By Matt Dillane
Overshadowed by the draft for Boston’s other winter team, the NHL draft is equally as important for the future of the Bruins. The draft allows teams the opportunity to hit the reset button or to address weaknesses and to prepare for the future. It’s one of the busiest times of the year for GMs across the league, and the Bruins should absolutely be looking to make some big changes. Last year, new Bruins GM Don Sweeney made his presence known by dealing off young defenseman Dougie Hamilton to Calgary and longtime Bruin winger Milan Lucic to LA. Early impressions led fans to believe Sweeney would not be afraid to trade “untouchable” pieces under the previous regime. However, he followed this up by failing to move Loui Eriksson at the trade deadline (and now possibly re-signing him) as well as making the head-scratching decision to bring back Kevan-freaking-Miller for four more seasons at $2.5 million per year. After missing the playoffs two seasons in the row, the next few months will feature pivotal decisions for the franchise going forward. Let’s take a look at the current situation the Bruins are in heading into tonight.
While NHL free agency doesn’t officially begin until July 1st , D targets for the Bruins are already flying off the table. Veteran blue-liner Keith Yandle is set to sign a massive long term deal with Florida. Furthermore, Sami Vatanen, Tyson Barrie, and Alex Goligoski are all potentially off the board already as well. Suddenly, Bruins are running out of defensive options to pursue.
One name that has been linked to a number of teams is St. Louis Blues defender Kevin Shattenkirk. The 27-year-old Shattenkirk has been a stud for the Blues, posting 14 goals and 44 points in 72 games with the team last season. His contract expires next year and the Blues are up against the cap. As it stands, Boston has over $20 million in cap space and would be able to take on Shattenkirk’s contract and sign him to an extension. However, re-signing both Torey Krug and Loui Eriksson would put a pretty big dent in this figure. The cost for the transitional defender would most likely involve the Bruins 14th pick in the draft as well as a young prospect, but it may be a price worth paying for the black & gold to finally have a legitimate top pairing defenseman on the roster again. Shattenkirk is no stranger to Boston, winning an NCAA National Championship with Boston University back in 2009.
It’s just as likely the Bruins use their two first round picks, and this year’s class has plenty of solid options beyond Auston Matthews. The Bruins hold the 14th pick, as well as the 29th pick which unfortunately dropped due to San Jose’s run to the Cup final. With the Bruins’ most glaring defense being on the backend, Sweeney should look to build through the draft. Here are a few targets:
Jake Bean, Defense, Calgary Hitmen (WHL): 68 GP, 24G, 40A, 64 pts, +8
Bean should be available at #14 and he’s the puck-moving defenseman the Bruins so desperately need. He broke out this year, racking up 64 points in the WHL at the young age of 17. He possesses elite puck handling skills and moves very quickly on the ice. With an accurate shot, his 24 goals last season led all CHL defensemen. The Bruins may avoid Bean due to his left-handedness as they have several left shot defensive prospects in the system including Rob O’Gara, Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril. However, the Bruins might want to take him if he’s still on the board.
Charlie McAvoy, Defense, Boston University (NCAA): 37 GP, 3G, 22A, 25 pts, +10
As well as Bean should pan out as a left-shot d-man, McAvoy will do the same from the right side. The Terrier was a key cog on BU’s blue line during his freshman year, and he isn’t afraid to carry the puck and join the rush when the opportunity presents itself. McAvoy has a heavy shot and delivers tape-to-tape passes, which was seen during his time with Team USA at the World Juniors. He also delivers bone-crushing checks, which would definitely make him a huge hit with Bruins fans.
Jakob Chychrun, Defense, Sarnia Sting (OHL) 62 GP, 11 G, 38 A, 49 pts, +23
I know, this is a stretch. But if Chychrun somehow slips out of the top ten and is there for the 14th pick, Sweeney, for the love of God, take him. He’s the definition of a complete player. Arguably the best blue liner in the draft, Chychrun’s hockey IQ is off the charts. He’s able to change the way he plays according to any game situation and excels in any role he’s given. He has an active stick and pounces on loose pucks he knocks away from oncoming attackers. On the offensive end, Chychrun has a hard shot and can transition up the ice with good speed. This would be a massive pickup if the Bruins find themselves fortunate enough to nab him.
Michael McLeod, Center, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): 57 GP, 21 G, 40 A, 61 pts, +10
If the Bruins instead decide to add a center for the future, McLeod would be an excellent pick. The 18-year-old can fly on the ice, providing the Bruins with a much needed speed boost. He possesses a good puck handling skillset and imposes his 6’2” frame on others to win puck battles. Everything McLeod does is with a relentless desire to succeed. His pace of play on the ice is rapid and exciting as he is constantly moving. He is a complete player with great leadership qualities who would be an excellent pick for Boston.
With one draft under his belt already, it will be interesting to see how Sweeney navigates the one tonight. Last year, he wasn’t afraid to set off some fireworks. However, the pressure is on now more than ever from owner Jeremy Jacobs to see his team back in the playoffs. At the end of the day, the draft is a dart throw. Taking a chance on teenagers who may become the next faces of franchises or the biggest busts of the decade. Perhaps the Bruins will look to be more active in a week when the more established veterans are available for hire. No matter how he does it, Sweeney needs to get the job done this summer before the Bruins have their third GM in four years.