The truth is that things are wide open for the Boston Bruins on tonight’s first round of the NHL Draft, being held virtually amidst this season of COVID-19 protocol adjustments. The Bruins hold the 21st overall pick (but will actually be making the 20th pick of the draft thanks to the Arizona Coyotes losing their first rounder due to scouting shenanigans), so they will once again select a player in the bottom third of the first round.
But at least the Black and Gold hold a first round pick as they haven’t in two of the last three NHL drafts thanks to NHL trade deadline deals to bolster their NHL roster. The Bruins refused to part with a first round pick in the Taylor Hall deal, and that stubbornness will pay off with a player that will add to an increasingly thin group of young prospects.
Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney admitted that it was a challenge for the Bruins to scout all the different amateur leagues as they usually do, and that’s led to a lot more video evaluation of top young players and draft prospects. It’s not ideal, but it’s a pretty similar boat that all 32 NHL teams find themselves in this season.
“The process has certainly been unique. There are a number of players in certain leagues that we didn’t get to see live nearly as much as in year’s past. You’re relying on a smaller sample size, underage projections of players and their own growth and development, so it presents some challenges. We’ve done an awful lot of video work, a lot of background work and sort of diving below,” said Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “I think every team’s probably trying to go in the same direction on that front. As I said, I think it presents probably a little more variance in terms of what the projections are for players as you go through.
“Outside of the top-end players in the draft that people probably feel comfortable with, I think you’ve got a spectrum of players probably from there on through the second and third rounds that may have greater variance associated with them. That’s just associated with the challenges and uniqueness of what we’ve all been dealing with [during COVID] and the lack of dealing with live in particular.”
Skilled Swedish winger Isak Rosen, QMJHL center Zac Bolduc, Wisconsin-bound defenseman Corson Ceulemans, scoring center Xavier Bourgault and Finnish center Aatu Raty are among the names that should available when the Boston Bruins make their selection.
There is a consensus that the Bruins need to add some skilled forwards to their ranks after loading up on defenseman and big forwards with their top picks during the past six seasons with Sweeney running the B’s ship.
Amazingly, the Bruins are still running into depth problems at the NHL level despite Sweeney and Co. picking a defenseman with Boston’s top pick in five of the last six drafts. It underscores that they have missed with picks like Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen even as they hit it big with Charlie McAvoy in the 2016 NHL Draft.
But there is even more uncertainty than usual than in most past years once teams get beyond the top few no-brainer picks in the draft – Michigan defenseman Owen Power, local kid Matt Beniers, Swedish winger William Eklund and US National Development Team Program defenseman Luke Hughes – and get into the depths of the first round.
One thing the Bruins should not be doing, however? It’s thinking about trading away their first round pick even if there is a great deal of unknown with the pool of players they’ll be selecting with the 21st pick in the first round. The Bruins were ranked dead last among the 31 NHL teams when it comes to prospect pools entering the 2021 NHL season, and they don’t have the kind of top tier prospects that are A) pushing for NHL jobs or B) enticing other teams into dealing elite players back to Boston.
The only way to change that is to hold onto some first round picks, draft some quality players and hit on a few players in the later rounds as well. The Boston Bruins are expected to do that on Friday night when it’s their turn to pick in a most-unusual player draft at the end of a most-unusual hockey season.