Let’s start with this: the Bruins will never replace Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
The odds of them finding another generational talent and pairing him with another super-skilled No. 1 center-caliber player for a decade or infinitesimal. And to find each player in the second round of the draft, meaning you didn’t have to bottom out like Pittsburgh or Edmonton to get your cornerstone player, is a near miracle we’re probably not going to witness again in our lifetime.
Facts aside, the Bruins have begun their attempt to at least have serviceable NHL centers ready to step in three years or so from now when the Bergeron/Krejci era will either be over or in its limelight. Thus they decide John Beecher fit the bill at pick No. 30 in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft on Friday.
By all accounts the 6-foot-3, 212-pound center is an excellent skater for his size. General manager Don Sweeney was confident that the 18-year-old’s size and skating would at least get him to the NHL, and then depending on how he develops he could slide into any position in the lineup, possibly even on the wing.
No one had high expectations for what the Bruins would get at pick 30, but considering the handful of more dynamic players that fell down the draft board (see below), Bruins backers had a right to be disappointed about Boston selecting a player that’s a strong penalty killer but seemingly can’t score.
Already the excuses about Beecher’s role, which Sweeney described as “defined,” with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program have come for his lack of offensive production. But we all know scorers score regardless of role. We heard the same things about Zach Senyshyn in 2015, and by 2018 the Bruins were hoping he’d round out his game to become a bottom-six performer.
A scout told Recrutes.ca that there were times Jack Hughes and Alex Turcotte were out of the lineup and Beecher had a more prominent role, plus he got to play with Matthew Boldy and Cole Caufield but still didn’t light the house on fire.
Let’s be honest, the Bruins’ draft philosophy for anything from the middle of the first round on is simple: they seek complete players or something close, rather than taking a higher-skilled player and trying to make him more complete. Beecher has a NHL future, there’s too much talk about him projecting as a bottom-six forward to say the Bruins took the best player available, an approach you’re supposed to take when you’re picking so late in the first round.
We won’t know if the Bruins made the right pick until the Bergeron/Krejci era is winding down sometime around 2022, 2023. But it would sure seem that if you’re going to replace a couple greats through the draft, you have to be willing to take a risk that an imperfect high-end talent matures rather than settle for the sound player who already has a ceiling on draft day.
*There were probably four prominent players the Bruins passed over to take Beecher.
Arthur Kaliyev scored 51 goals (yes, 51!) with Hamilton in the OHL last season. The 6-foot-2, 192-pound Russian winger, who actually grew up in New York City’s best borough, Staten Island, was ranked No. 7 by CSS among North American skaters. Sportsnet projected him going 14th. But there were some questions about his work ethic and he fell Los Angeles at pick 33.
Raphael Lavoie went to Edmonton at 38. A 6-foot-4, 199-pound winger, he had 73 points in 62 games last season for Halifax in the QMJHL and was ranked No. 20 by CSS. Recrutes.ca ranked him 25th in the entire draft and for comparison’s sake he was graded as having 8,7,8, skills, playmaking and shot, respectively, as opposed to Beecher, who graded at a 6 for skills, playmaking and shot. But there were concerns about his hockey sense and a midseason scoring slump that obviously caused teams to pass him over in the first round.
At 5-8, 165 pounds Bobby Brink might not have fit the bill for the Bruins in terms of the size they were looking for, but he was the 19th ranked NA skater by CSS and went to Philadelphia at pick 34. He put his high-end skill to use in getting 68 points in 43 games for Sioux City in the USHL.
And then there was left wing Nils Hoglander, the 11th ranked European skater from Sweden. At 5-10, 188 pounds he also might not have fit the bill size-wise for Boston, but he had 14 points in 50 games in his first season with Rogle in the men’s league. Hoglander’s skating, though, may lack a high enough gear to succeed at the sport’s highest level. Vancouver took him at No. 40.
*The Patrick Marleau salary dump Toronto executed with Carolina helps the Maple Leafs clear up cap space for the restricted free agents. It’s probably not a model for the Bruins escaping David Backes’ contract. For starts, Backes has two years left on his contract. Including signing bonuses he’d still be due $6.67 million over the four years of a buyout, assuming an acquiring team wouldn’t want him around. Marleau will cost the Hurricanes just $3.833 over two years if he’s bought out.
With the way Sweeney operates, no one should really expect him to give up a first-round pick, or a comparable prospect, to cut ties with Backes. And finding a trade partner now that the Hurricanes have weaponized their cap space once will be difficult without blowing someone away (remember Backes has an eight-team trade list).
Getting restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen in the mix with Backes’ $6 million cap hit sitting on the payroll is going to be difficult now that the salary-cap ceiling has been set at $81.5 million and the Bruins reportedly have just under $13 million in space, according to CapFriendly.com. But it’s doable, if Sweeney doesn’t plan on improving the team from the outside.
If Sweeney does get all his internal business done without shipping out Backes, here’s one thing to consider: we’ll know in the fall if the owners or the NHLPA will be opening the CBA, and whether there may be another lockout after the 2019-20 season. Could another lockout, or even a quick agreement between the owners and players, bring another round of compliance buyouts? Might be worth hanging on to Backes for just that opportunity to get out of cap jail free.
*The Bruins made four picks Saturday but didn’t take a goalie.
“[We had] some interest in a goalie late, but it never developed,” assistant general manager Scott Bradley told the media.
Zane McIntyre is a Group 6 unrestricted free agent, so the Bruins depth chart in goal is Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak, Daniel Vladar, Kyle Keyser, Jeremy Swayman. Seems a little thin. Maybe the Bruins have their eyes on another undrafted free agent like Keyser.
*We know the Bruins were interested in Mats Zuccarello before he was traded to Dallas at the NHL trade deadline. Now Dallas has revealed he won’t be re-signing there before July 1. The Bruins would have to move out some money to get anything business beyond their RFAs done, but one has to wonder if the 31-year-old Zuccarello might be a cheaper alternative to re-signing Marcus Johansson.
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