Anderson: You’re right to question Don Sweeney’s first-round decision
By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
With more than a few off-the-board picks through 29 selection, the board fell the Bruins’ way late in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft, giving the B’s a chance to select a high-ceiling, high-skill talent with the 30th overall pick.
Arthur Kaliyev, a 6-foot-2 winger ranked as the No. 7 North American skater in NHL Central Scouting, was there for the B’s after scoring 51 goals and 102 points in 67 games in the OHL. Crafty winger Bobby Brink, who posted a 35-goal, 68-point line in 43 games for the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers, was also there. Even 6-foot-4 right winger Raphael Lavoie, with 62 goals and 136 points in his last 130 games in the Q, was sitting there as a seemingly perfect fit for the Black and Gold given their needs.
Instead, Don Sweeney and the Bruins stuck with the player many (including yours truly, as explained on Friday’s Felger and Mazz) suspected would be their pick, drafting hard-nosed American center John Beecher.
A 6-foot-3 center with fantastic wheels, Beecher is a fine pick, and he fills an organizational need for the Bruins as a center, even if he projects as a third-line talent with penalty-killing potential. He was buried towards the bottom of the depth chart on a stacked NTDP, sitting behind Jack Hughes (No. 1 overall pick) and Trevor Zegras (No. 9 overall pick), so the Bruins are hoping that a greater role leads to greater production. (I must admit that that strategy has always seemed like an odd bet when talking about first-round picks, especially when you’re essentially comparing those players against players who have already thrived with the greater roles they had earned, as well as their ability to thrive against the tougher competition that comes with it.)
Of course, nobody knows how an NHL Draft will play out three years from now. Everybody could fail and Beecher could be the guy that pushes the Bruins to a Stanley Cup. Who the hell possible knows. But the undeniable sentiment around the league is that the Bruins once again left major goal-scoring skill on the board in favor of some additional grit, intangibles, and the idea that a greater role will show everybody that they’ve been playing chess while you’re mindlessly rolling marbles down a hill.
They could be right. We just don’t know the day after a draft.
…But the truth is that the Bruins really haven’t earned your trust with this kind of pick.
The Bruins took a similar gamble in 2015 when they picked Zach Senyshyn over names like Mat Barzal and Kyle Connor (just to name a few). The B’s believed that Senyshyn was a gem hidden on a stacked Soo Greyhounds squad, and that a greater role would allow him to flourish. He flourished as he got older in the OHL, sure, but he’s since scored just 26 goals in 136 AHL games, and scored his first career goal (an empty-net goal) in his NHL debut, giving him a 1-0-1 line in two NHL games.
Barzal, meanwhile, has 40 goals and 147 points (the 30th-most points in the league) since breaking in as a full-time NHLer in 2017. It’s believed that the Bruins were not enamored with Barzal following his pre-draft interview with them, and that potential injury concerns scared them off. Connor, who had the ‘NCAA threat’ that worried the Bruins that he was going to skip out joining the B’s and instead become a free agent (this was becoming a trend in the league at that time), has since recorded back-to-back seasons of at least 31 goals. This, without even getting even into some of the other forwards the Bruins did not draft in order to take their Senyshyn gamble — Vancouver’s Brock Boeser and Philly’s Travis Konecny also went within the eight picks that followed Boston’s selection — feels like an obvious swing-and-miss at this point.
(The Bruins had a whopping six of the first 60 picks in 2015. To this point, they’ve hit on just two of them, with Jake DeBrusk and Brandon Carlo. Senyshyn, Jakub Zboril, and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (he went back to Sweden) are beginning to feel like misses, and the jury is still out on Jeremy Lauzon’s potential impact following a 16-game run with the Big B’s this past season.)
Sweeney and Co. took another comparable gamble with their selection of Trent Frederic at No. 29 overall in 2016.
The Bruins straight-up said they expected Frederic to be a third-line center if it all panned out. Three years into that bet, Frederic looked nowhere capable of seizing such a role with zero goals, zero points, 19 shots on goal and 9:24 of ice-time per night over the course of his 15-game run with the Big B’s in 2018-19. The door has not closed on Frederic, obviously, especially with just one full season of pro hockey to his name. But it feels all the more painful when Frederic’s quest for an NHL role hits its road bumps while the ultra-skilled Alex DeBrincat fell out of their grasp and has since blasted pucks through NHL nets despite his 5-foot-7 frame, with 69 goals and 128 points in his first 164 NHL games.
For a team that’s seemingly always in need of more skill, that miss is shaping up to be another loss, and is especially frustrating when the pick seemed like the perfect shoot-high pick considering that it originally belonged to San Jose.
The Bruins have just repeatedly made a habit of drafting culture, grit, whatever over raw skill.
It hasn’t killed them as much as it should — especially those aforementioned and glaring misses in 2015 — and with the Bruins fresh off their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in six years, and with some young guns playing big roles along the way.
But at a certain point, and especially in coveted early round picks, skill has to win out over locker room buzzwords.
And I’m not sure that the Bruins were in a position to take this kind of ice-time gamble in the first round for the third time in five years. The Beecher pick was Boston’s only selection in the first 91 of the 2019 NHL Draft. That’s a lot of high-end talent flying off the board between your first and second pick. It also seemed telling that Brink, Lavoie, and Kaliyev were the next three wingers taken following the Beecher selection, and were all taken within the eight picks that followed Boston’s.
Only time will tell if the Bruins were right this time around.
But their history is hardly inspiring, and unfortunately validates all second guesses set to follow yet another draft class.