June 19, 2012

From NEHJ: Bruins searching for depth

By Kirk Luedeke

You’ll have to forgive the Boston Bruins for being a little spoiled when it comes to the NHL Entry Draft on June 22-23 in Pittsburgh.

Over the past two years, general manager Peter Chiarelli and his staff enjoyed the best of both worlds. In 2010, by virtue of the trade that sent Phil Kessel to Toronto, they watched the Maple Leafs tank and hand over the second overall selection in the form of Tyler Seguin. Last June, the Black and Gold celebrated the team’s first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years by grabbing top OHL defenseman Dougie Hamilton a week later with the second of two first-rounders (along with OHL winger Jared Knight as a second-round pick in 2010) to complete the trade originally made in September 2009.

This year, with the Bruins back near the top of the regular-season standings, the prospect of not having a pick inside the top 10 presents a greater challenge for Boston’s management team and scouts.

In his second full season as the Bruins’ assistant director of amateur scouting and sixth year in the organization, Scott Fitzgerald (Wilmington, Mass.) recently talked about what the team is facing later this month.

 “With the Toronto picks, we had to worry about both ends of the spectrum (of the first round),” he told New England Hockey Journal. “As this season went on, we focused more on a group of players we think will be there in the area we’re picking.”

Scouts and analysts do not see the 2012 class as a particularly deep one, although there is a pretty good population of defensemen available compared to the forwards. There are some goalies projected as early selections as well, but overall, this isn’t a bad year to be without second- and fourth-round picks, as the Bruins are.

“That is the talk — the depth and strength of the draft isn’t what it was,” Fitzgerald said when asked about 2012 from top to bottom. “The thing is, when you look at it in 10 years, you might see the same number of guys playing in the NHL. These kids are just 17 or 18 years old, and you just don’t know how they are going to turn out.”

Fitzgerald went on to add that some players look like NHLers at an earlier age, while others take a longer time to develop. Players who aren’t projected as first-rounders in their draft year go on to outplay some taken well ahead of them eventually.

“Look at Keith Yandle,” he said of the Milton, Mass., product and Phoenix Coyotes defenseman. “He was a fourth-round pick from Cushing Academy, but when the dust settled, he went to Moncton (QMJHL), became the CHL Defenseman of the Year and is an NHL All-Star now.”

Just one year removed from a league title after a disappointing first-round exit at the hands of the upstart Washington Capitals, the Bruins have a chance to continue to build organizational depth. The B’s can address several needs at defense and on the wings, even if these picks may take some time to assert themselves.

POSSIBLE BRUINS’ TOP SELECTIONS:

Slater Koekkoek

Position: Defense

Team: Peterborough (OHL)

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 185 pounds

Shoots: Left

The skinny: A shoulder injury knocked the former Notre Dame Academy (Saskatchewan) standout out of action for the rest of the season in late November. If not for that, there is a good chance that Koekkoek (pronounced Koo-Koo) would be established in the draft’s top 10. As it stands, the two-way defender with no glaring flaws in his game may be gone inside the top 15. If he lasts to the Bruins at No. 24, then he’s a no-brainer as a player who brings both skill and leadership to the mix.

The buzz: “His potential was hurt a little more than some of the other top guys who were injured because Koekkoek is a little more of a wild card. He has very good offensive skills and showed last year he could be the top guy on a bad team. It would have been nice to see what he could do over an entire season in Peterborough, and I thought he was a little inconsistent before the injury ended his year.” — NHL scout, Western Conference

Ludvig Bystrom

Position: Defense

Team: MoDo (SEL)

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 208 pounds

Shoots: Left

The skinny: The mobile, intelligent defender with a solid and compact build made a splash at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in August and then played his way onto the MoDo pro team during the season. He’s still a work in progress as a player who at times struggles with decision-making and turnovers. However, Bystrom’s talent and effort levels mark him as a project player who is good at puck retrieval and steady enough with some offensive upside on which to invest a first-round pick.

The buzz: “I really liked him last August, and I give him credit for making the elite league roster. He was just OK for me during the season, but I think when you look at his smooth skating and complete body of work, he could turn out to be a solid No. 2 or 3 someday.” — NHL scout, Eastern Conference

Brady Skjei

Position: Defense

Team: U.S. NTDP (USHL)

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 200 pounds

Shoots: Left

The skinny: One of the best skating defensemen in the draft, the Minnesota native and Golden Gophers recruit was a member of Team USA’s fourth consecutive gold medal squad at the World Under-18 tournament in April. Skjei’s size, mobility and work ethic are attractive to every NHL team, but several scouts have questioned his hockey sense and ultimate upside.

The buzz: “He’s a real rink rat and great guy in the locker room. He improved his defensive play this season and has a big stick; such a good skater and great kid.” — Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.), U.S. NTDP teammate

Phil Di Giuseppe

Position: Left wing

Team: University of Michigan (CCHA)

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 190 pounds

Shoots: Left

The skinny: Impact freshman is a scoring winger with good speed, hands and offensive instincts. Although he hit a midseason slump, the Ontario native is an underrated forward in a draft that doesn’t offer a lot of depth up front. If there isn’t a skilled defender to be had at No. 24 and this accurate shooter is available, he’s worth taking a flier on. Di Giuseppe could improve his three-zone game going forward with the Wolverines.

The buzz: “He’s a nice skater and solid two-way forward. Just a good player with the potential to get better.” — NHL scout, Eastern Conference

Tom Wilson

Position: Right wing

Team: Plymouth (OHL)

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 204 pounds

Shoots: Right

The skinny: Nasty, in-your-face power winger has drawn myriad comparisons to Milan Lucic. Wilson’s skating is better than Lucic in his draft year, but his puck skills and scoring instincts aren’t as refined. A feared open-ice hitter who will drop the gloves with anyone at any time, Wilson looked like a safe bet to be on the board when the Bruins pick until he had an outstanding playoff run with the Whalers (7 goals, 13 points in 13 games).

The buzz: “I’m not sold on Wilson’s skills, but he’s going to be a first-round pick because he’s so damn tough. He creates a lot of space for his linemates and is a character kid. Put him with the right guys at the next level and he could be effective.” — NHL scout, Western Conference

Scott Laughton

Position: Center

Team: Oshawa (OHL)

Height: 6-foot-0

Weight: 180 pounds

Shoots: Left

The skinny: Unheralded center can do a little bit of everything. His stock took off after being one of Canada’s top players at April’s World Under-18 Championship. Although only average-sized, he brings other Bruins attributes to the table such as quickness, smarts, tenacity, spirit and versatiliy. His regular-season production with the Generals was nothing to write home about, but Laughton could just be scratching the surface of what he could be offensively. Watch for a big jump in his OHL numbers next season and beyond as he gets stronger.

The buzz: “He’s another two-way guy who works hard and is involved in the play all over the ice. He doesn’t back down and is always in the scrums. He’s a good teammate who sticks up for his players.” — NHL scout, Eastern Conference

Brendan Gaunce

Position: Center

Team: Belleville (OHL)

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 212 pounds

Shoots: Left

The skinny: Good size and strength, but he lacks speed and mobility. Effective two-way center who works hard and has a solid grasp of the game. Older brother, Cameron, was the 50th overall selection of the Colorado Avalanche in 2008 and has increased his own speed/agility since turning pro. Crashes the net and has a big, heavy shot that he used effectively to the tune of 28 goals this season. Brings all of the traits the Boston Bruins covet except for the skating but has a powerful stride, so there is room for improvement.

The buzz: “Gaunce is big, skilled and strong down low. He may not be a great skater, but he does have the ability to make others around him better.”
— NHL scout, Western Conference

Scott Kosmachuk

Position: Right wing

Team: Guelph (OHL)

Height: 6-foot-0

Weight: 185 pounds

Shoots: Right

The skinny: After scoring 30 goals in his draft year while showing off some grit and toughness, Kosmachuk is one of those guys who polarizes scouts. He plays a high-energy style, but some wonder if he’s a natural scorer or one of those players who is productive at the lower levels more because of his hard work.

The buzz: “Kosmachuk is a hard-nosed player who works hard and plays the game the right way. He plays with a lot of energy and compete (level). He’s very active on the forecheck and finds a way to make plays.” — NHL scout, Eastern Conference

Sleepers

Jimmy Vesey (North Reading, Mass.), LW, South Shore (EJHL) — The Harvard recruit’s hockey sense, offensive skill level and improved strength/conditioning could push him into the top 60 picks, but he’d be a steal in the late third, where the Bruins are picking. See more on Vesey, Page 20.

Anthony Stolarz, G, Corpus Christi (NAHL) — Huge (6-foot-5, 200 pounds), talented and mentally tough. New Jersey native came established himself as Central’s No. 4 North American goalie after being 20th at midseason.

Chris Tierney, C, London (OHL) — Unheralded and underrated after being buried on the Knights’ fourth line for much of the year. Helped lead the Knights to their first OHL championship and Memorial Cup appearance since 2005.

James Melindy, D, Moncton (QMJHL) — With his size, mobility and two-way potential, this defender should be in more draft discussions than he is. Flying under the radar as the kind of player every team is looking to steal in the later rounds.

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Kirk Luedeke covers the NHL draft and New England’s draft prospects for New England Hockey Journal. Read his blog, Kirk’s Call, at hockeyjournal.com.

Twitter: @kluedeke29 

Email: kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com