CHICAGO -- Just as the Celtics moved down from their first-round pick before making their selection on draft night, Don Sweeney and the Bruins may do the very same thing in tonight in the first round of the NHL Draft at the United Center.
The Bruins currently hold the 18th overall selection after getting back into the playoffs last season and Sweeney said the likelihood for the Black and Gold was to move down amid a draft class that isn’t particularly strong.
“We feel good about where we’re picking right now, but we’ve had some talks about moving in either direction,” Sweeney said Thursday. “We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and the [start of the first round]. Our scouts are excited about the players that are potentially available at that spot, and on players on either side movement-wise whether we go up or down in the draft...more likely move back to take a player that we potentially think will still be there.
“There’s some value as a result to that. That’s what we’ve discussed on the amateur side, and on the pro scouting side, we’ve talked about using that pick to acquire [talent] to help our team. We want to be better for next year.”
It’s clear that the first-round pick is absolutely in play for potential trades for either an NHL-ready wing or defenseman who can fill needs. The Bruins have engaged in longstanding discussions with the Minnesota Wild for left-shot defenseman Jonas Brodin. There were also whispers over the past few days that Boston might be angling for Vegas power forward Alex Tuch, just traded from Minny in an expansion draft deal.
NHL players Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Adam McQuaid could potentially be on the table for deals and the Bruins might also have to move a top prospect such as Jakob Zboril if it’s part of a deal where a young, veteran NHL D-man comes back to Boston. Sweeney indicated there were a lot of trade discussions leading up to the expansion draft. Those will continue as Vegas GM George McPhee is expected in the coming days to auction off some of the talent plucked with those expansion draft picks.
“There were a lot of discussions leading up to [the expansion draft],” said Sweeney. “We all believed he was going to take a number of defensemen [for the Golden Knights] and there could be an auction. There have been discussions there, and there have been a lot of names tossed around. Now it will be interesting to see now knowing what the prices were going to be ahead of time, and now that most of the trades have been completed where we’re going moving forward.
“We feel very comfortable with the six guys on our roster right now [on defense]. We feel there’s a lot of depth there and we’ve got some young players, but if there’s a target-specific thing we’re going to continue to look at it.”
One interesting name to think about in an auction-style deal with Vegas: Marc Methot. The big, lefty-shooting D-man is hard-nosed, tough and has been an excellent stay-at-home partner with Erik Karlsson the past few years in Ottawa. Wouldn’t that kind of tough, veteran leader with enough mobility be a great fit as a partner for right-shooting Charlie McAvoy in his first full season in the NHL?
There’s rumored to be plenty of interest in Methot, including in Toronto, if/when he becomes a trade chip for the Golden Knights. One would hope that the Bruins at least kick the tires on a player that could fill that need until their prospects are ready.
What do the Bruins do if they stay at No. 18? Kristian Vesalainen, Isaac Ratcliffe, Callan Foote, Shane Bowers, Eeli Tolvanen and Nicholas Hague would be in the mix, and the B’s would certainly come away with a player that could add to their prospect profile.
Hague is an intriguing D-man prospect who could be a Zdeno Chara replacement in the making given his 6-foot-6 size, his smarts and the strength he’s expected to develop, along with his puck-moving ability.
"We've watched a lot of Missy games this year and definitely one thing that sticks out [about Hague] is his hockey IQ, he can use smarts or physical tools to take control,” said one Eastern Conference talent evaluator. “His stick and overall gap control is something really amazing to witness and when someone with his size can just eliminate time and space to go in any direction....scored 18 from the backend, and didn't get 1st Unit touches in the second half because they needed him as a shutdown D. He's going to be one hell of a Pro!"
If the B’s do move down in the first round it's interesting that, according to the Boston Herald’s Steve Conroy, the Bruins have met several times with Boston University goaltender Jake Oettinger, who is expected to be selected toward the end of the first round. The 6-foot-4, 207-pound prospect is considered the top goalie prospect in the draft and might be a safe pick for the Black and Gold with a class that doesn’t boast the kind of high-end forwards and D-men that were in the previous couple of drafts.
One thing is certain: Sweeney and the Bruins expect to be active this draft weekend in the Windy City and get their first real crack at addressing the NHL roster needs on the left side at both wing and defenseman.
It remains to be seen how much they will get done after this week’s flurry of expansion draft activity and how much will carry over into the free agency period beginning July 1.
There’s little doubt that on some level things could potentially work between Ilya Kovalchuk and the Bruins. Who couldn’t use a big left wing who still has enough in the tank at 34 to put up 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games in the KHL last season? Or one who scored 37 goals and led his NHL team, the New Jersey Devils, to the Stanley Cup Final in his last full regular-season in North America?
The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder could team with David Krejci and David Pastrnak to be something dynamic on a Czech-Russian line that would put fear in the hearts of opposing defenses, and Kovalchuk would be dynamite on the Boston power play as a left-shot finisher.
If it was just a matter of the Black and Gold being the highest bidder as Kovalchuk reportedly returns to the NHL, then you could sign me up for it right now. It would have to be a reasonable term for the Russian who's already proven in the past he was a flight risk, but he will easily command north of $6 million per season no matter where he goes.
In this case, the Bruins should stay out of the Kovalchuk sweepstakes because it isn’t that simple for an admittedly talented player who also comes with a lot of risk. It’s going to become a bidding war for Kovalchuk once New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero starts fielding trade offers for Kovalchuk’s rights following next weekend’s NHL draft. Teams such as the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues are already lining up as suitors.
Can you imagine Vladimir Tarasenko and Kovalchuk doing damage in St. Louis for the next five years as the best Russian tag team since Nikolai Volkov and Ivan Putski were throwing around suplexes in the squared circle?
The problem for the Bruins is that Kovalchuk isn’t going to come cheap, and he’s a little long in the tooth for a B’s group that clearly wants to get young, faster and more explosive. This is why there was some understandable head-scratching last summer when the Bruins committed five years of big money to a heart-and-soul forward in David Backes, 32, who in all fairness isn’t younger, faster or more explosive than he was in his best days with the Blues.
The Bruins would have to part with picks and prospects to bring in Kovalchuk from Jersey as the highest bidder, and then they would probably have to overpay in a contract just as they did for Backes and Matt Beleskey in each of the previous two summers. One would hope that Don Sweeney and Cam Neely have learned their respective lessons at this point about unrestricted free agency in the NHL.
Signing free agents is basically agreeing to pay premium prices for players who are already past their most effective years and hope they fit in with whatever team concept you’ve begun carefully crafting with a draft-and-development plan.
There are better options out there for a team looking for young solutions.
Gabriel Landeskog is still a trade possibility, as is Matt Duchene from Colorado. Both would be younger, better long-term solutions for the Bruins’ needs on the wing. While you might pay a higher price for Landeskog if you traded for him, you’d at least be getting the benefit of cost certainty with a lower cap hit and a player who, at 24, should be just entering his prime seasons.
The Bruins could also very well go into the start of next season hoping that Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen steps up and fills the role on the wing alongside Krejci and that they can fill that big roster void with in-house talent after failing to do that last season.
If the Bruins do need to dip their toes into free agency for a veteran option at left wing, Sweeney and Co. would be better off going smaller with less risk for that player. It was a mentality that worked very well at the trade deadline last spring when they surrendered a fifth-round pick for Drew Stafford and there were reasonable free-agent-types who wouldn’t break the bank.
Patrick Sharp is 35 and coming off a down season (eight goals and 18 points in 48 games) in Dallas due to injuries and the general malaise that sunk the Stars, but he was still a 20-goal left wing for the Chicago Blackhawks just a couple of years ago. Or perhaps Patrick Marleau, 37, if he was willing to move on from San Jose and agree to something in the two-three-year range after potting 27 goals last season - proof positive that he’s still got something left in the tank.
Those kinds of free-agent explorations would make more sense for the Black and Gold if they end up going that way, but the sense here is that the Bruins want to get younger, rather than older, on the wing. So, my advice to the Bruins as they get ready for a huge week with the expansion draft and NHL amateur draft weekend: Don’t waste any time or resources on a possible Kovalchuk chase ahead of free agency.
Instead. keep building the Black and Gold thing the right way with the right kind of players - Jonas Brodin from Minnesota or Landeskog from Colorado (if the price is right)? Avoid the shiny objects that end up looking way better on the showroom floor than they do in your driveway.