Time for the Bruins to Rethink Their Drafting Philosophy

Boston Bruins 2017 first round pick Urho Vaakanainen with Coach Bruce Cassidy and G.M. Don Sweeney.

I’m in the mood to rant.

This isn’t about the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. This isn’t about any one specific draft. It’s a combination of ten successive draft years under General Managers Peter Chiarelli and now, Don Sweeney.

For the most part, Europe wasn’t much of a consideration for Chiarelli and his staff. During the drafts that he oversaw, the Bruins selected just 4 players out of Europe through 6 consecutive entry drafts from 2007 through 2012. Those picks went on to play a total of zero NHL games.

Things began to change on May 20, 2015. Chiarelli, already dismissed from his job, was replaced by Sweeney. However, this isn’t on Sweeney as his job is to manage not scout and he relies heavily on his scouts to give him the best possible advice they can.

It was a move Sweeney made fifteen months to the day of being named GM that things changed. On August 20 2016 Sweeney named Keith Gretzky Director of Amateur Scouting and P. J. Axelsson as his European scout. Axelsson joined Svenake Svensson overseas, a position he’s had now going on 30-plus years.  

In the next five drafts, from 2013 through 2017, the Bruins went on to select 10 players out of Europe. If you leave out David Pastrnak who was easily the best pick available, and Daniel Vladar – because goalies take longer – then the most successful pick they’ve made to date is Peter Cehlarik who is now playing in the KHL.

I need to be fair here. The book is still open on 2017 first rounder Urho Vaakanainen and seventh rounder Victor Berglund. Full disclosure: Berglund is really starting to come around. The 2017 draft took place after Gretzky left the Bruins to join Chiarelli as the Edmonton Oilers assistant GM in August of 2016. Oskar Steen looks like he will be an NHL player.

Berglund and Steen, 7th and 6th round picks respectively, are the players you hope to find in the late rounds. Linus Arnesson who went 60th overall with a sum of zero NHL games and likely never to play for the Bruins is a miss. Six picks after the Bruins selected Arnesson, The Carolina Hurricanes selected Brett Pesce (NCAA) who has 405 NHL games to date. Both are defensemen.

Cehlarik was the 90th overall pick in 2013 and has played in a total of 40 NHL games and has since bolted to the SHL and now the KHL. Ten picks later the New Jersey Devils selected Miles Wood (US Prep) who has gone on to play 323 NHL games and counting. Both are left wingers.

Anton Blidh was selected with the 180th pick in 2013. He will likely be a career AHL player who can be called up to fill in occasionally. Eleven picks later, the Los Angeles Kings select Dominik Kubalik (CHL) with 124 games under his belt and counting.

Even Vaakanainen who came with promise and was the 18th overall pick in 2017 has only played in 16 NHL games. Two picks later, the St Louis Blues selected Robert Thomas (CHL) who has played 169 NHL games. Granted, Vaakanainen is a defenseman and Thomas is a center, but the Bruins greatest need was and still is in the middle.

In September 2015, Sweeney went on a hiring spree, adding a professional scout along with four amateur scouts, including Bob Wetick who replaced Mike Chiarelli (yes Peter’s brother) to scout the Ontario Hockey League. Wetick was still virtually a rookie for that 2017 draft, so I’m not sure what type of voice he had in draft meetings and whether he had the ears of management. What I do know from his OHL days with the Kitchener Rangers and Brampton/North Bay Battalion is that his voice should be heard. I also know Wetick would have put in a strong case to select Thomas.

Below is a chart showing the players the Bruins selected from European Leagues from 2007 through the 2017 drafts. It includes what round they were selected in, their overall pick number and the number of NHL games they’ve played to date. Next to them, you will see the next best player selected and their pick number as well as the number of NHL games they’ve played in. Following it, I will leave you with one question to form your own opinion.

So, my question to you is this: Do you think that every Bruins amateur scout has the ear of management or do you think one or two scouts have a greater voice?

Published by Dominic Tiano

Following the Ontario Hockey League players eligible for the NHL Draft. I provide season-long stats, updates and player profiles as well as draft rankings.

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