PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The fourth round of the NHL Entry Draft has been kind to the Boston Bruins organization in the past two decades. Furthest back in this slice of history, the Bruins selected former NHL skater Byron Bitz as well as current skaters Kris Versteeg and Vladimir Sobotka. In recent years, the Bruins picked promising prospects Ryan Fitzgerald (2013) and Jeremy Swayman (2017), as well as current Bruin Danton Heinen (2014). Lastly, Bruins fourth-rounders Brian Ferlin, Craig Cunningham, and Lane MacDermid have all been serviceable call-ups during injuries to more notable Bruins.
Counting blue-chip prospects, nine picks in the past 20 years is an excellent success rate for any tier of draft capital outside the first two rounds. Even better, this metric doesn’t factor in traded picks so the actual percentage may be higher still.
Continuing a theme, the Bruins drafted another fourth-round gem in 2018. With the 119th pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Boston selected Curtis Hall from the USHL Youngstown Phantoms. With an NHL-ready 6-foot-3 frame and 203 pounds of muscle, Hall already looks the part of an NHL-size player. Despite his size, Hall’s stride and skating ability are superb, with excellent mobility. He described himself as a “strong, 200-foot center” suggesting he plays responsibly in his own end while contributing offensively and supporting the play in the neutral zone. During scrimmages and drills in development camp, Hall seemed to be a puck magnet, with a good IQ of where to be with the puck and where to distribute it. His physical presence, play, and quick feet combined with a lethal shot from any range qualify him as an archetypal, modern NHL power forward.
Curtis has also gone on record stating he models his game after current Bruins forward David Backes. When I asked what specific aspects he emulates, Hall replied: “his big body, his leadership, [Backes is] a reliable guy who sticks up for his teammates… he does what he can to win.” Hall backed up his words by not only scoring on scrimmage day, but also creating time and space for teammates to set up in the offensive zone as well as winning more than a few crucial draws at the faceoff dot.
Despite admitting some initial nervousness, Hall settled into a comfortable groove by the end of activities Thursday. Coming off two seasons developing in the USHL, he remarked on the skill and intensity of competing with and against older guys. The NCAA crowd especially was, in his own words, “a level up” from the developmental leagues he’s played in.
The Yale University commit had the option to pursue the Canadian Hockey League route, playing major junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League with the Flint Firebirds in 2016. “It was an honor to be selected in the OHL [draft]” Hall said. “[However,] I always wanted to go the college route.” With an eye to the coming years, he finished, “As of now, and in my future I wanted to play college [hockey] and get a degree.”
When asked about the experience of being drafted into the NHL, he recounted: “It was such an amazing day. I had all my family and friends over to my house.” His smile widened as he continued, “We had a little party, watching and waiting, hoping my name would be called. When I was called, it was so thrilling, especially to be called by Boston. It’s a dream come true [to play for an original six team] and I’m so thankful.”
On the final day of camp, I asked Don Sweeney about his impressions of Hall. The response made it to the official Bruins Twitter and can be heard around the 1:54 mark of this video from the Boston Bruins’ official Twitter. Suffice to say, Sweeney does not approve of Curtis’ choice of school, but appreciated the youngster’s skill and showing at camp.
Personally, I am excited to watch Hall develop from afar till he makes it to the AHL level for seasoning in Providence.