By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
The second day of the 2017 NHL Draft passed the same way the first day did, with the Bruins making picks rather than trades Saturday in Chicago.
After selecting defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with the No. 18 pick in the first round Friday, Boston didn’t go for another defenseman until it picked two in the seventh round.
“It wasn’t sexy but I think we did well in addressing our needs,” Bruins assistant general manager Scott Bradley told the media.
While the Bruins were using the last six rounds to select five players they hope will be part of their future, another team added a legitimate top-four defenseman when the Calgary Flames paid a steep price to pry Travis Hamonic from the New York Islanders. The Flames sent the Islanders their first- and second-round picks next season and a conditional second round pick in the two years after next to get the right-shot Hamonic and his cap hit of less than $4 million through 2020. On the draft’s first day, Chicago moved Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona in a trade. Trevor van Riemsdyk and Dave Schlemko were also on the move last week.
While focusing on their future instead of winning the bidding for a defenseman, the Bruins made a decent pick by most accounts in the second round with the selection of Oshawa (OHL) center Jack Studnicka, who had 52 points in 64 games in the regular season this year. Scouts grew doubtful about him until he had 15 points in 11 playoff games and then had three goals in three games for Canada in the Under-18 championships.
“What you can expect from me is someone who takes pride in the defensive zone, can be trusted in all three zones,” the 18-year-old Studnicka told the media in Chicago. “But at the same time [I] can contribute to offense and put up some numbers.”
The hope is that the 6-foot-0, 170-pound forward can keep his late-season momentum going and blossom into a top-six forward.
The Bruins love centers and that’s why after taking goaltender Jeremy Swayman in the fourth round they used their sixth-round pick on Cedric Pare of St. John in the QMJHL. Pare had 16 points in 64 games but the hope is that he’ll get more of an offensive role next year and put up points that will complement his solid defensive game (53.1 faceoff percentage last season) and make him a better prospect. Shifting centers to win is easier than doing the reverse, so that’s why Boston focuses on pivots.
In Swayman the Bruins seemed to find a decent project with his 6-foot-2, 187-pound frame and self-described “battling” mentality. Bradley even admitted Swayman wasn’t the Bruins’ first choice for a goaltender but the player the team targeted was picked earlier. Swayman’s first going to go to the University of Maine so there’s a long development process ahead of him and no telling if he’ll someday by Tuukka Rask’s heir apparent.
The two defensemen selected in the seventh round were Victor Berglund and Daniel Bukac. Bradley said that Boston’s Swedish scouts were “pounding the table for him” to take Berglund, so we’ll know who to credit or blame three or four years from now when the verdict is in on that player’s abilities.
So the Bruins have again filled their coffers with legitimate prospects and some late-round longshots. They have still haven’t done anything to address their present issues. In the weeks ahead they’re going to have to decide if they can continue to carry forwards Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey based on their lack of production and cap hits. They’re going to have to decide if defenseman Adam McQuaid as a right-handed shot is going to be part of their top six or if he holds some trade value that might aid in their search for a left-handed shot. And that quest for a left-handed shot is going to continue through the free agent interview period and beyond, even if general manager Don Sweeney is legitimately content to go into next season with the same six defensemen if the trade and free agent prices are out of his spending range.
Recently, a comparison was written to Nashville, the Western Conference champions, because so much of their deep defense corps is homegrown. The Bruins could attempt to follow that model but one has to remember how long it took the Predators to get where they were this season and remember that, postseason run aside, they were a 16th seed. Plus, the Predators benefitted from Montreal GM Marc Bergervin’s inexplicable decision to swap P.K. Subban for Shea Webber. Bergevin should get a small piece of credit for Nashville’s success.
Sweeney could wait for a Nashville-like situation to unfold in Boston, if he thinks he really has that sort of time. More than likely, he has to accelerate the process this summer.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.