In a little more than two weeks (June 27-28), the NHL’s 32 teams will meet in Nashville to divvy up the best and brightest 17- and 18-year-olds available in the annual amateur draft at Bridgestone Arena.
If all goes according to the prognosticators, the Blackhawks will reset their franchise with presumptive No. 1 pick Connor Bedard, and then it will be left to No. 2 Anaheim and No. 3 Columbus to sort out centers Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson.
“I don’t know if it will be exactly the way people are sizing it up,” said Ryan Nadeau, who is about to oversee his first draft for the Bruins as director of amateur scouting. “Bedard’s obviously the clear-cut No. 1. And you’ve got the [Matvei] Michkov monkey wrench that could be thrown in there. Certainly, Fantilli and Carlsson hit a lot of pro marks, in terms of size, and both project to be centers, and that’s hard to find.”
Michkov, a slick Russian right winger, for many months drew raves as a potential No. 1 pick, right there with Bedard, only to have his stock slip while playing this season in the KHL for St. Petersburg and Sochi. Bedard settled all issues over the No. 1 spot when he blew out the World Junior tournament with his 9-14–23 line across seven games. Michkov, though, still could factor in picks, say, 2-5, though more likely 6-10.
The draft is some science and often an equal amount of guesswork, all of it attached to a wing on one side, a prayer on the other.
The Bruins this year are short on draft capital, holding only five picks, the first not until the third round (No. 92). Such is the consequence of taking a concerted stab at the trade deadline(s) to win the Cup, including this season that had general manager Don Sweeney bringing in Tyler Bertuzzi, Dmitry Orlov, and Garnet Hathaway. The moves were targeted and prudent, no matter if the execution come playoff time fell 13 wins and a million blocks short of a duck boat parade.
Nadeau, Sweeney, and a substantial collection of Bruins scouts and athletic performance staff were in Buffalo this past week for the annual NHL Combine. The eye candy of the event is always, and fittingly, watching the draft prospects (the 2005 birthdays this time around) go through their off-ice paces, biking and lifting and jumping all over the gym, providing clubs with more analytics to dissect and digest as the draft approaches.
Then there’s the far more nuanced, and possibly more significant, interview process conducted by the vast majority of clubs that meet one-on-one with the players. According to Nadeau, who wrapped up Friday, the Bruins met with some 75 of the prospects for one-on-ones, each lasting upward of 25 minutes. That number represents nearly one-third of all picks that will be made in Nashville. It’s a high number of so-called “up close and personals,” but again, the Bruins’ projected picks stand to be later and fewer than most.
Unless, of course, Sweeney gets creative and adds draft capital, particularly high in the order. That’s always a possibility, but perhaps more so this time, with Sweeney potentially motivated by the club’s dearth of picks and the presumption that he’ll need to move a varsity contract or two in order to be cap compliant with a league payroll ceiling expected to lift by only $1 million to $83.5 million for 2023-24.
As of Friday, Nadeau left Buffalo focused on his crew prepping a “tight board,” one identifying the potential five picks, while also ready to react if Sweeney adds stock higher on the board. Thus, the 75 interviews with players, most, if not all, of whom will be wearing different NHL dry goods (No. 23 on each sweater) by the time the Bruins make their first pick.
“Connor Bedard’s not stopping by our room,” Nadeau kidded a reporter Thursday, noting it would be pointless for the Bruins to meet one on one with the players projected to go high in Round 1. “I think I could safely say to Donny, ‘If he’s there when we pick, we’ll pick him.’ ”
Then there’s the Brad Marchand factor, the part of the draft process that really is the raison d’etre of all amateur scouts and the effort that goes into sizing up players who are typically the age of a graduating high school senior.
“All of this is so you feel you know everything you can about the kids,” said Nadeau, referring to the testing and interview process. “But can you ever really know everything?”
Not a chance. Proof: Marchand’s 2006 draft year, in which he went No. 71, the third round, the same round the Bruins will call their first name in Nashville.
Prior to culling the unknown Marchand from the Moncton Wildcats, the Bruins that June selected Phil Kessel (5), Yuri Alexandrov (27), and Milan Lucic (50). Kessel and Lucic have enjoyed successful, highly lucrative careers. Alexandrov, a defenseman, played a single season for AHL Providence, but ultimately returned to Russia for a lengthy career. In fact, he played this season for Sochi, where the aforementioned Michkov played 27 games. Hockey, a small rink.
No one in the Bruins organization projected Marchand as the guy who would roll up 100 points in the 2018-19 season, or the guy who now has 372 career goals and 862 points. Much of the same could be said for sure-shot Hall of Famer Patrice Bergeron, claimed at No. 45 in the 2003 draft, who came well in the wake of No. 21 Mark Stuart.
Those later picks, those that turn out to be diamonds cut from the draft’s coals, are what keep Nadeau and his counterparts across the league forever sifting the Combine numbers, the video, and the interview transcripts.
Setting aside individual skill sets, noted Nadeau, the factors of determination and dedication to their craft played a huge part in Marchand and Bergeron succeeding. The trick for scouts and directors of player personnel is to determine if the player in front of them on draft day understands that determination and dedication are skills that often transcend skate, shoot, and check, play along the boards, play with and without the puck.
In the end, it all factors in what makes a player, but possibly it’s the mind that matters most.
“They’re productive in different ways, driving the bus,” said Nadeau, asked what the Marchand and Bergeron career arcs offer as guidance in making picks. “To go back and look at a lot of players who’ve been successful, one of the biggest X-factors is just how determined they are, just how driven they are to overcome whatever’s thrown their way, whatever adversity comes at them, and they’re just going to keep working, keep trying to get better. Both Bergy and Marchy are just unbelievable examples of doing whatever they can to continue to get better. Even to this day.”
The vast majority of the 224 players who’ll be claimed in Nashville, of course, won’t be able to reckon all that was involved for Marchand and Bergeron to become NHLers. Thus far, they’ve attained a certain amount of success separating themselves from kids their age, be it by skill, speed, strength, or simply youthful enthusiasm. Over the next weeks or years, they’ll learn they’ve selected a career, though framed in fun and games, which demands a work commitment most yet are incapable of understanding.
“Right, and I don’t know that Patrice or Brad knew it either at that point in time,” said Nadeau. “Certainly both of them were driven and motivated. But as you move up and your peer group kind of changes, say from midget to major junior or prep school or college team, you keep realizing, ‘Wow, I thought I was working hard, I thought I was really driven to do this, but these guys are even more driven than everyone else.’ You know, it’s a process and the guys that embrace the process, the grind, and the love to do it, they’re the ones that reach the potential we see, and sometimes go beyond.”
THE VEGAS EXPERIENCE
Goalies having time of their lives
The Golden Knights could be crowned champs despite going exclusively with a pair of journeyman goalies who entered the postseason with less than a half-hour’s postseason experience.
Adin Hill, Vegas’s chosen keeper of late, entered Saturday’s Game 4 vs. Florida with a 9-4 record this postseason. Hill, 27, has been sensational in the last two series, making a number of acrobatic stops reminiscent of Tim Thomas during Boston’s glorious 2011 Cup run.
Hill previously hadn’t seen a single minute of playoff action, eight years after being the No. 76 pick by Arizona in the 2015 draft.
By contrast, Laurent Brossoit, 5-2 in the Knights’ early postseason going, was the seasoned Cup vet with the 27 minutes he logged for the Oilers in the 2017 playoffs. Brossoit, 30, became coach Bruce Cassidy’s chosen playoff starter after Jonathan Quick posted rather ordinary numbers following his deadline acquisition from the Kings. An injury forced Brossoit to cede the net to Hill.
All of this in a season that began with an unknown and undrafted goaltender, Logan Thompson, winning the No. 1 job out of training camp and putting up strong numbers in the first half. But a 1-4 stretch by Thompson in January led Cassidy to look deeper down the depth chart — Voila Hill and Brossoit — and then also add Quick, the UMass product, as insurance.
The Avalanche won the Cup a year ago backed by Darcy Kuemper (10-4) and Pavel Francouz (6-0), and while not considered elite stoppers, they at least had combined for 24 games of playoff experience prior to the Cup run.
The playoffs are typically no country for journeymen. Not so this year in Vegas.
Tight cap leads to roster headaches
Now six weeks post their abrupt Round 1 departure, the Bruins have yet to announce any significant contract extensions or make a trade. No rush, of course, with the 2023-24 season opener four months away and clubs allowed to run payroll 10 percent over the max up to opening night.
A couple of signings elsewhere in recent days, one as part of a New Jersey-Columbus sign-and-trade, could offer some guidance as to what general manager Don Sweeney could do here in the Hub of Hockey.
First, in Los Angeles, the Kings on Wednesday tied up blue liner Vladislav Gavrikov for two more years at $5.875 million per. Gavrikov, 27, came to the Kings from Columbus at the March trade deadline, and is of an age and profile that he routinely could see an offer of five years or more at around, say, $8 million.
But again, keep in mind that cap money is tight this year, something expected to loosen up, possibly to something close to $90 million by the start of 2025-26.
The Bruins don’t have a pending high-profile UFA in his late 20s that they’re likely to keep. But they do have pending RFA goalie Jeremy Swayman. It’s possible Swayman will be the No. 1 next season, if Sweeney feels the need to move Linus Ullmark’s $5 million cap hit off the books. Meanwhile, Swayman is in a position to request an extension of 4-5 years. But with cap money so tight, and the Bruins really up against the ceiling, maybe a two-year “bridge” deal at a decent number ($3 million) will prove to be Swayman’s landing spot.
Meanwhile, the Devils pulled off a sign-and-trade Friday with UFA-to-be Damon Severson, tying up the blue liner for eight years and $50 million and then wheeling him to the Blue Jackets (plugging the Gavrikov roster hole). The modest return for the Devils: a third-round draft pick. Not much, but better than watching Severson walk July 1 for nothing in return.
The Bruins have Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitry Orlov as pending high-profile UFAs. Like Severson, they would be allowed to sign only seven-year deals with clubs other than Boston. With a trade partner willing to go to eight years, and with the player agreeing, Sweeney could sign one or both to max term length and receive a pick or two in return. Again, a fairly humble return, but the Bruins can use picks, and anything is better than seeing assets walk for nothing in return.
The Canadiens, who own the No. 5 pick in the draft, tied up a core piece with Monday’s eight-year extension of Cole Caufield. With all of 84 career points, the speedy right winger agreed to a $7.85 million cap hit over the next eight years. The Habs are getting there, incrementally, and GM Kent Hughes might have to consider surrendering the No. 5 pick if one of the 10-12 clubs hard up against the cap offers an overpayment in terms of legit NHL players under contract. An impact forward and defenseman could help lift Les Glorieux back into legit wild-card contention. Keep in mind, they are now 30 years past their last Cup title and have been playoff DNQs the last two seasons and four of the last six . . . Despite having your faithful puck chronicler for one of his segments, ex-Bruin Ted Donato had a successful inaugural season of “Ted Talks,” his all-hockey, all-the-time talk show on WATD 95.9 FM. Some of the guest list has included NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, new Players Association boss Marty Walsh, Harry Sinden, Derek Sanderson, and others. Donato, 54, also known as Ryan Donato’s dad, is closing in on 20 years as bench boss of the Harvard men’s varsity. Not sure he could be coaxed out of Allston-Cambridge, but he has the demeanor and experience to handle an NHL bench . . . As for late-in-coaching-life chances, kudos to ex-Northeastern coach Greg Cronin, of the Arlington Cronins, for finally landing his first top job, behind the Ducks bench. Cronin, who just turned 60, did a solid job in his six seasons (2005-11) with the Huskies, before going back into the NHL as an assistant with the Maple Leafs. He spent the last five seasons with AHL Colorado and was a candidate in Boston a year ago before the Bruins hired Jim Montgomery as Briuce Cassidy’s replacement . . . The Flames, Blue Jackets, and Rangers have yet to make public their picks for a new coach, though it’s a fait accompli that Mike Babcock, still collecting his final dollars from his Leafs megacontract, will be the Blue Jackets’ pick . . . If the Coyotes move, sense around the league is that Salt Lake may be as much of a contender as Houston as the next home for the nomadic desert dogs . . . Daniel Briere pulled off his first major trade as Flyers GM, shipping top backliner Ivan Provorov to Columbus in a three-way trade with Los Angeles. Prime assets to Philadelphia were goalie Cal Petersen and defenseman Sean Walker. From here, that feels all kinds of sideways, which has become a Broad Street tradition of late. Provorov, by the way, was the No. 7 pick in the 2015 draft, the same year Columbus took Zach Werenski, their franchise blue liner, at No. 8.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.