By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
DALLAS — General manager Don Sweeney’s pain from not having a first-round pick Friday was probably just beginning to fade when the Bruins received the hurtful news Saturday that star wing Ilya Kovalchuk had chosen to sign with the Los Angeles Kings instead of three other bidders, including the Bruins.
But then there was joy in Mudville. Making their second pick of the day, at 77 overall in the third round, the Bruins landed center Jakub Lauko at American Airlines Center. The Czech talent was projected by many publications to be picked much earlier and even the Bruins, according to assistant general manager Scott Bradley, had Lauko tabbed as a first-round pick.
“He’s fast, [plays with] energy, plays with a lot of character,” Bradley said. “Willing to sacrifice and this player can really shoot the puck. And his best asset may be his speed, so we’re excited to have this player.”
Lauko also doesn’t shy away from physical play, a requisite skill to play for the Bruins. And Bradley’s claim about Lauko’s status on the team’s rankings may not have been just scout talk to make his staff seem smarter. McKeen’s ranked Lauko 83 and had him as the fourth-fastest skater in the draft. Recrutes.ca had him 31st, also ranking him as the fifth-best skater and third-most competitive player. Red Line Report ranked him 15th and lauded his breaking, world-class speed, likening him to Michael Cammalleri.
To his credit, Lauko compared his game to Dylan Larkin. And perhaps the only reason he fell as far as he did was what some scouts called a “lack of vision” to be a playmaker as a top-two center, according to Recrutes.ca.
Don’t waste too much time scratching your head over why the Bruins waited until the third round to pick Lauko if they desired his services so much. In the second round, with their first pick of the draft at 57, they obviously wanted to address a need and they took Swedish defenseman Axel Andersson. The right shot was ranked 27 by Central Scouting and flew under the radar because Sweden relegated him to a seventh defenseman at the Under-18 championships in the spring. But he had 31 points in 42 games for his junior team.
“One of the better skaters in the draft,” Bradley said. “He’s real mobile up the ice. Didn’t have great numbers with the national team, but a different player on his junior club.”
The Bruins made three more picks before the day was out, but their truly impactful moves are going to come in the next two weeks. The free-agent interview period starts Sunday, free agency opens July 1. Sweeney has to touch base with players he may think can do at least something equivalent to what Kovlachuk would have brought. Rick Nash’s return could be an option but Sweeney said the forward is still determining whether he’s even going to keep playing.
Sweeney continues to check in on his other unrestricted free agents, including Anton Khuodbin and Riley Nash. Depending on Khudobin’s situation, the Bruins might use the interview period to see if another goalie is a fit to back up Tuukka Rask. Robin Lehner’s exit from the Buffalo Sabres could make the goalie market a little more interesting, with Jonathan Bernier and Jaroslav Halak also guys that could replace Khudobin.
And then there’s the biggest fish in the pond, assuming he doesn’t re-sign with the New York Islanders before July 1 — John Tavares. Sweeney wouldn’t rule out being among the bidders for the center, who would probably require an $8-9 million commitment and force the Bruins to trade at least one of their higher-priced forwards (David Krejci or David Backes).
“We’ve had a discussion on that front. I think that’s still a bit to be determined so I’m not going to comment on another player at this time, not able to,” Sweeney said.
During a mostly quiet draft weekend in terms of veteran player movement across the league, the Bruins didn’t get anything done and they continue to seek an upgrade on defense. But one of the two defensemen moved was Dougie Hamilton, who already sulked his way out of Boston. And the other, Noah Hanifin, has seen his stock sink a bit and would require the Bruins to commit a sum in compensation they’re probably not ready to give on a second contract to someone not named Charlie McAvoy.
It’s going to be difficult for Sweeney to make a splash without making a corresponding move that could weaken the Bruins in another area. The best news, though, is that the youth pipeline could provide the necessary reinforcements, and younger players that gained experience last season should come back improved.
Sweeney made his “all in” move at the trade deadline, getting Rick Nash for a package that included the first-round pick. Value signings may be the way to go at this stage the same way value draft picks turned out to be the wiser road to take.