By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins have needs that are a little more pressing than center. But when you’re talking about draft prospects, it’s more important to look about 3-5 years down the road. So based on this year’s prospect pool and other considerations, it’s possible that they aim to draft a centerman with their first pick (No. 57) in the 2018 NHL Draft on Friday.
That idea isn’t based on inside information, but rather the team’s long-term future outlook. Patrice Bergeron will be going on 37 years old in four years. Barring another extension, David Krejci will be gone. And while promising prospects like Ryan Donato, Trent Frederic, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Jack Studnicka may have panned out by then, none of them are locks to seize the No. 1 (or even No. 2) center roles when they’re fully formed, nor are they guaranteed to stick around long-term in the first place.
Additionally, take a look at mock drafts, rankings, and the like, and you’ll mostly see a run on centers in the second round. You’ll also see draft rankings peppered with defensemen, but the Bruins’ blue line need is much more immediate than yet another prospect that they’ll have to groom for a few years.
So unless they see a player they really, really like on the blue line or wing, it’s quite possible that the B’s target a center that falls to them at the 57th pick. And at that, the B’s could stand to take one with a combination of size and skill, in addition to a high hockey I.Q. and three-zone potential.
Those aren’t exactly easy to find, and the second-round prospects aren’t without flaws. But there’s also plenty of options who could develop and improve their game over time. If you’re going to dismiss the idea that a talented-but-developmental second-rounder can’t possibly turn into a high-end pivot, then Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci would like to have a word with you.
With those things in mind, here are some names to know ahead of Saturday as far as players who could be available to the Bruins at the 57th pick, and may interest them.
Jay O’Brien, U.S.A.: He’s not just an American. O’Brien is a local kid, born in Hingham, Mass. He played high school hockey at Thayer Academy in Braintree, which may have flown him under the proverbial radar. He doesn’t necessarily have great size at 5-foot-11 and around 175 pounds, but he’s an excellent skater with plenty of skill and big-time offensive upside. He also plays hard on defense, but that area of his game will need some work. O’Brien, who will play college hockey at Providence, could very well be available at No. 57 and end up following in the footsteps of Donato. (UPDATE: The Philadelphia Flyers selected O’Brien with the 19th overall pick on Friday.) Jack McBain, Canada: A big boy at 6-foot-3 and around 200 pounds, McBain is known as a player who uses his size and reach to his advantage on offense. He can set people up and be a good net-front presence, sort of like a poor man’s Ryan Getzlaf. His skating and defense will need improvement, but McBain will have enough upside to potentially make him a great value in the second round. Also, he’s committed to Boston College, so he’d be in the backyard as he develops. That could be an attractive feature to the B’s.
Oskar Back, Sweden: Back stands at 6-foot-3, according to NHL.com, but other reports list him at 6-foot-2. Either way, he’s generally described as a big, strong center with good playmaking ability. He also battles well along the boards and has long-term upside as a three-zone player. The knock on him is that he won’t be a great skater, which could limit his upside in today’s NHL. But he has enough tools to be a viable center at the highest level, for sure.
Filip Hallander, Sweden: Don Sweeney and the Bruins clearly like Swedes, so Hallander is one to keep an eye on. He may even be good enough to go earlier in the second round. He stands at 6-foot-1 and is known for his two-way ability. He forechecks like a madman and moves the puck soundly and aggressively. Like McBain and others, his skating needs some work – but his solid three-zone play has drawn comparisons to Ryan O’Reilly. (UPDATE: The Penguins selected Hallander with the 58th overall pick, one after the Bruins selected Swedish defenseman Axel Andersson.)
Milos Roman, Slovakia: His excellent vision, playmaking, and hockey I.Q. has him being compared to David Krejci. But also like Krejci, Roman’s speed may never be high-end. However, he’s a powerful skater and is strong on the puck. He can also take faceoffs and has good defensive upside. At 6 feet even, he’s not huge but certainly adequate in that department.
David Gustafsson, Sweden: Another worthy Swede. At 6-foot-2 and close to 200 pounds right now, Gustafsson has good size and knows how to use it. He has a chance to be a good net-front scorer. Gustafsson is also known for being great at the faceoff dot, and he’s quite defensively sound for a prospect his age. He may not have the highest ceiling, but he has a high floor as a two-way center. (UPDATE: The Winnipeg Jets selected Gustafsson with the 60th overall pick, three after the Bruins selected Andersson at No. 57.) Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Canada: He may have enough polish to climb to the top of the second round, but if he’s available at 57th he could be a tremendous value. He has Bergeron-like size at 6-foot-1 and around 195 pounds, and he’s also known for being a very skilled, smart defensive forward. He also has good hockey sense with untapped potential offensively, and his wrist shot is deadly.
In conclusion: The second round will have no shortage of two-way players who can give the Bruins size down the middle, especially when it comes time for them to make the jump to the NHL and they may need it as their veterans decline or depart. Don’t be surprised if they go this route on Saturday.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.