 points in 64 games for Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL. He showed off a pretty good one-timer while scoring those goals.
The bad news is that he was still playing junior hockey as a 21-year-old when the Bruins have already brought younger, more promising prospects into the AHL fold over the last few seasons. That doesn’t bode well for Pare’s future with the Bruins organization after he didn’t really dominate until he was one of the oldest players in the league.
At development camp with the B’s, he didn’t show enough in the skating or offensive departments, and never really played up to his imposing size either. Pare is essentially a free agent at this point that can sign a pro contract with any team and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to be the Black and Gold as they have moved on to other center prospects. This looks like a wasted pick at this point.
Victor Berglund (7th round, 195th overall)
The 6-foot, 180-pound Berglund is progressing nicely in Sweden at this point after posting 10 goals and 22 points in 52 games for Modo in the Swedish Leagues this past season.
The right-shooting Berglund signed last season with the Bruins and played a few games for the P-Bruins at the tail end of the 2018-19 season with a goal and two points in four games, but didn’t come back to North America at all last season. One would expect that Berglund would be back this coming season after turning 21 years old in August and he has shown some advanced offensive ability from the back end to this point.
His size is pretty good, his skating and offensive game are strong and he’s still a young player coming into the North American game. There’s a lot of upside there for a seventh-round pick as he showed in this game in Sweden last season and that makes Berglund a good choice already.
Daniel Bukac (7th round, 204th overall)
The 6-foot-6, 210-pound Bukac was considered a raw D-man prospect when the Bruins selected him in the seventh round of the draft, and the big-bodied defenseman never really developed as a prospect.
Bukac was actually pretty solid in his final junior season with Niagara while posting four goals and 15 points in 54 games along with a plus-37 rating, but he never seemed to develop the edge that the B’s would have been looking for given his skill set as a defenseman. So Bukac went home to the Czech League and signed a three-year contract with Liberec before playing in only one game for them this past season.
Bukac looks like another player drafted this season that is never going to see the light of day in the Bruins organization and therefore another wasted pick. Tough to blame the Bruins scouts for taking a shot on a D-man prospect with good tools like he showed on this goal with the Brandon Wheat Kings, but this one didn’t work out.