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Don Sweeney Upends Bruins Organization at Draft

The Boston Bruins made a lot of moves on the first day of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft that didn’t exactly make that much sense at first glance.

The moves technically started just under twenty-four hours earlier, when Bruins general manager Don Sweeney moved pending free agent Carl Soderberg for a sixth round pick. They then picked up steam on Friday — in addition to Soderberg, the Bruins sent out left wing Milan Lucic (retaining half his salary) and blue liner Dougie Hamilton, bringing back two first round picks, two second round picks, a goaltender, and a prospect. Here’s the breakdown:

From Boston Traded With To Boston
Carl Soderberg Colorado Avalanche 2016 6th Round Selection
Dougie Hamilton Calgary Flames 2015 1st Round Selection, 2015 2nd Round Selection (x2)
Milan Lucic Los Angeles Kings 2015 1st Round Selection, Martin Jones, Colin Miller

Then came the draft.

It was clear that the Bruins were trying to move up in order to take a top-ranked defenseman, likely Boston College blue liner Noah Hanifin — but whether the club would only offer two first round picks and clubs weren’t feeling charitable or the deal was truly too skewed, things didn’t work out. Boston ended up with three consecutive selections once the selection process began at the BB&T Center.

Using Corey Pronman’s Draft Rankings and NHL’s Central Scouting Final Rankings, here’s who Boston Selected with each pick:

13th overall: Jakub Zboril
Pronman: 38th overall
NHL Central Scouting: 12th North American Skater

14th overall: Jake DeBrusk
Pronman: 29th overall
NHL Central Scouting: 19th North American Skater

15th overall: Zachary Senyshyn
Pronman: 88th overall
NHL Central Scouting: 38th North American Skater

First, they selected a defenseman — Jakub Zboril, a Czech blue liner who played at the 2015 U20 World Junior Championship with Boston’s 2014 first round pick, David Pastrnak.

It’s entirely possible that NHL Central Scouting put Zboril higher than he should have been, although he was a late-year add by nearly every scouting site and draft ranking to either the first round or early in the second round. He went to Boston in a handful of rankings, although Pronman — who had the Bruins starting off with a winger — thought that Zboril would have been an excellent fit for the Ottawa Senators instead.

It wasn’t too surprising to see that Boston had planned to take a blue liner in the first round, regardless of their pick — and Zboril was someone they’d wanted following his performance with Pastrnak at the World Juniors. Many fans were upset and stymied, though, that the club opted to select him over any number of offensively gifted blue liners available in the first round — and projected to go higher than him anyway.

It’s not a guarantee that Zboril will develop into a top two pairing blue liner at the NHL level. As a matter of fact, that would be a pleasant development for the club in many’s eyes — the more expected ‘best case scenario’ is that he’ll continue to develop into a top four pairing. He’s not especially offensive, but there are a few factors that make this a not-disastrous pick for the Bruins:

  1. He’s a fantastic skater. Defensive prospects, when they’re still seventeen and eighteen, are still huge question marks when it comes to certain areas of their game. Some look like they can’t read the play well enough to develop good positioning, then everything clicks into place and they become excellent in this area — others seem to be fantastic offensive blue liners, but the attempt to develop the back end of their game drags away some of those high point production figures and leaves them as bottom pairing skaters capable of limited power play minutes. Zboril was one of the best skaters projected to go in the top two rounds, though — and he’s shown that he’s likely going to be a promising penalty killer who could develop more offense as he gets older.
  2. He’s calm and poised. Boston “lost their identity” this year, which is a lazy narrative but does mean that Sweeney and company hope to pick up a series of players that will fit together to form a series of role-playing puzzle pieces for the club. Assuming this is the case, Zboril is a good complement to the zany, offensively super-charged Torey Krug.
  3. Boston picked up a high-ceiling offensive blue liner on Friday, as well. When I saw the Milan Lucic trade in the first minutes of it’s breaking, the prospect I most hoped was coming back from Los Angeles was Colin Miller — and sure enough, Sweeney landed one of the highest-ceiling offensive blue liners in the AHL this last season. Miller still needs a bit of time before his game will be where it’s expected to be, but the 22 year old blue liner put up the third most points on the Manchester Monarchs in the regular season — it’s very hard to argue that a former fifth round pick with nineteen goals and fifty-two points in seventy AHL games won’t be fun to watch develop at the NHL level. If Boston is indeed trying to undergo a heavy retooling using cheaper pieces, this was an excellent pickup in exchange for a Lucic who likely would have walked at the end of next season regardless.

Boston’s second pick was one that many analysts either loved or were extremely hesitant on, and I personally lean towards the second camp — but Pronman actually had him higher in his prospect rankings (not to be confused with his final mock draft) than Zboril; he’s got the potential to be a good pick if he doesn’t fade out the way many worry he will.

Jake DeBrusk has been an excellent two way forward whose upside is still unclear; his prospect report reads like a poor man’s Max Domi, but with plenty of characteristics that seemed unlikely Boston would pass on. If Sweeney had managed to trade up to select Hanafin or Provorov, it was to be expected that their retained original first round pick would have been used to select DeBrusk regardless if he’d still been around.

It’s interesting that Sweeney took DeBrusk when many former players sometimes favor workhorse-style forwards with more size; the first round selections made by the new GM suggest that he’s looking to build a defense-first committee style club, not necessarily one that’s ‘big and tough’. This is a departure from what many expected, as there was a concern Boston would look to get bigger again — instead, they selected a player who has an upside comparable to that of Brad Marchand. He could be a seamless transition in time to replace the current second line left wing, as he plays the position himself — and he’s kind of a wrecking ball-esque skater who effectively serves as the offensive lookout on a penalty kill unit. If any player will look to score short-handed for Boston in the future, it’s an effectively-developed Jake DeBrusk.

The final pick, of course, is what many are outraged about. It’s actually my favorite of the three, although I don’t like where they took him.

Zachary Senyshyn has spent the last few years climbing the prospect rankings in North America, and there was an expectation among those familiar with his game that if he continued to develop like he has he’d be the next star second round pick. Like Tanner Pearson of the LA Kings and Christian Dvorak of the Arizona Coyotes, Senyshyn has been improving at a rate that make him a possible first round-esque player down the line.

Why we should like this pick:

  • Senyshyn is extremely fast. If Zboril was one of the cleanest skaters selected in the first round, Senyshyn is now one of the fastest. Some organizations are willing to take on skaters with high hockey IQ but poor skating ability in hopes of improving their weak areas, but Boston won’t need to do that here. They also currently lack many speedy skaters, and teams like the New York Rangers proved that speed is an undervalued asset in the modern-day NHL.
  • Like all three of Boston’s first round picks, Senyshyn has already shown prowess on the penalty kill — as mentioned in the evaluation of the DeBrusk pick, this suggests that Sweeney is leaning towards a defense-oriented committee based lineup rather than just trying to get bigger.
  • Senyshyn is a high-energy player to go with his fast skating. his lateral read of the game leaves something to be desired but he’s effective at using a North-South playing style to meet oncoming rushes and he loves to drive play up into the offensive zone. Even if he lacks the offensive talent Boston needs, DeBrusk theoretically has plenty of that to offer (as does Miller on the blue line) and Senyshyn’s development arc suggest this could become a non-issue as early as two or three seasons down the road.
  • Zachary Senyshyn is a right wing.

It’s possible that Sweeney wanted to ensure Senyshyn came to Boston and was nervous that other GM’s would be scrambling to pick up the winger in the second round, despite being ranked closer to a late third round pick — and while his decision to take the Ontario-born forward in the first round could have therefore been a case of inexperience forcing a premature selection subsequently, it’s also possible that Sweeney reasoned that the spare first round pick might as well be used to take a player like that.

The most painful part of the three player selection for Boston was that the club left so many talented players off their board. Kyle Connor of the USHL, Mathew Barzal of the Seattle Thunderbirds, Nick Merkley of the Kelowna Rockets, and Travis Konecny of the Ottawa 67’s were all players fans expected to see Boston potentially select with one of the three consecutive picks; there’s still little justification for taking three potential reach picks without making a single steal selection.

For all the shock and anger the three selections inspired, though, they weren’t completely random or inadvisable picks for the Boston lineup — which suggests that even if Sweeney should have avoided making such an aggressive bid for a top round pick, he didn’t make selections just for the sake of using the three picks. This draft class may end up actually being a success for Boston down the line — it just doesn’t have the safe, feel-good vibe to it that the first round held for so many other clubs in Boston’s shoes.

  • Steve Ives

    As always, amazing work, Cat. I don’t see why Pronman’s ratings come into play, we had a more accurate prospect ranking (as to how the first round actually went) right here on TSS! Senyshyn deserved to be in the 20’s, and he’s likely a better prospect long term than, say, Timo Meier… who went #9 without much complaint. I agree that Boston should have used at least ONE of the 14 or 15 picks on Barzal or Connor, and preferably both. But when the Boston media screams bloody murder that Senyshyn did not deserve to go in the first round because of what Corey Pronman said is nuts. I agree with you — there may have been better calls. Let’s just not sell Senyshyn short — after all, he was ranked in the first round on TSS, the best hockey site around!

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