Don Sweeney seems like a smart guy.
He spent four years at Harvard University, playing for the Crimson men’s team, then moved his way up through the ranks for the Bruins during his post-player career. He spent seasons studying under general manager Peter Chiarelli, he’s spent time in player development and scouting, and he’s worked as dean of admissions at the prep school level.
For a second consecutive year, though, the new Bruins general manager has made a ‘reach pick’ in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft and failed to adequately recoup assets for pending free agents — so as the 2016 draft comes to a close, it’s increasingly hard to continue giving him the benefit of the doubt.
When the Bruins walked away from the draft floor this weekend, they did walk away with two players who will be strong prospects in their system.
It wasn’t Boston’s smartest move to pass on all-around defenseman Jakob Chychrun with their 14th overall pick, but Charles McAvoy — the defenseman that they did select — certainly isn’t a bad option. He put up three goals and 25 points in 37 games for Boston University last year as the youngest player in college hockey, and he’s a strong skater.
Given the tough season that Chychrun had with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, it’s not exactly a stretch to consider that the Bruins wanted the player who is coming off the better year.
Ryan Lindgren is also a solid pick for Boston. Taken with the 49th overall pick in the second round, Lindgren is coming off his second year with the US National Development Program, and he’s a perfect compliment for McAvoy on the blue line.
Like the first rounder, Lindgren is a strong skater. While McAvoy is knocked for his decision-making, though, Lindgren is a much safer player who keeps his cool. The disciplinary concerns that both McAvoy and 2015 first-rounder Jakub Zboril often raise aren’t an issue for Lindgren, and his game seems to still be growing as he goes.
The first (and most glaring) issue with how the Bruins behaved at the draft this year was their inability to recoup assets for pending free agent Loui Eriksson.
Last season, the team accepted a late round pick for pending free agent Carl Soderberg; this year, they stayed put with Eriksson, a huge issue for a team that can’t afford to lose assets for free.
The Bruins failed to make any kind of trade splash, as a matter of fact, and while that’s a relief after dealing for Zac Rinaldo last summer, it’s also a problem if Eriksson walks on July 1st. Given the fact that he’s probably going to do that, Don Sweeney deserves open criticism for this.
There’s also the team’s second of two first-round picks, though.
Trent Frederic stands at 6’2″ and 203 pounds, hailing from St. Louis, Missouri. He’s coming off his second year with the US Development program, during which he put up 14 points in 23 games.
Here are his prospect rankings leading into the draft, via EliteProspects:
The highest Frederic was ranked heading into Friday evening was 47th, and that was among North American skaters only. The most generous ranking he was given overall was 54th overall by Bob McKenzie, who put him there via aggregate rankings. ISS Hockey had him 58th; Future Considerations, McKeen’s Hockey, and Hockeyprospect.com all put him in the third round altogether.
Boston took him 29th overall.
The good news is that the majority of Frederic’s points were primary points this past year. He pitched in with seven primary assists in total, giving him 11 primary points of 14 total points earned during the season. He also took 44 shots through 23 games, and one of his four goals came shorthanded. He’s got potential, for sure.
At best, though, Frederic will be a player teams look back upon and agree he was taken in the right spot. At worst, teams will take a look at him and wonder why, exactly, the Bruins wasted their extra first-round pick on a player who never pans out at the NHL level.
When teams make reach picks in the first round, they open themselves up for criticism — especially if a player was widely considered to be one who would still be around with a later pick for the team.
It’s one thing to make a reach pick if a team is afraid they’ll be gone a few picks later (although attempting to trade down is also a smart option if that’s the case), but it’s quite another to reach almost a round and a half into the pool of available prospects to draft and snag a player there was little risk would be gone with a later pick.
It’s a third thing to do it two years in a row.
The Bruins put themselves in a position to fail at the 2015 Entry Draft when they reached for forward prospect Zachary Senyshyn of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, grabbing him with their third of three consecutive picks at the draft in Sunrise, Florida.
The Bruins now have not just one, but two, prospects in their system who will only be considered a “good value” in a best-case scenario for their development.
Some general managers, of course, consider themselves to be better evaluators of talent than others. Those execs make reach picks, arguing that they have a proven track record of picking up players who exceed their expected values.
The Bruins may end up in this kind of situation with Senyshyn and now Frederic, but after giving a third round pick for forward Zac Rinaldo (who has nine career NHL goals to his name in almost 300 games) last summer, it’s hard to be confident that Sweeney boasts the talent evaluation skills to pull this off.
As with last year, the Bruins put up a performance at the draft that can only be judged as a ‘wait and see’ kind of showing.
It’s likely that McAvoy and Lindgren will end up as valuable pieces, and forward Joona Koppanen — taken in the fifth round — could be a sleeper prospect who ends up successful, too.
After making a risky pick last season, though, the Bruins should have played it safe. They dealt away a clear starting goaltender in Martin Jones, who excelled in both the regular season and a deep playoff run for the San Jose Sharks, for a first round pick; using that pick on a potential third round player is as bad as losing that trade in the first place by taking a lower pick.
Then, there’s the asset management. The Bruins may have failed to find any takers at the draft for the rights to negotiate with Loui Eriksson, especially with free agency so close at hand, but that doesn’t erase the multiple opportunities the team has had to recoup his value in the last few months.
All of this further highlights the questionable asset management Sweeney continues to display.
Overall, the Bruins haven’t completely lost this draft just yet. It’s too soon to truly tell how this year’s prospect haul will pan out, after all. Given the variables that can be evaluated at this point, though, things aren’t looking great.
It’s hard to tell if Don Sweeney is a mad genius or simply mad, but with each passing draft, it’s looking more and more like he may just be the latter. For a team that has some of the league’s best core pieces still in their lineup in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask, that’s truly too bad.