When Don Sweeney took over as General Manager of the Boston Bruins on May 2015, he inherited a prospect pool that was lacking in depth and quality. It wasn’t just the on-ice product that was lacking. The scouting department needed a makeover as well. He moved forward with a plan to rectify both and it may just be paying dividends.
Let’s begin with the scouting department.
Sweeney has brought in Jeff Barratt, Alain Bissonnette, Arseniy Bonderev, Andrew Dickson, Brett Harkins, Doug Leaverton, Jan Ludwig, Parker Mackay, Teemu Numminen, Victor Nybladh, Matt Ryan and Bob Wetick. Not only did Sweeney add quantity over his predecessor Peter Chiarelli but he added quality.
But has it paid dividends? It’s difficult to find potential superstars when you are lacking top picks but he did find Charlie McAvoy with the 14th overall pick in 2016. Prior to Sweeney taking on the head job, he was instrumental in getting David Pastrnak with the 25th pick in 2014.
Here, we will focus on Sweeney’s drafts as General Manager beginning with 2015.
Everyone is aware of what happened in 2015 so there is no sense in re-hashing that. But Jakub Zboril finally proved he was capable of being a top-four defender in this league until an injury and subsequent surgery ended his season just 10 games in. Jake DeBrusk went through a rough stretch that finally led him to request a trade out of Boston and later rescinded. Zach Senyshyn was trade to Ottawa at the trade deadline and is still looking for a contract.
Brandon Carlo has proven he can be a top four defenceman as well, but inconsistency creeped into his game last season. He will need to return to form. Jakob Forsbacka–Karlsson hasn’t played since terminating his SHL contract following the 2020-2021 season. Jeremy Lauzon was claimed by Seattle in the Expansion Draft He has since been traded to Nashville where he signed a four-year deal. Daniel Vladar was traded to Calgary for a third-round pick in 2022. The Bruins traded that pick to Seattle for the Kraken’s 117th pick and 132nd pick. The Bruins chose Cole Spicer and Frederic Brunet with the picks.
Jesse Gabrielle, Cameron Hughes and Jack Becker are no longer part of the organization.
Here’s a look at the 2016 Entry Draft:
McAvoy is the superstar, franchise blueliner the Bruins were in need of. Hindsight is 20/20, but they were lucky to get him at number 14. On the other hand, Jakob Chychrun and Dante Fabbro were also still on the board, so the Bruins deserve some credit here as well. Trent Frederic has played 119 NHL games and is looking to take the next step. Ryan Lindgren was traded to the Rangers in the Rick Nash deal, and he’s carved out a nice career to date getting top pairing minutes.
Joona Koppanen has yet to get a cup of coffee in the NHL and others on the depth chart have long since passed him. Cameron Clarke never signed a contract with Boston or Providence and has played in the ECHL for the past three seasons. Oskar Steen is just coming off signing his first one-way contract and will be given every opportunity to crack the lineup.
Let’s move onto 2017:
The Bruins selected Urho Vaakanainen (when they should have taken Robert Thomas) with the 18th pick. Just when he was starting to look like an NHL defenceman, the Bruins traded him to Anaheim in the Hampus Lindholm deal. Jack Studnicka has just come off his entry level contract and hasn’t really had a shot at the NHL level. This season will be huge for Studnicka. Jeremy Swayman looks every bit the part of a bona-fide NHL starter and he has done so at a young age for goaltenders. Cedric Pare and Daniel Bukac never received contract offers from the Bruins. Victor Berglund is in the final year of his entry level contract and will be with Providence this upcoming season.
Here’s what the Bruins did in 2018:
The Bruins first pick was Axel Andersson who Boston sent to Anaheim in the Ondrej Kase deal. There was plenty of hope and some promise with Jakub Lauko, but injuries have derailed his development. Curtis Hall has two years remaining on his entry level contract and is destined for Providence for the upcoming season. Dustyn McFaul was a gamble, and his defensive is just fine, but the offensive side he showed in Junior A never materialized. Pavel Shen has long since left the organization.
Here’s a friendly reminder of the 2019 entry draft:
John Beecher is someone all Bruins fans should know by now. Perhaps the one prospect in the organization where fans are most divided about what he can become. We’re going to find out. Quinn Olson will be back in the NCAA this season and he needs to find his offence. Roman Bychkov is without a contract in the KHL as of now. Matias Mantykivi will spend one more year in Finland before coming over and there is some hope here from the organization and myself. Jake Schmaltz will be entering his second season in the NCAA after a very good first year. All signs point to an NHL career but he will need time.
Before we go further, these next three drafts are, in my opinion, the Bruins best drafts under Sweeney. There is the potential for a lot more hit than miss in these three drafts. They all won’t be superstars mind you, but no one has a roster of 20 superstars. You need to fill out a complete roster and it appears the Bruins are doing just that.
So, what did they do in 2020?
The potential is there for all four picks to one day play in the NHL. But these four picks didn’t come without the wrath of some (many) Bruins fans. For starters, the complaints about drafting “overager” Mason Lohrei were non stop and even continued into his draft plus one year. Now? He looks to have top pairing potential but he will be buried behind Lindholm. Trevor Kuntar is coming off a very good second NCAA season and much more is expected of him this upcoming season. With Kuntar, time is needed but he is looking the part. There was an uproar when the Bruins selected Mason Langenbrunner only because he is the son of Jamie. Well, Langenbrunner showed he is skilled and was deserving of the pick and is ahead on his development curve. And you have to love Riley Duran. Plays the game the right way and is a master of may things. So much so that he got an invite to Team USA camp for the World Junior Championships.
2021 was a very interesting draft:
Fabian Lysell has star power written all over him. Brett Harrison, if he reaches his potential could be a second line center. I have plenty of time for Oskar Jellvik, but let’s see how his transition to North America looks like. Ryan Mast at worst could be a big, mobile shut down defender and at best could be a two-way if his offensive game translates. Andre Gasseau is turning into a power forward who can score. Ty Gallagher is a smooth two-way defenceman who is going to turn into a seventh-round steal. If I have any concerns about this draft, it’s Phillip Svedeback for two reasons: One, goaltenders are hard to project at this stage and two, injuries plagued him last season so it’s hard to get a read.
Last but not least, the most recent draft:
The Bruins went center heavy in this draft selecting Matthew Poitras, Cole Spicer and Dans Locmelis with their first three picks. All three bring different elements to their games, but all three also have NHL potential. The Bruins traded down from their third-round pick acquired in the Vladar trade to Seattle for the Kraken’s 117th pick and 132nd pick. The Bruins chose Spicer and Frederic Brunet with the picks. I think Spicer fell to them there. Brunet had a coming out year but I do believe someone should have taken a flyer on him late in the 2021 entry draft. Like Svedeback, I have concerns about Reid Dyck but for different reasons. Jackson Edward is exactly the type of defender I look for in late rounds. Potential is there, but didn’t really showcase all he could be last season.
So, which draft was Sweeney’s best?
I think it’s too early to judge what the 2022 draft turns out to be. In another year, it may be a different story. But for me it comes down to 2020 or 2021. I do believe all four picks in the 2020 draft will have an NHL career, but they only had four picks. But at the 2021 draft they had seven selections and I could see six of those carving out an NHL career, so I am going to lean to 2021.
Draft success isn’t measured by the number of superstars you draft, because sometimes you just aren’t picking high enough to get those types of players. Of course, there are those times where a Pastrnak or McAvoy fall to you. However, it is measured by the success you have in finding players that can play in the NHL in every round.
Again, too early to tell but to me, 2021 looks to be the most successful draft under Sweeney.
Follow me on Twitter @dominictiano