PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The picks are in, and my thumbs are on ice to relieve some of the tendonitis from refreshing twitter all weekend long. This year’s NHL Entry Draft was unique for the Boston Bruins as they sat out the first round of the draft. In a sense, lack of a first-round pick may be a boon for their farm club in Providence, as the draftees who need more polish before making it to the show get an extended stay at the AHL level.
Before the draft, I tallied all players tied to the Boston Bruins based on an organizational depth chart from eliteprospects.com to determine the team’s needs. Boston severely lacked in right-shot defensemen, as Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo were the only two prospects until the signing of Connor Clifton from the Providence Bruins. Further, Boston also lacks primarily right-shot wingers, however, forward prospects deployed mainly at wing are safe bets to keep the pipeline healthy.
With the trade of Rick Nash from the Rangers and Drew Stafford from the Jets (in 2017), the Bruins had picks in the second, third, fourth, sixth, and seventh rounds. Their third-round pick was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers for Frank Vatrano, as the Bruins shipped their pick out to acquire depth defenseman Nick Holden. Nonetheless, the Bruins had to wait till the 57th pick overall to begin this year’s restocking of the prospect cabinet.
In the second round, the Bruins addressed a desperate need for a right-shot defenseman picking Axel Andersson 57th overall from the Swedish Elite J20 League. The smooth-skating native of Sweden was ranked as high as 76th in January but ultimately dropped to 122 in the rankings before the draft. While the pick is considered at least a slight reach, there is no denying the elite skating ability of Andersson. His speed, first explosive step, and fluid stride are all his biggest assets, along with his above-average puck handling abilities. This allows him to dictate the pace of the play, and even join the rush. His poise and first pass under heavy forecheck are first-rate. He suffers, however, in picking the wrong times to reach and chase the puck. This problem may be magnified when he transitions to the North American game with smaller ice. Thus, his stay in Providence could be an extended one.
The Bruins drafted a home-run steal in the third round; only 20 picks removed from their second-round choice. Jakub Lauko was ranked as high as eighth in European skaters, but dropped to 16th before the draft. In some mock drafts, he was projected to go around pick 31, but when the Bruins 77th overall pick came up, he was still available. My only knock on the prospect is his left-handedness, which the Bruins need less of, however, his upside far outweighs this minor inconvenience.
“Lauko is a dynamic and explosive force whose abilities as a center get overlooked because there are times he looks like a goal-scoring winner.” This quote from The Draft Analyst Steve Kournianos tells you all you need to know about the forward.
Much like I laud Jack Studnika for his ability to cover missed assignments, Lauko carries the same trait in addition to his booming shot and amazing skating ability. I could spend the rest of this article raving about Lauko, but to summarize, his top-six, NHL-ready skill will not be in Providence long, if at all.
Later, the Bruins drafted a heavy 6-3, 201-pound left wing/center in Curtis Hall. This prospect describes himself in the mold of current Bruins power forward David Backes. The Yale commit is smart with the puck and possesses good puck skills for someone his size and physical style of play. Additionally, Hall’s speed is surprising given his size, and possesses a knack for finishing scoring chances a variety of ways. His instincts and skills make him valuable as a scoring threat, or on the penalty kill. Of this draft, Curtis slots as second closest to the NHL, but will need time to season both at the NCAA level and in Providence.
The Bruins sat out the fifth round of the draft, not picking again till the sixth round (199th overall). When they were on the clock again, the Bruins selected Clarkson University commit, left-shot defenseman Dustyn McFaul from the Pickering Panthers of the OJHL. (See Columnists Second Note) McFaul was thought highly of in the USHL draft, picked respectably in the third round, while his OHL draft position was in the 13th round. He attended the training camp of the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, but couldn’t crack the roster. McFaul saw heavy usage with the Panthers, playing in all situations averaging close to 28 minutes per game. At 6-2, Dustyn already possesses an NHL wingspan, however, he’ll have to pack more bulk onto an average weight of 185 pounds. McFaul is good at his first outlet pass, and can skate well, but lacks a dangerous shot: He can join the rush, but shouldn’t be the shooter. Despite all his positives, he is at least five years away from Boston, and probably three or four from Providence. AHL fans will likely see him a full season or two as he adjusts to the pro game when the time comes. Fortunately for Dustyn, he was one of the youngest players picked, so in three to five years, he’ll still only be 20-22 years old.
Finally, in the 7th round, 212 overall, the Bruins drafted another potential project, this time from the Eurasian equivalent of the Canadian Hockey League/Major Junior. Pavel Shen was ranked as high as the 22nd European skater but was still available at the end of the draft. Shen possesses good puck handling abilities and hockey IQ. Like Alex Kokhlachev before him, Pavel will spend some extensive time in Providence before a crack at the NHL.
Surprisingly, Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney elected not to choose any players from the Canadian Hockey League (CHL,) which means all players selected are free to join Providence anytime. There is a glut of untapped potential in these selections, but Dunkin Donuts Center faithful will be seeing a lot of them as they develop their craft. With the veterans already on the Providence roster, the prospects will have excellent guidance as they pursue their dream of playing in the NHL.
COLUMNIST’S NOTE: I would like to credit research done for this article and thank Steve Kournianos for making his work available. His work scouting and evaluating is top notch and I invite anyone who is as prospect-crazed as I am to check out his work. He is on Twitter (@TheDraftAnalyst) and at his site: TheDraftAnalyst.com.
COLUMNIST’S SECOND NOTE: Unless you’re a prospect geek like me, you’ve probably never heard of the OJHL. In the Canadian developmental leagues, most kids are picked from the CHL, or Major Junior. The OJHL is one tier below, also known as Junior ‘A’.