One of the hallmarks of the Harry Sinden Era in Boston Bruins history was a seemingly endless supply of local players filling the NHL roster.
There was always a couple of New England kids on the NHL roster whether it was Bobby Miller or Mike Milbury, Jay Miller or Hal Gill, Bobby Carpenter or Bob Sweeney. Sometimes the Bruins landed those players a little late in their NHL careers like Shawn McEachern and Kevin Stevens, and sometimes it never quite happened like with all-time Massachusetts greats like Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick.
The practice of carrying local guys on the NHL roster mostly went away while the Ottawa-born Peter Chiarelli was running the Bruins for a decade, but that’s clearly returned as a hallmark of the Cam Neely/Don Sweeney Bruins of the last five years. Weymouth native Charlie Coyle, Walpole’s Chris Wagner and the pride of Charlestown Matt Grzelcyk are on the NHL roster currently, and all three will factor into the B’s long-term plans based on their contract situations.
Others like Jimmy Hayes, Noel Acciari, Ryan Donato and Tim Schaller have come through as well over the last handful of seasons. It’s an unmistakable sign the Black and Gold are interested in keeping some local flavor on the Bruins, and in sending a signal to their young fans that maybe someday they too could skate for the Bruins.
Clearly a guy like Hayes struggled a bit playing in his home city and other players like Harvard product Jimmy Vesey have shied away from playing in Boston. That’s something the Bruins have learned to factor in over the years while balancing a Cup-worthy roster dotted with local products.
“It’s a privilege to play for the Boston Bruins, I believe that. I believed that as a player and I believe that as a manager,” said Sweeney back on NHL Draft weekend when the B’s selected Woburn native Riley Duran with one of their draft picks along with another player headed for Boston College. “I think some players are wired to want to play here in their home environment. You reference with Charlie Coyle and Chris Wagner, two players and you talk to Chris about the pride he has [playing for the Bruins] and Charlie as well. They both started other places. There is plenty of opportunities around the league for guys to go out and play.
“You see other players that don’t find it comfortable to play here. In Riley Duran’s case, we like the player. We like the path that he has, and we like the competitiveness. He’s played two positions. He’s playing center right now, but we think he can also play the wing, which he played an awful lot. He has growth and opportunity in his game that we covet. In the background check that we’ve worked, he’s a young man that should be able to play in his home environment. We had the opportunity to sign Matt Filipe this summer and in a similar way [we’re] trying to check the boxes. Matt Grzelcyk is another young player that grew up here and is not afraid of playing in his home environment in front of his family. Not every player is predisposed to be able to handle that. But the players that we have on our roster, they really enjoy it here and rightfully so. This is a tremendous organization to play for and the city itself, as you guys all know, they will buy you a beer when you win. And they will tell you when you’re not playing well, and that’s just a fact of life. As a competitive person and an athlete, you really don’t want it any other way.”
Certainly, going local is the impetus at times even when it doesn’t end up working out for the Bruins. Part of the reason the Bruins ended up with three straight first round picks in the middle of the 2015 NHL Draft was because Sweeney and Co. were attempting to trade up and select Norwood native and Boston College D-man Noah Hanifin.
The trade never happened, the B’s couldn’t move up and they were left with the infamous three mid-first round picks.
The Black and Golden question is whether or not this is the best way to build an NHL roster from a competitive standpoint. Certainly Coyle, Wagner and Grzelcyk are all productive NHL players that deserve to be on the B’s roster by virtue of their talent, makeup and style of play, but is there a competitive danger of going too far down the rabbit hole acquiring New England players at the expense of their Canadian and international peers?
Clearly that’s a legitimate question in the wake of an NHL Draft where the Bruins selected all US-born, college hockey players with so many of them already within their organization.
It’s also a fair question to ask the Boston Bruins when they draft players like the talented Duran or sign free agent players like Lynnfield’s Filipe after his strong NCAA career at Northeastern University. The question comes along with a request that if they’re going local then maybe, just maybe, they should snag the next Jack Eichel or Tony Amonte the next time around.