Bruins Scenarios to Get Into the 1st Round and the Best Picks If They Do

Now that the coach has been hired (welcome to Boston, Jim Montgomery), the general manager has his extension in place, and the first-line center and captain has re-upped for another year, the hockey questions can capture center stage. This week the NHL entry draft kicks off in Montreal. For yet another year, the Bruins do not have a first-round selection, having traded their pick to the Anaheim Ducks to acquire Hampus Lindholm. Recently, reports have begun to surface that the Bruins are exploring opportunities to trade back into the first round.

The Bruins currently are waiting until the 54th pick to make their first selection. For a team looking to rebuild a depleted prospect pool, this is not ideal. Hence, the desire to return to the first round and find high-level talent to add to the pipeline.

Teams to Target

For this piece, I will only be looking at teams with multiple first-round selections. Just like the Bruins are hunting for a way back into the first round, most teams will want to retain their sole pick. Some teams may see themselves as exceptions to this rule, showing a willingness to part with a pick for an NHL-ready player, but not most teams.

Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide

Also, when looking at picks that could be traded for, the team trading the pick must be considered. For example, the Minnesota Wild are unlikely to give up the first-round selection they acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in the Kevin Fiala trade, given their upcoming salary cap crunch and need for cheap options. Similarly, one must consider if the Bruins would want to trade with an Eastern Conference rival like the Buffalo Sabres or Montreal Canadians, who might make sense given their multiple first-round picks but might not because of philosophical decisions about providing help to opponents you would be fighting for a playoff position.

Given these thoughts, which teams remain? There are three that make the most sense.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks have two picks in the first round: their own pick, 10th in the draft, and the Bruins’ 22nd pick from the Lindholm deal. Trading up for the 10th selection does not make sense, but could the Bruins concoct a package to trade back for their own original pick at 22? It would be odd, but it would also appear to be the highest pick available that would not involve a division foe (Buffalo Sabres) or a team that will need to maximize entry-level contracts, given their cap situation (Minnesota Wild).

There would be plenty of skilled options available at this spot. The Bruins could go the forward route, likely being able to pick a forward with the upside of Rutger McGroarty, Noah Ostlund, or possibly Frank Nazar if he slips a few spots. They could also add to their blue-line depth with a pick along the lines of puck-moving defenseman Seamus Casey, defensive stalwart Ryan Chesley, or offensive-defenseman Denton Mateychuk.

Frank Nazar USNTDP
Frank Nazar, USNTDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Any of those picks would quickly find themselves among the top three of the Bruins’ prospect pool.

Arizona Coyotes

The team with the most first-round picks in this draft, the Arizona Coyotes could well hold on to all of their picks to restock their farm system. Given their long-term arena questions, the Coyotes may prefer the longer term upside of players their scouts evaluated and settled on rather than bringing in a player from another organization with less term on their deals.

If Arizona is looking to move one of their three picks for another asset, the Bruins would be interested in either the 27th or 32nd pick. While both are late in the first round, there will still be talented options available to investigate. Depending on how the day unfolds, Finnish center Brad Lambert could well remain on the board. If he is, and if the Bruins can justify the question marks that led to the slide of a player who initially was viewed as a top-5 pick, he could be an intriguing option. Another prospect in this pick range would be Mississauga Steelhead center Luca Del Bel Belluz, who could add to the organization’s center depth and hopefully, one day, step into the often missing second-line center role.

Winnipeg Jets

The final option to consider is the Winnipeg Jets, who pick at 14 and 30. The Jets are looking to retool on the fly to maximize the final years of guaranteed control with Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois. With new coach Rick Bowness stepping in behind the bench, this is a team who could look for NHL-ready help, something the Bruins may be looking to move on to clear salary cap space.

Mark Scheifele Winnipeg Jets
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If the Bruins were able to move up to the 30th pick, you could envision the same collection of names as the Arizona picks would produce. Besides the players already listed, names like Jagger Firkus or Jiri Kulich could be impactful players available to Boston. Back-end options like Lane Hutson or Minnesota high schooler Sam Rinzel could be names to watch in this range as well.

Which Team is Most Likely?

Without knowing what teams are thinking, it remains slightly up in the air, but Winnipeg’s pick at 30 seems like the best of the options outlined. As a late first-round pick, the Jets will likely listen to calls for the pick. They also are looking to compete in the Western Conference next season, something the Ducks may claim but may take one more season to attain and something Arizona is certainly not embracing. This means the Bruins could move a player to clear some cap space while also improving their prospect pool, something bordering on miraculous should it occur.

Winnipeg has needed to add options to their defensive corps for years. With the Bruins logjam, specifically on the left-side of their pairings, this would feel like a logical starting point for any conversation. While it would be preferred to trade an option like Mike Reilly or Jakub Zboril, to make this deal happen, Matt Grzelcyk would almost certainly have to be heading north. Whether Grzelcyk could be traded straight up for a first-round pick is up for debate.

Matt Grzelcyk, Boston Bruins
Matt Grzelcyk, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If possible, that would be the best case for the Bruins. If a little extra is needed, Boston could get creative, offering to swap their 2023 fourth-round pick for one of Winnipeg’s two 2023 fifth-round picks. This trade would hurt, as Grzelcyk is a known commodity, whereas this pick would be reliant on Don Sweeney’s draft record, which has been less than stellar.

Bruins Needs

The Bruins prospect pipeline has more question marks than anything. Should they get back into the first round, Sweeney and co. will have to decide whether to address positional deficiencies or pick the best available player, regardless of position. This is not the New Jersey Devils’ prospect pool that can say they will pass on a center because they have their organization cornerstones already selected; the Bruins can use help in all spots.

For that reason, I would subscribe to the best available option. This is also a plan that should limit the amount of comparing apples to oranges. Instead, the Bruins staff can ask who has the highest upside and will make the most impact? Pick them. Don’t overthink it, as that hasn’t gone well in the past (hello 2015).

This is all contingent on the Bruins trading back into the first round, something that is not a guarantee. So, who are some names to look for the Bruins to select?

Luca Del Bel Belluz (C, Mississauga Steelheads, OHL)

Luca Del Bel Belluz is a name that steadily rose throughout the season as he led his Mississauga Steelheads in points during the regular season. After struggling during his rookie season in the OHL, Del Bel Belluz found his footing and left his mark on the season. On top of his point production, he has maintained a responsible 200-foot game, not letting his defensive responsibilities slack in the name of offense. This responsibility could be key in Del Bel Belluz’s development as his defensive awareness, coupled with his skills in the face-off dot, should mean he will remain a pivot in the NHL rather than being shifted to the wing.

Luca Del Bel Belluz Mississauga Steelheads
Luca Del Bel Belluz, Mississauga Steelheads (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Although he still has areas to improve upon, most importantly adding strength to remain at center, Del Bel Belluz has shown a commitment to improving his game, as evident by his rise coming into his draft season. This willingness to learn and grow is another point in his favor, though. Most players have to learn and adapt a new skill to stick at the NHL level. The fact Del Bel Belluz has already shown a willingness to put in the time and energy is a good indication that his game will continue to progress.

While some players seem to have reached a plateau going into their draft year already at the high point of their stock, Del Bel Belluz continues to climb and improve his stock, an encouraging sign that there may be even more to unlock in his game.

Rutger McGroarty (C/RW, USNTDP, USHL)

Rutger McGroarty is the most talented on today’s list. Some draft boards have the US National Development Team product as a top-15 selection. Others vary in some positions in the second half of the first round. Regardless of the spot they have him in, what is known is he has an enviable tool kit. Vision, creativity, a strong, accurate shot, and incredibly high energy and motor, meaning his compete level is never in doubt. Pair these skills with a 6-foot, 200-pound frame, and it isn’t difficult to see why evaluators are intrigued by his potential.

Top-10 Right Wingers for the 2022 Draft Joakim Kemell, Jagger Firkus and Rutger McGroarty
Joakim Kemell, Jagger Firkus and Rutger McGroarty (The Hockey Writers)

What is lacking for McGroarty is the smoothest skating mechanics. Some cite this weakness as a reason he will fall, but very few see this holding him out of the first round, given the completeness of the rest of his game. Luckily for McGroarty and whichever team drafts him, skating mechanics are one of the easiest things to fix. With most teams employing skating consultants, and the abundance of video to succinctly break down each stride and reconstruct the movements, this should not hold the player back much.

With so much uncertainty on where McGroarty will land, be it in the top-15 or near the back half of the first round, it will be tough for the Bruins to have a plan going into the draft to acquire him. Instead, the Bruins’ front office may have to feel out the situation and make a move during the draft to acquire a pick when they sense a team is getting ready to select him. This could be tricky as a team may go off the board and select McGroarty when they were not expected to, or the Bruins may jump higher than they need to, potentially overpaying when the player would have been available at a lower price later in the round.

Lane Hutson (D, USNTDP, USHL)

When you hear of an undersized American offensive defenseman, who do you think of? Torey Krug? Matt Grzelcyk? Lane Hutson will be the next to add his name to that list. Could he do it for the same team as Krug and Grzelcyk made their name? Possibly.

Lane Hutson USNTDP
Lane Hutson, USNTDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Hutson has excelled with the USNDTP, putting up 95 points in 77 games. If you’re someone fond of extrapolation, playing the full 82 games of an NHL season, he would have hit 100 points for the USNTDP. That’s impressive. He is also more than a point producer. His coaches at the USNTDP noted that even though he may not have the size of other defensemen, his stick work and positioning are exceptional and have led to Hutson being a trusted defender, whether chasing a lead or protecting one.

While there is so much to like about Hutson’s game, his size will undoubtedly be called up as a knock on him. While that is fair, drafting him is not requiring him to break camp in September with the Bruins. Most picks require at least another year of development. Hutson, conveniently enough, will continue his development halfway between TD Garden, where the Bruins play and Warrior Ice Arena, where they practice with the Boston University Terriers.

Hutson is projected as an early- to mid-second-round pick by most, so trading up into the first round may be a stretch. Our own Alex Hobson has Hutson going with the final pick of the first round in his mock draft to the Arizona Coyotes, though, so there is reason to believe a team would grab this smooth skating defenseman before the first round concludes.

Lian Bichsel (D, Leksands IF, SHL)

At the other end of the extreme from Hutson is Lian Bichsel. He’s a monster, throwback defenseman at 6-foot-5 with plenty of physicality and snarl to his game. While he might not be the flashiest player and likely won’t be setting any offensive records from the blue line, he’s a player the Bruins would love to add to their prospect pool.

Bichsel’s game as a two-way defenseman with a tilt toward defensive defenseman might not be headline-grabbing, but having a player in this role is vital to teams that hope to make deep playoff pushes. Yes, the point of the game is to put the puck in the net, but players like Bichsel help keep the puck out of their own net, a skill equally as important.

While Bichsel may be viewed as a defensive stalwart based on his size and willingness to be a physical presence on the back end, multiple evaluators note he has a fair amount of offense in his game. Nobody is saying he will be like his countryman Roman Josi pushing for 100 points in a season, but finding a handful of goals and contributing something around 20 points in a season while shutting down other teams is nothing to shy away from.

Depending on where the Bruins move up to, Bichsel may be a bit of a reach, as most pundits have him slotted as a late-first or early-second round pick. Should the Bruins find a trade partner after pick 26, I view him as a viable option. As long as fans don’t put unfair expectations on the player, he could be a productive NHL defenseman.

Who Should the Bruins Take?

It all depends. Cop out, I know, but bear with me. The Bruins should take whoever they can get at the pick they can acquire. None of these players can be viewed in a vacuum. They are all only going to be available by moving an asset or two, likely a prospect and a current player, to clear cap space, so weighing those variables will be key.

Related: THW 2022 Mock NHL Draft Round 1: Our Armchair GMs Make Their Picks

Personally, I would lean towards Del Bel Belluz or Hutson, but I like each of the players listed. I think Del Bel Belluz has a game that translates well to the pro environment, so even if he doesn’t hit his ceiling, his floor is high enough to be a relevant option for the Bruins. McGroarty may have a higher upside, but the acquisition cost of getting a pick that would guarantee him being available (late teens to early twenties) feels a little too steep when a competent option remains further back in the round.

I also lean towards Hutson over Bichsel, even as a fan of the physical brand of hockey Bichsel could bring because of the way the game is moving. If Bichsel’s flaws, namely his skating and foot speed, do not continue to develop, the game will pass him by. If Hutson’s flaws continue, say he doesn’t grow or bulk up quite as much as some would hope, he will still have high-level speed, skating, and offensive IQ. The game is trending more and more towards speed and agility and less towards the colossus on the back end bullying forwards to the outside.

Stay tuned to see what the Bruins manage to do and if they can find their way into the first round.

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