June 27, 2014

With late picks, Bruins will look for long-term projects

By Kirk Luedeke

In the aftermath of the Boston Bruins’ disaster of a second-round playoff exit, the team will maintain a strategy of adding raw but projectable talent on a longer timeline to the organization at the 2014 NHL draft in Philadelphia June 27-28.

June 27-28

Bruins’ picks

1st round: 25th overall
2nd round: 56th overall
3rd round: To Flyers (Andrej Meszaros)
4th round:  116th overall
5th round: 146th overall
6th round: To St. Louis (Wade Redden)
7th round: 206th overall 

“This is a very good team,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said in his end-of-season press conference last month. “There are some tweaks here and there, but it is a very good team. Strong down the middle, strong to the nets, good character, good core, we’ve won the Presidents’ Trophy, we beat Detroit in five, we lost in seven to Montreal. It’s very emotional, and it is my job to be unemotional about it.”

Even with emotions still raw from the B’s sudden defeat, management must balance the requirements to continue building for the future with icing the best possible hockey team in the present. A year ago, they largely stayed away from the more traditional major junior circuit in favor of taking project players on a longer timeline from Europe and U.S. high school and junior ranks.

There is the added challenge of the general feeling by league and independent scouts that the 2014 draft pool is not particularly strong or deep. With Boston picking near the bottom of every round but the third and sixth, the club’s scouts will have their work cut out for them to unearth impact players later on.

The recent trend of going to Europe for talent might continue, as the team hired former fan favorite P.J. Axelsson this year as an amateur scout to join veteran Svenake Svensson in their native Sweden. With Juukka Holtari in Finland, the B’s have a solid foothold in Scandinavia, as seen by the selections of Linus Arnesson, Peter Cehlarik and Anton Blidh in 2013.

With reports out of Florida that Panthers GM Dale Tallon is shopping the top pick, might Chiarelli be contemplating making a pitch for a spot at the top of the order? That kind of a move has not been the Boston GM’s modus operandi in his eight seasons at the helm, but with an organization rife with assets and not a lot of NHL roster openings, it might make for interesting discussion.

One thing appears certain, however: Barring a major jump to the top of this draft class, the player the Bruins will select at 25th overall will not have a chance to contribute to the team’s fortunes right away. It’s the price NHL teams pay for regular-season success only to fall short in the postseason.

Potential first-round options

Conner Bleackley

C, Red Deer (WHL), 6-0, 199 | Shoots: Right | Stock: Up

Effective two-way center is also Brent Sutter’s captain at Red Deer, so any team that drafts the Rebels’ leading scorer is getting a gritty kid who’s being coached for NHL success. Although not especially tall or fast, Bleackley is strong on his skates and built like a bowling ball, allowing him to fight through checks and take the puck to the net. His average skating, however, is what drops him a little lower in the pecking order. Watch for him to develop into one of the WHL’s more productive players over the next few seasons. Bleackley led the Red Deer Rebels with 68 points and tied for the team lead with 29 goals this season.

Hot read: “Dynamic stickhandling and game-breaking release in space, young team leaned on this strong forward for almost all of their offensive output; learning how to generate further scoring by becoming more creative. Even if he does not end up as a high producer at next level, he has shown other intangibles to fall back on, a good fit for a contending club.” — Mark Staudinger, WHL and Western Canada scout, Red Line Report

Ryan Donato

C, Dexter School (HS, Mass.) (Scituate, Mass.), 6-1, 180 | Shoots: Left | Stock: Up

New England prep hockey’s most dangerous scorer would be a fine option for the B’s in the late first round assuming he’s on the board. Although ranked as the 58th North American skater by Central Scouting, we think his skill, character and family background make him a more likely candidate to go later in the opening round. Elite hockey sense, soft hands, a nonstop motor and his father, Ted’s, ties to the organization make the younger Donato a near-perfect fit as a college-bound (in 2015) forward the B’s can draft and stash while he develops.

Hot read: “What’s not to like about Donato? He’s got the bloodlines, skill and sense; he’s backed that up with production as the consistently best player in prep game in and game out. He may not have that dynamic speed element to him, but no one will question the passion or effort.” — NHL scout, Eastern Conference

Josh Ho-Sang

RW, Windsor (OHL), 5-11, 175 | Shoots: Right | Stock: Down

Truth in lending: Ho-Sang is not a Bruins type of player. But he might be one of the top three most dynamic offensive players in the entire class. He has few peers in terms of sheer puck skills and ability to control the offensive tempo of a game with his wheels, but character and personality account for his slide down to 20-30 on many projected public draft lists. Anyone who takes him does so knowing that they are rolling the dice on a boom-or-bust scoring forward who could be a major steal … or cost someone their job.

Hot read: “I like the progression he showed from being a guy who spent a lot of time doing flashy things that maybe worked at the lower levels, to a more dedicated player who made an effort to be a more complete player this year. He’s not great in the dirty areas, but in space, there aren’t many more dangerous forwards than Ho-Sang.” —  NHL scout, Western Conference

Adrian Kempe

LW/C, MoDo (Sweden), 6-2, 190 | Shoots: Left | Stock: Holding steady

Kempe might be one of the more intriguing forwards available later in the first round. One of the youngest players available with a Sept. 13, 1996, birthday, Kempe brings size and intensity to the mix. He has a long, fluid stride that generates good speed and separation, putting him in position to make plays on offense. Scouts are divided as to whether he’ll become a scorer in the NHL, but he’s shown some impressive flashes of talent this season.

Hot read: “A power forward in the making; finishes checks and has some scoring ability … dangerous off the rush and creates lots of scoring chances in open space, but needs to learn to evaluate when to shoot or slip a pass over to an open linemate.” — Red Line Report, October 2013

Markus Petterssen

D, Skelleftea (Sweden, Jr.) 6-4, 170 | Shoots: Left | Stock: Up

Would the B’s take another Swedish defenseman for the second consecutive year? When you have a converted center with Petterssen’s size and potential high ceiling, he makes sense for them near the end of the first round. This beanpole’s got a lot of physical maturing to do, but with so many quality defenders in the organization, getting a project with his potential payoff is appealing. Unlike a lot of other clubs, Boston actually has the luxury of time.

Hot read: “Converted center has excellent mobility and puck skills from the back end all in a (6-foot-4) frame with huge growth potential. We like it!” — Red Line Report, February 2014

Travis Sanheim

D, Calgary (WHL), 6-3, 190 | Shoots: Left | Stock: Up

Big (6-foot-3), rangy blueliner has a booming shot and some untapped offensive potential. With Johnny Boychuk having become a key contributor in Boston, could the B’s go back to JB’s old junior club for a player of similar style/substance? He might have played himself into a top-20 draft selection at the world under-18 tourney in Finland last April, but he’s worth tracking as a two-way defender with offensive potential and some jam.

Hot read: “Uses his feet and reach to eat up loose pucks quickly all over the ice, also great in transition. Offensive tools: a heavy shot and solid distribution through the seams developed rapidly as season progressed. Two-way game is headed straight up, and he could challenge Haydn Fleury down the road as the best WHL defender from this class.” – Mark Staudinger, WHL and Western Canada scout, Red Line Report

Jakub Vrana

LW, Linkoping (Sweden) 6-0, 176 | Shoots: Left | Stock: Up

Czech native playing in Sweden is an ultra-skilled winger who can play either side and brings some flash and a potentially high ceiling with him. His overall game is lacking, and like many youngsters his age with average size, he’s got significant physical maturation ahead before he can compete for an NHL spot. He’s not without warts, mainly in his tendency to disappear for long stretches of time, but if the B’s are looking for speed and production, Vrana provides it. The problem is, he might no longer be an option at 25 after an outstanding spring showing.

Hot read: “Vrana has probably put himself into the top 20 with his performance in Finland (at the U18 tourney). He’s got some real flash to his game, and I think there’s a lot more interest in him than what you hear about. ” —  NHL scout, Eastern Conference

Nick Schmaltz

C, Green Bay (USHL), 6-0, 170 | Shoots: Right  | Stock: Down

The good news is that this slick, skilled pivot is one of the most gifted scorers in the 2014 lottery. The downside? Schmaltz has had scouts shaking their heads at his uneven effort levels and at times lackadaisical play. When the younger brother of Blues prospect Jordan is on his game, he is a dominant offensive talent and power-play ace who can score at will, but the questions about his heart/drive are driving his stock down. If a team thinks it can motivate him to become more consistent, then he’s worth a late swing-for-the-fences gamble in the opening round.

Hot read: “Schmaltz can do things with the puck very few others can, but he doesn’t play hard, and that’s been a red flag for him. He’s one of those guys where you can see that he oozes offensive talent and is a good kid, but does not always bring his best on every shift, leaving you with more questions than answers. If he figures it out, he could be a star in this league, or he might never even come close.” — NHL scout, Western Conference

Bruins’ later-round options

Shane Gersich | C, U.S. NTDP | North Dakota recruit has excellent speed, stick and is a real demon in puck pursuit, yet he is barely talked about in scouting circles. Everything about Gersich screams Boston Bruins-type player except his size (5-11, 175), but with this Minnesota native’s energy and smarts, he’d be a fine addition to the organization.

Andreas Englund | D, Djurgarden (Sweden, Jr.) | Mean, physical 6-foot-3 Swede plays a North American style and likes to line opponents up for killshots. He’s not especially skilled, but for a team that has found value in defenders like Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller, Englund is cut from the same cloth.

Logan Halladay | G, Janesville (NAHL) | If there was ever a long-range goalie project to spend a top-90 pick on, it’s this kid. With nice size at 6-foot-2, he’s shown some lively athletic talent, and is easily the best puckhandling goalie in the draft. Halladay is almost criminally underrated, but we have no doubt some NHL clubs are onto him, and he could be the Anthony Stolarz of the 2014 draft as a player with real potential who will go off the board as early as the second round.

Anton Karlsson | RW, Frolunda (Sweden) | A year ago, this rugged Swedish winger was drawing comparisons to Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog, but an uneven season coupled with indifferent play at times has dropped his stock. Still, Karlsson has the kind of NHL upside and plays a style that the B’s gravitate to with his ruggedness and finesse, depending on the situation.

Johnathan MacLeod | D (Dracut, Mass.), U.S. NTDP (USHL) | The Bruins love physical shutdown defenders with character, and this BU-bound Bay State native is one of the best in class. Whether he’ll land in the early second round or fall a little lower than that is up for debate.

Hunter Smith | RW, Oshawa (OHL) | Huge (6-foot-7, 220) and nasty ’95 winger showed tremendous improvement this season and raised the bar in the OHL playoffs as a key performer for Oshawa (11 points in 12 games). If nothing else, Smith would be a fan favorite in Boston for his fighting skills and grit, but his skating is still a major work in progress.

Lucas Wallmark | C, Lulea (Sweden) | Skipped a year ago in Newark largely over concerns about his skating, the slick Swede has shown enough improvement, along with creativity and production to match. NHL clubs won’t get fooled again.

This article originally appeared in the June edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.

Twitter: @kluedeke29

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