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NHL Draft 2015: Boston Bruins Preview

State of the B’s

In the United States, perhaps no city is such a mix of the old and the new as Boston. A modern metropolis and the undisputed capitol of New England, Beantown’s historic relevance remains one of its strongest tourist draws. Mirroring the city in which they play hockey, the Bruins ushered out the old regime of recently deposed GM Peter Chiarelli, replacing him with longtime Bruins’ defenseman and front-office yeoman Don Sweeney, a Harvard grad who absolutely bleeds Bruins black and gold.

When recounting Chiarelli’s tenure as GM, it is important to give him due credit for leading the B’s to the 2011 Stanley Cup Championship, their first title since the bygone days of Bobby Orr. It is equivalently important to note that Chiarelli pretty much signed his own firing papers with the poorly conceived trades of Tyler Seguin and Johnny Boychuk which combined to sabotage the team’s fortunes, demoting them from perennial Eastern Conference power to the cauldron of mediocrity which missed the playoffs in 2015 for the first time since 2007.

Sweeney’s job description is simple: bring the Bruins back to dominant status and do it quickly. It is a challenging task, given the tight-salary cap crunch he inherited from Chiarelli, but not an impossible one. Sweeney is an extremely intelligent man, and inherits an elite nucleus of talent: Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask. He inherits a deep prospect pool, which he knows well — he was part of the Bruins front office team which drafted and developed them. In addition, he inherits the No. 14 and No. 38 picks in a future star-laden 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

 

Bruins Top 5 Prospects (Scale to 10)

  1. RW David Pastrnak (8.0) — still considered a prospect, but barely, as he has already has displayed his elite scoring and skating abilities at the NHL level; a can’t-miss future first line scoring star once he builds more strength and fills out his lanky physique.
  2. G Malcolm Subban (7.5) — we love his competitive drive and athleticism, but we consider him shy of an elite goaltending prospect due to his questionable technique and beatable glove hand.
  3. C Ryan Spooner (7.5) — quick and skilled puck-possession center is an asset on the power play and has high-scoring, second-line center upside. Terrific creativity, but needs to harness propensity for turnovers.
  4. G Zane McIntyre (7.5) — athletic goaltender likened to Marty Turco due to his hybrid style, has trouble with rebound control but offers big upside as possible NHL starter.
  5. C Ryan Donato (7.5) — extremely smart center plays responsible and skilled all-around game, may lack skating burst for first-line role but projects to an excellent second/third line center.

 

Organizational Strengths

  • The goaltending depth, at both the professional and prospect level, is phenomenal. Tuukka Rask is an elite NHL netminder, while Subban and McIntyre are both extremely intriguing prospects. It could be wise for the Bruins to trade one of the prospects with the NHL goalie market certain to be in flux this off-season.
  • The prospect pool is headlined by a player we feel is a future star in Pastrnak, but it is also deep. In addition to our top five, we feel they have several other future NHL contributors including centers Alexander Khokhlachev and Ryan Fitzgerald along with defensemen Joe Morrow and Matt Grzelcyk.
  • Patrice Bergeron rivals Jonathan Toews and Pavel Datsyuk as the best two-way center of this generation. He is simply a sensational all-around hockey player. Combined with the two-way skill-set of Krejci, the Bruins are set at center on the top two lines for many seasons to come.

 

Organizational Weaknesses

  • The salary cap has put the Bruins into a terrible bind. Their franchise defenseman of the future, Dougie Hamilton, is a RFA — the rumor mill has several teams considering tendering an offer sheet which will be very difficult for the Bruins to match. Once Hamilton is signed, it will leave very little available cap space for UFAs Adam McQuaid, Carl Soderberg, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell — all valuable depth players who could be lost on the open market to competing teams with more available cash flow. Further complicating this scenario is the looming possibility of next year’s free agents: Milan Lucic (UFA) and Torey Krug (RFA). This has led to myriad rumors that Lucic could be dealt this off-season to create cap relief — not ideal for the Bruins fan in that Lucic’s intimidating physical presence would be sorely missed for Boston on the ice.
  • Zdeno Chara is still a terrific defenseman, but at 38 years old, he is no longer capable of single-handedly dominating the outcome of a game. He suffered with an injury-plagued 2014-15, a large reason the B’s missed the post-season, as his absence exposed the lack of blue line depth the team had after trading stalwart Johnny Boychuk prior to the season.
  • The Bruins lack high-scoring wingers to surround their sublimely skilled centers, a large reason they rushed Pastrnak to the NHL last season. With no money to acquire high-priced high-scorers, they sorely need a breakthrough campaign from Pastrnak if they are going to return to the top of the conference standings.

 

Trade Winds

The biggest name constantly recurring on the Boston hot stove belongs to Milan Lucic. The intimidating power forward with scoring line-worthy skills is a unique player who could clearly improve the fortunes of several teams. Taking his $6 million off the books would clearly give the Bruins cap relief, while Lucic’s impending 2016 unrestricted free agency might be impetus for the huge LW to walk away with Boston receiving absolutely zero compensation.

As painful as it would be for the Bruins to deal Lucic, his return value in terms of picks and prospects would be high, and his salary off the books could be funneled towards a multi-year deal for cornerstone defenseman Dougie Hamilton. It is a difficult decision for Don Sweeney to be forced to make so early in his general managerial tenure.

Sweeney would greatly prefer to move LW Loui Eriksson and his $4.25 million contract, also expiring into unrestricted free agency after the 2015-16 campaign. Eriksson is a skilled two-way player, but injury prone and far less marketable. Is it worth moving him for negligible return simply for the cap relief it would give the B’s?

Boston’s cap crunch has hit them so hard that even the hallowed name of team captain Zdeno Chara has been mentioned in trade rumors. Though he has slowed a bit and is approaching the age of 40, Chara was still the best defenseman the Bruins had when healthy last season. It is crucial that Sweeney make the right move to provide cap relief. Last season we lamented Chiarelli’s misguided deal of key defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders when the Bruins could have provided themselves with even more cap relief by dealing less important players like Eriksson or Brad Marchand, a super-pest with some scoring pop but often a rallying point for opposition with his incessant diving and penchant for taking ill-advised penalties. We feel if Chiarelli had dealt either Eriksson or Marchand and held onto Boychuk, the Bruins would have certainly been a playoff team, as they only missed the post-season by two points.

Another deal we would like to see the Bruins make is a trade of Malcolm Subban. We feel Tuukka Rask is far superior than Subban will ever be, while McIntyre has comparable upside to the more-heralded Subban. Now that Peter Chiarelli has taken over the reins in Edmonton (a team in need of a franchise netminder), would he be willing to make a deal for the goalie he spent a first-round draft pick on back in 2012? We believe he would. Sweeney would be wise to counter with an offer of Subban and Eriksson for the Oilers No. 16 overall pick — a deal which would offer the Bruins cap relief combined with the opportunity to draft another future Bruins’ star without even remotely affecting Boston’s chances of making the 2016 post-season.

It is these types of decisions which will make Don Sweeney’s first off-season as Bruins GM a crucial one for the future of the proud franchise.

 

GM Don Sweeney Draft Dossier

Though Don Sweeney has been a longtime member of the Bruins front office, the 2015 NHL draft will be his first as General Manager. Hired back into the Boston organization in 2006, Sweeney has been a part of a Bruins’ drafting team which has made such steals as Zane McIntyre (2010, 165th overall) and David Pastrnak (2014, 25th overall), but also such disastrous foibles as Zach Hamill (2007, 8th overall).

We promise we are not blaming Mr. Sweeney for Zach Hamill. We just have no draft dossier on him and had to type something to fill this space.

 

2015 Boston Bruins Draft Preview

Boston rarely drafts as high as No. 14 overall (unless, heh heh, Toronto trades them the pick), and they are somewhat fortunate to be doing it in a draft which pundits are calling the deepest and most talented in over a decade. They no longer possess their 44th overall pick, having dealt it to Tampa Bay in the Brett Connolly deal. They do, however, have an even better pick in the second round — having acquired Philadelphia’s No. 38 overall selection from the New York Islanders in the Boychuk trade. The Bruins will then return to the 14th slot in rounds three through seven.

First Round (No. 14 overall)

In our totally super-awesome two-round mock draft, we had the Boston Bruins taking Swiss-born, high-scoring Halifax power RW Timo Meier. Our reasoning was that, outside of Pastrnak and Spooner, the B’s lack young players with high-end scoring upside to surround Bergeron and Krejci with in the coming years. Whereas Pastrnak plays more of a high-skill, finesse game, Meier is a big body (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) who combines top-notch scoring skill with great hands in the goal crease and the ability to dominate in the dirty areas of the ice. We feel he would give the Bruins the young power forward they have not developed since Lucic was drafted way back in 2006.

We feel confident that Meier will be available with the No. 14 pick, though there is a chance that Dallas (No. 12 overall) will take a close look at him, as well.

The Bruins would love for LW/C Kyle Connor to fall to them, though we have the Los Angeles Kings taking him one pick prior at No. 13. Connor offers greater offensive upside and versatility than Meier, and also plays a gritty, two-way game though it would be a stretch to call him a power forward.

We do not see the Bruins trading up or down in the draft unless C/W Pavel Zacha somehow were to fall past the No. 10 overall spot. A huge (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and physical freight-train with elite speed and one of the best shots in the draft, Zacha would combine the entire skill-set the Bruins covet up front.

We have entertained the possibility that, a former defenseman himself, Sweeney could use his No. 14 pick to fortify the back end. Though the 2015 elite trio of defensemen (Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, Zachary Werenski) will certainly all be gone by the time Boston reaches the draft podium, there are a pair of QMJHL rearguards with top-pairing, star potential in Sherbrooke RD Jeremy Roy and Saint John LD Jakub Zboril.

Ultimately, like the GMs themselves, we have to make a choice and we are sticking with ours. We have no problem with saying that Timo Meier will be the next great Boston Bruins power forward.

Second Round (No. 38 overall) and beyond

As we are leaning in the direction of attaching Boston to a power forward in the first round, we feel that they will look to fortify the back end in the second round. There will be plenty of high-upside options still available early in the second round in this extraordinary draft class — as a matter of fact, some of the players we have ranked in the 40-range for 2015 we believe would be surefire first rounders in 2014 or 2013.

In our two-round mock, we had the Bruins taking Baie-Comeau banger Nicolas Meloche, a rugged crease-clearer who also offers a slick outlet pass and a high hockey IQ. In our most recent mock (to be published just prior to the draft, so just hold your horses), we have Meloche going a bit higher than the Bruins pick, but Sweeney finding another high-upside defense prospect in Niagara’s Vince Dunn, a slick skater with a seeing-eye slapshot who still manages to take care of his own end.

It is difficult to predict what Don Sweeney will be up to in the later rounds, as this is first time running an NHL draft. As Sweeney was an extremely intelligent player with a sterling character, we assume he will look for players who share such attributes. One such player whom we absolutely love fitting this description is Seattle rearguard Ethan Bear. For a forward sharing these noble characteristics, the Bruins need only to look across town to Boston University to see the selfless and unending hustle of LW A.J. Greer.

 

In Conclusion

The decline of the Boston Bruins has been greatly exaggerated. This is still a team with an elite core and a deep prospect pool, armed with a relatively early pick in a talent-laden 2015 draft. New GM Don Sweeney inherits a team capable of returning to the precipice of being an Eastern Conference power with some shrewd maneuvering, but we believe that the Harvard-grad and former Bruins blue line stalwart is the perfect man to accomplish this goal.

Agree? Disagree? Zdeno Chara once broke your window with a slapshot and you want to get revenge by insulting the team he plays for? Feel free to use the comments section listed below or follow me on Twitter: @StIves72.

The Bruins are our 14th draft preview column, you can find the rest of them on my homepage, located right here.

  • Scott Marchessault

    Completely agree with all the points and status of the team above.
    The only thing I would add, though I’m sure most wouldn’t agree with me, is I would actually rather see the Bruins trade David Krejci (despite his accolades above) and Dennis Seidenberg. Both are good players but both have huge contracts eating up our tight cap space. And while they are good players, Seidenberg is older and hasn’t been able to skate the same since his knee injury, and Krejci is also semi injury prone and seems to disappear at times with a sense of apathy when they really need a spark (as Lucic seems to do as well from time to time). And while Krecji has shown at times to be a premier center, he has also shown at times to be a complete non-factor who can’t produce much without other hungry players around him.
    When you look at last year’s off-season, yes they lost Boychuck, BUT they also lost Iginla and Shawn Thornton, and practically did nothing to replace all 3 of them (clearly especially Boychuck). Iginla’s presence (scoring) has since been replaced somewhat by Pastrnak, but one thing no one seems to talk about is Thornton’s missing presence on the team. While he may not have been a strong offensive presence, at least he was a physical presence who held guys in the locker room accountable, a leadership trait I think they sorely missed last year.
    Clearly they need to get back to a more defensively focused mindset, and a hard-hitting, grind-it-out team as oppose to a finesse team. I think another move they could make would be to let Kelly go, in an attempt to completely re-tool and re-vamp those bottom 2 lines of the team. If they were to let go of Kelly, Krejci and Seidenberg, as well as trade one of their goalie prospects (like you mentioned above), then they would have the cap space and ability to completely re-tool this team with a new identity of big, hungry, hard hitting defensive players and some legitimate goal scorers that the team was clearly lacking last year. Plus, they would also have the cap space to then re-sign guys like Hamilton, McQuaid, Krug, and/or Soderberg.
    I also think they should sit on the Lucic contract for another year, seeing as how maybe being in the last year of his contract this year will light a fire under his ass to play harder next season.

    • Steve Ives

      Um… want a job?

    • Eric Ouellet

      I’m right there with you Scott. It’s important to look at the strengths and weaknesses of a team before you determine who’s on the chopping block. As it stands, the defensive core is not what it used to be — Chara and Seidenberg can no longer be relied upon to shut down every player on the ice, especially when you take into account how fast certain teams have gotten over the past few seasons. Instead of 1 guy attempting to rush the line we’ve got full lines of speedy players who enter the zone 3 at a time, backed up by excellent transitional defensemen like Hedman. They make Chara look like he’s standing still… the only players we have capable of dealing with this threat are Hamilton and Krug, and it remains to be seen whether Krug can adequately fill a top 4 role.

      The situation at wing isn’t a lot better, but it’s workable. Pastrnak and to a lesser extant Connolly improve on a situation that looked bleak after Iginla’s departure last season. Lucic is still a huge part of this forward lineup and trading him would most likely hurt a lot more than it would help, especially when you consider his contract situation. Teams don’t like shelling out that much for a 1-year rental which undoubtedly hurts his value.

      Now we come to center — easily the position at which Boston has the most depth. Krejci, Bergeron, Soderberg, and Spooner — there is enough room here to make a move. Obviously the team won’t be trading Bergeron and while Soderberg and Spoons are both great players, their value isn’t great. This is why David Krejci becomes Boston’s number one overall trade asset. Moving him can be accomplished without destroying any particular position (unlike moving a highly valuable winger or defenseman) and his return could likely be enough to shore up one of those other positions. If I’m Sweeney I’d be contacting GMs who need a playoff center and who might be willing to part ways with a young(ish) top 4 D. An ideal target would be someone like Kevin Shattenkirk for Krejci and 14th OA.

      • Bojangles

        You’re jumping on the “speed” bandwagon – take a look at how handily the depleted Bruins handled the Lightning last year. Next – you are simply crazy to think trading Krecji instead of Looch helps this club. Soderberg was a below average player when DK was out of the lineup b/c.. frankly.. he’s not that good. The problem with the Bruins last year was scoring goals. Without Krecji, this club has not offense. You want to trade the top playoff scorer from two playoff runs and replace him with Soderberg and Spooner, a kid who had a nice 20 game run but that’s all he’s ever done. Krecji is THE reason the team missed the playoffs, but it wasn’t due to his play, it was due to him being out of the lineup and injured.

        As far as the article goes – sure, trading Boychuk hurt last season, but he had to go. Look at the cap today and you tell me you’re going to sign him for the contract he got?! NFW!! Because McQuaid, Kelly and Seids all had off-season surgery, Chiarelli’s hands were tied and Boychuk was the one who had to go. You could have traded Marchand, or Eriksson, but take a look at the O without one or two of those going into last season. You are playing the hindsight game. Then again – I think you’re nuts to suggest trading Marchand who’s contract is one of the good ones. The guy is fantastic with Bergeron – perhaps one of the best pairs in the entire league, and he’s one of the best penalty killers league wide. People get all up tight about Marchand’s BS, but don’t let it cloud your vision to what a solid LW he actually is. You can’t in one breath say the Bs have to get quicker and shiftier and then trade their quickest and shiftiest players – a guy who is a possession mad man.

  • Roger Warren

    Agree with most of what you and Scott comment. Only thing I would add/disagree is that they should look for a wholesale change to add skillful youth, even if it means they miss the playoffs next year. A blockbuster with the Oilers/Flames that they could have done this year is where I would start in that regard, especially with Chia’s love of veterans from his old teams. If Don has the balls to do that and ownership can accept missing the playoffs for another year, that would allow them to rebuild a powerhouse around Pasternak and Hamilton for years to come. Would really like them to make whatever changes they need to keep Soderberg, who I think will continue to develop into the N. American game, but doubt this will happen.

    • Bojangles

      They just signed a Soderberg clone (Kemppainen) for far less than what Soderberg is going to command. Talk about bad contracts? If you want to keep Soderberg for the $3-$4 Million per year he’s about to get then you are committing the same crimes you condemn Chiarelli for.

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