May 16, 2010

Chiarelli needs to seize this draft moment

By Kevin Dupont

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of New England Hockey Journal.Taylor Hall (photo: Getty)

How refreshing to hear Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli stake his claim last month, immediately after the draft lottery was finalized, that the Bruins will pick either Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall with the No. 2 overall pick on June 25 in Los Angeles.

No mincing of words. No shuffling of feet. There's a new kid coming, and be it Seguin or Hall, he's going to be good, make an impact and be a significant part, if not a cornerstone, of the Cup-deprived franchise.

You know what? I'm buying it. I'm all in on this one -- lock, stock and mock draft included. Maybe that big Spoked B in the middle of the Garden ice finally has me in a trance, hypnotized me from my perch six floors above ice level. But be it Seguin, the velvety-handed center, or Hall, with speed and moxie off the wing, I am convinced this is going to be good.

What would excite me even more would be an even bolder play by Chiarelli, now with four seasons complete as the Hub of Hockey's GM, to get creative and land one of the two primo defensemen -- Erik Gudbranson or Cam Fowler -- in the same draft. To do that, he would have to package up picks, prospects and roster players to work a deal with one of the clubs slotted third (Florida), fourth (Columbus) or fifth (Islanders).

It's a perfect scenario, with two top kids available, three teams to barter with, and Chiarelli chock o' block full of draft picks, in large part because Phil Kessel thought he was worth far more money than the Bruins offered him last summer.

Kessel proved to be correct, because he got that money from the Leafs; whether he was actually worth that money remains open to debate. He played 70 games his first season in Toronto and finished with 55 points, roughly a 10 percent drop in production compared to the 70 games he played in his final season with that Spoked B on his chest.

For now, Kessel looks like the gift that will keep on giving in Boston, and the ultimate prize could be Gudbranson or Fowler, if the 45-year-old Chiarelli gets creative here and lands one of them. To do it, he'll likely have to yield at least two first-round picks, possibly including the one coming his way from the Leafs next year (again thanks to Kessel), and he will have to yield a body or two – a prior draft pick, a minor leaguer or a roster player.

For roster players, two interesting targets come to mind: Patrice Bergeron or Blake Wheeler. Two very different players with distinct pedigrees. If Bergeron were the one to go, then Chiarelli would have to pull Toronto's top pick next year out of the deal and replace it with Boston's Round 1 choice in 2011.

Keep in mind, Bergeron lovers, he will earn $5.75 million next season and then become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, just prior to his 26th birthday. And if Seguin ends up Boston's choice at No. 2 this June, then the pivot position is actually overstocked with Marc Savard, David Krejci, Bergeron and Seguin.

Wheeler, now with two seasons under his belt, still looks like a college player trying to adapt to the pro game. He has the size and speed to play in the NHL, but he has yet to learn how to fight for pucks and position around the net. Those factors now stand as the missing link in his game. If Chiarelli feels Wheeler can't find the link, then it's better to move him earlier than later, while he is still considered a prime prospect.

Now, what about Gudbranson and Fowler? They are the top two defensemen available, ranked No. 4 and No. 5 by Central Scouting in this year's draft, and have distinct, highly-valued assets. Gudbranson brings a big, physical game.  Fowler is all about finesse.

E.J. McGuire, director of Central Scouting, figures the 6-foot-4 Gudbranson for a somewhat shorter, far meaner version of top Buffalo rookie Tyler Myers. Fowler, he says, is a smooth-skating puckmover, with a style comparable to the likes of Brian Leetch (Cheshire, Conn.) and Paul Coffey.

''He'll quarterback your power play for a decade,'' said McGuire.

Again … sign me up. Whether it's the big hitter or the back-end whiz kid, both are very rare commodities in today's game and both would be huge upgrades for the Bruins. Fowler's finesse factor could also lead to Chiarelli offering Dennis Wideman in whatever bundle he put together for the Panthers, Blue Jackets or Islanders.

Sure makes for an interesting buildup to the June draft, even more than in '97 when the Bruins held the No. 1 and 8 picks, which led to the not-so-great Joe Thornton-Sergei Samsonov era. That was the pre-salary cap NHL. With some deft dealing, Chiarelli could move one or two pricey parts from his roster (the combined cap hit for Bergeron and Wideman is $8.625) and add two elite kids on three-year, entry-level deals.

So many possibilities. What Chiarelli makes of them ultimately could determine his legacy.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com