Everyone knows that drafting well is essential to any professional sports league. Young talent is cheap and can infuse a new energy and excitement into any franchise in sports.
In recent years, more and more young players are having tremendous impacts on their teams. Look at Colorado Avalanche’s Cale Makar, who is only 23 and having himself quite the postseason. A couple of years ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs finished last in the Atlantic Division for the 2015-16 season and then went on to select Auston Matthew first overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Level Draft and they made the playoffs the next year.
It is no secret, that the Boston Bruins have not drafted well under Don Sweeney’s tenure as general manager (GM). In light of the firing of Bruce Cassidy this week, many in the media have pointed out the fact that he is essentially taking the fall for the failures of the front office. While coaching is never perfect, the biggest issue with this team is and has been for the last several years, personnel and depth issues.
The firing of Cassidy has put an increased spotlight and pressure on Sweeney going into this year’s 2022 NHL Entry Level Draft. While he is still not under contract for next season, the assumption is that he will be receiving an extension sometime soon. If the next guy is to have any hope of success in Boston, then it is especially essential that the Bruins draft well this year to get some guys in the pipeline to be NHL-ready in the next few years.
Sweeney’s Draft Misses
The draft that will forever haunt Sweeney’s tenure as GM and the Bruins’ franchise as a whole is the 2015 Entry Level Draft. The Bruins and three picks in the first round (13, 14 & 15) and used them on Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril, and Zachary Senyshyn in that order. While DeBrusk found his footing again this season after a very rough 2020-21 season, he has an outstanding trade request and there’s a good chance he’ll be in a different uniform this season. Zboril was beginning to find his footing in the NHL this season before an ACL tear ended his season prematurely in December. Senyshyn never found his footing with the Bruins and ended up requesting a trade this year, and was sent to the Ottawa Senators.
Not every draft pick is going to pan out, but the worst part of the 2015 Draft is the amount of talent that they passed on. Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, and Thomas Chabot were taken with picks 16, 17, and 18. The Bruins have very limited center prospects at the moment. Imagine how nice having Barzal on the roster would be right about now?
Other guys taken later in the first round of the 2015 Draft include Joel Eriksson Ek, Brock Boeser, and Travis Konecny. Also, another fun fact, the Bruins traded their fifth-round pick in this draft to the Minnesota Wild and that pick turned out to be Kirill Kaprizov.
Some leeway can be given to Sweeney has he had only been in the job for a month leading up to the 2015 NHL Entry Level Draft, but the drafting issues have continued. In 2016, they had two first-round picks again. One of them turned into Charlie McAvoy, who is a franchise cornerstone and Sweeney’s most successful pick, the other was Trent Frederic at 29th overall: a guy who has struggled to maintain a roster spot and has mostly been used in bottom-six roles. Alex Debrincat and Jordan Kyrou were both selected at the beginning of the second round.
Their 2017 first-round selection, Urho Vaakanainen, was just traded at the 2022 Trade Deadline as part of the Hampus Lindholm deal. Their 2018 first round pick was traded as part of the deal for Rick Nash with the New York Rangers and their 2020 first round pick went to the Anaheim Ducks as part of a deal that saw the Bruins gain Ondrej Kase and trade away David Backes’ contract that desperately needed off of the books. Neither of those deals really worked out.
Every GM is going to miss a player, and scouting can only go so far in determining a player’s growth. There will always be players like Brad Marchand who get picked in the fifth round, work hard, and find their way into the league. Every GM and scouting department misses talent.
The problem with the Bruins is that the front office has consistently missed. Now, they haven’t had a ton of picks in recent years as they’ve been consistent contenders and have used those picks in attempts to get players to help bolster the roster (to varying degrees of success), but that’s why it is important for them to draft well with the picks they have. Looking at the state of the team’s prospect pool, it’s hard to say they’ve done a good job.
Most Important Target: Center
Given that the Bruins do not have a first round pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Level Draft, it is highly unlikely that they find anyone who is ready to make the jump to the NHL next season. The goal of this year’s draft for the team is to find legitimate talent for the future.
Most importantly, they really desperately need a center. Their two biggest prospects with “star potential” are Fabian Lysell, their 2021 first-round pick, a right wing who had a fantastic season in the Western Hockey League (WHL), and Mason Lohrei, a defenseman currently playing in the NCAA for Ohio State. The Bruins have struggled with consistent top-six talent at the wings and the blue line depth has taken a hit this past year, so both players address a need, but not the top need.
It is a little shortsighted of Bruins management that they haven’t found an exciting center prospect in the last few drafts. The ages of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, along with the expiration dates of their contracts, have never been a secret. Last year, we saw how woefully unprepared the team was to replace them as they had no one really ready to take on Krejci’s role when he departed to play in the Czech Republic.
If Bergeron does not return, there is no one ready to step into that role. The Bruins better be praying he will return, and in the meantime, they need to get serious about finding his future replacement. An aging veteran will not take his place, hardly anyone will be able to match his elite talent, but they need a legitimate option for a player they can draft and develop into a first line center.
That guy can be found in the second round of this year’s draft. Let’s not forget, Bergeron was a second round selection himself. The talent is there. The Bruins just need to find it.
Barring any trades, the Bruins will have their first pick of the draft somewhere in the middle of the second round. The Hockey Writers have extensive draft coverage, including mock draft orders. Some centers that should be floating around still when they pick are Jack Hughes (not that Jack Hughes) out of Northeastern University, Jordan Gustafson out of the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL), and Filip Bystedt from Linkoping HC in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). Keep an eye out for those guys this year.
Move the Pipeline Along
The Bruins are in a tough spot. They may not be ready for a complete rebuild yet, but they have got to get some young guys into the rotation and more comfortable. Maybe Cassidy was part of the problem and that is why he needed to go, or maybe it was the fact that Sweeney signed five veterans at the start of free agency, essentially taking up all the spots that could have been filled by guys in the system like Jack Studnicka or Oskar Steen.
This draft is more important than ever before because all eyes are on Sweeney right now. There has been tremendous pushback on both him and President Cam Neely in the wake of the firing of Cassidy this week. The majority of the media and fans are pointing the fingers at them for making him the fall guy for their inability to draft and provide the necessary personnel for a Stanley Cup-winning team.
It’ll be a challenge, especially since most draft picks will take a few years to develop and be ready. They need to pick the right guys who will continue to grow and have exciting seasons next year wherever they are playing. There needs to be a sense of hope for the future because right now, most are already calling next season a complete wash.
But, the blow of watching this team most likely take a step back in 2022-23 can definitely be softened by exciting guys in the pipeline and finally getting more young players on the roster in Boston.
I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. Currently, I’m pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting at Boston University. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.