FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — David Pastrnak is the goal. With the Bruins tight against the salary cap, the NHL Draft looms as a beacon, a fix, a way to add talent on short salaries, with the No. 14 pick as the jewel for a team in need of speed and skill and puck movement, all of which Pastrnak provided last season.
That is, if the Bruins don’t trade the pick, with general manager Don Sweeney saying in recent days that he has his “ears wide open” with regard to moving up or down in the draft.
As for Pastrnak, the Bruins selected him with the No. 25 pick in 2014, his possible production just a glimmer in the eye of Bruins management. It turned out better than they could have hoped, with Pastrnak contributing 10 goals and 17 assists this past season, all while being paid on an entry-level contract.
And if the Bruins can strike gold again, replicating Pastrnak, it will have been a master stroke. It also is not likely.
“I think David’s a great indicator that anywhere in the draft — and as deep as the draft is — I think you can find guys that will surprise you,” Sweeney said. “And I think we feel very comfortable that there’s going to be a tremendous player at 14 and throughout the draft.
“I think the draft is deep and I think the first round is very exciting for everybody to be anticipating making choices.”
Exciting and tantalizing, especially for a team that could use another high-skill, low-salary player to provide some relief under the cap, which has been set at $71.4 million for 2015-16. The Bruins have $59,841,667 committed to 15 players for 2015-16, not including Marc Savard.
So reasonably priced replacements for departed players and holes in the lineup would be a significant boost. That’s where the team’s first-round draft choice comes in.
“There’s always going to be a selfish component involved with improving your team,” Sweeney said. “So I think that’s the natural reaction for all of us as members of the management group to say, ‘Well, who can impact our team in relatively short term?’
“Obviously, David Pastrnak jumped in and we didn’t necessarily think that [would happen], so sometimes there are surprises.”
While some GMs have the luxury of depth, some do not. Those with depth in their systems can draft for need. Other times, as Sweeney put it, “it’s a competitive business, performance related, that you want to be able to have players that can impact your lineup as soon as possible.”
But is that in the cards for the Bruins?
Taking a look at the last 20 years of NHL Drafts, the No. 14 pick has yielded some impressive talent. But most of that talent took a few years to develop, with just a single player having played more than two games in the same year in which he was drafted.
That was Dmitry Kulikov, who played 68 games in 2009-10 after being selected by the Florida Panthers at No. 14. And although there have been plenty of other productive NHL players taken at that spot, only a handful have played a significant amount of games in even their first three seasons after being drafted.
Over those 20 years, the No. 14 pick has yielded players such as Jay McKee and Marty Reasoner, Chuck Kobasew and Brent Seabrook, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jaden Schwartz, and Zemgus Girgensons. It has also yielded Patrick Desrochers and Sasha Pokulok, the latter picked by the Capitals in 2005, who was the only No. 14 pick over the last 20 years to never play an NHL game, other than last year’s selection by Dallas, Julius Honka.
|Draft year||Draft pick||Team||NHL debut||Games in draft year||Games 1 year out||Games 2 years out||Games in first 3 years||Career NHL games|
|2010||Jaden Schwartz||St. Louis||3/17/2012||0||7||45||52||207|
|1999||Jeff Jillson||San Jose||10/4/2001||0||0||48||48||140|
|1996||Marty Reasoner||St. Louis||10/10/1998||0||0||22||22||798|
That doesn’t mean the Bruins won’t be able to find immediate help in the first round, but the odds aren’t in their favor. Of the 30 players selected in the first round last season, six played at least one game in the NHL this past season, including Pastrnak.
Only two of those were selected after the No. 4 pick (No. 11 Kevin Fiala, Pastrnak) and only three (Aaron Ekblad, Leon Draisaitl, Pastrnak) played more than 10 games in the NHL.
But this year’s draft does boast deeper-than-average talent. That’s partly why Sweeney has listened to talk about moving the No. 14 pick.
“When opportunity presents itself with current players or picks that we can improve our club, I’m going to do that,” he said. “That is absolutely what I want to continue to do.”
But Sweeney will have to build a contending roster with two handicaps: not much wiggle room under the cap, and not nearly enough of the speed and skill the current NHL requires.
The draft, which starts on Friday, is the first place he can try to correct both issues.
“Any time you can integrate a player on an entry-level deal, I think it has a real good impact on certainly your cap situation,” said Sweeney, “but I think [also] your team and your building philosophy going forward.”