July 11, 2014

2014 NHL Entry Draft: Bruins recap

By Andrew Merritt

You don’t find a franchise savior with the 25th pick in the NHL draft. Fortunately, that’s not what the Bruins needed.

Instead, with the bulk of the team’s core locked up for the next few years, the Bruins were in a position to draft depth and projects, and that’s exactly what they did June 27-28 in Philadelphia.

2014 Bruins Draft

Click here to read a pick-by-pick breakdown of the Bruins'
Draft selections.

In a draft that didn’t have any players projected to be generational talent — and likely no NHL-ready players after the top five — the Bruins had to wait nearly three hours before making their pick in the first round. And in a draft mostly bereft of big splashes (save for a few pre-draft trades involving former Bruins assistant GM Jim Benning, now the GM in Vancouver), the Bruins stayed conservative as well, drafting Czech forward David Pastrnak, who plays for Södertälje in Sweden’s second-tier Allsvenskan league.

Pastrnak, who turned 18 on May 25 — he was born less than four months before Cam Neely announced his retirement — likely will return to his Swedish team, which is hoping to earn promotion to the top-tier SHL this season. Canadian Major Junior is also an option for the Havirov, Czech Republic, native. Regardless, he will be tucked away for development for the near future.

“He’s got another year,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t mind him staying there another year. We’ll have to sit down with the agent.”

Pastrnak was the first of five Boston picks across the seven rounds. In the second round, the Bruins picked up local boy Ryan Donato (Scituate, Mass.), the son of former Bruin (and current Harvard men’s coach) Ted. In Round 4, the Bruins selected Danton Heinen, a British Columbia native who plays for Surrey of the British Columbia Hockey League.

Round 5 brought Anders Bjork, a native of Mequon, Wis., who plays forward for the U.S. National Team Development Program’s junior team. The Bruins closed out their draft in the seventh round with Emil Johansson, a Swede who plays for HV71 of the Swedish SuperElite League.

Pastrnak doesn’t carry much name recognition, and few if any identified him as the Bruins’ top pick heading into the draft. But he’s got a résumé that’s nothing to sneeze at. He scored eight goals and 16 assists for Södertälje in 36 games last season, and he had a goal and two assists for the Czechs at the 2014 World Junior Championship.

He’s also got one heck of an endorsement of his offensive skills from his new GM.

“He’s a better shooter than David (Krejci) was and he plays both (wings), but he’s mainly a right-hander,” Chiarelli said. “I think he’s definitely a second-line player. I don’t know if it’s first line, but he’s got sense, he’s got skill and those two things give him a chance.”

Keith Gretzky, who was elevated from Bruins amateur scout to the team’s director of amateur scouting during the offseason, liked what he and the team’s major personnel staff saw.

“He’s got to get stronger and that’s one area that he knows, and we’ve talked to him — we’ve spent a lot of time with him,” Gretzky said. “Myself, (assistant GM Scott Bradley) and (amateur scout) Dean (Malkoc) and (European scout) PJ (Axelsson) took him out, spent time with him to make sure that he was there, that he was willing to do the work, and we believe he is.

“He moved away when he was young; he wanted to be a hockey player,” Gretzky said. “He moved to Sweden to play, and we’re excited.”

Being drafted in the first round is a big deal for any young player, but there was a specific reason the youngster from the Czech Republic was excited to be selected by the Bruins.

“I’m trying to play like Krejci from when I was born,” Pastrnak said. “He was my idol from when I was small and he is still. … I really am interested to meet him and learn some experience from him, and it’s going to be great.”

Like Gretzky, Pastrnak said he was happy with his early dealings with the Bruins ahead of the draft.

“At the beginning, I felt that they were great people and there was a great meeting,” he said of meeting Chiarelli and Neely, now the club’s president. “And right away, I didn’t have it like that with other teams — that I liked the meeting so much. And it was good talking to them and they knew what they were talking about, and I’m really happy.”

It’s entirely too early to tell whether Pastrnak will contribute to the Bruins down the road, but his selection does give a glimpse of the kind of players the team intends to target in the future.

“He competes on the puck. He’s not going to run over guys, and that’s one thing that we love,” Gretzky said. “He can handle the puck. It’s something nice, at pick 25, that we got. We’re excited.”

Pastrnak’s puck-handling ability is one of several common threads among this year’s crop of picks. The most obvious is size: All five of the Bruins’ picks are listed at an even 6-foot tall, putting them all an inch-and-a-half shorter than the current roster’s average height.

Pastrnak also represents the club’s growing interest in Sweden as a pipeline for talent. While Pastrnak isn’t a Swede himself, he plays in the same second-division league where the Bruins found their first pick in last year’s draft, Linus Arnesson, whose Djurgarden club earned promotion to the SHL this year.

He’s also not the only player with a Swedish connection. Johansson had four goals and 10 assists in 48 games for HV71’s J18 and J20 teams last season, and he picked up some international experience with Sweden’s U18 and U17 teams.

Chiarelli and his staff now turn their focus back to the more pressing matters of free agency, which began July 1 and brought with it a bevy of challenges as the team tries to figure out who it can afford to keep from the 2013-14 roster. So the five players who heard their names called in Philadelphia during the final weekend in June move into the category of prospects.

If Pastrnak does intend to play with his idol Krejci, he’s got plenty of work to do. With another solid season in Sweden, and perhaps a rapid ascent within the Bruins’ organization, Pastrnak might just be able to make that dream for the future into a reality.

This article originally appeared in the July edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to read the digital edition for free.

Twitter: @A_Merritt

Email: amerritt@hockeyjournal.com