The Boston Bruins are in the enviable position of selecting in the top-10 for the second consecutive year despite being a Stanley Cup contender each of the two seasons. While last year’s selection of Tyler Seguin with the second overall pick was seemingly inevitable, the Bruins will go into this draft with a significantly larger first-round big board! While I don’t profess to be psychic I’ll take a stab at the potential picks the B’s might target in the first round. The following list is not a mock draft, but rather my opinion on which draft-eligible prospects the Bruins would prefer to select in the draft, in descending order from least desirable to most desirable talents. Enjoy!
Numbers 16-20, the Mark Stuart Division
There is an outside chance that the Bruins trade down from the ninth pick if the guy they wanted isn’t available and they’re not much higher on Hamilton, Zibanejad or Strome (or whoever falls to ninth) than the players available in the high teens and twenties. I wouldn’t bet on it unless a team makes a ludicrous offer.
20. Jamie Oleksiak, D (Northeastern, H-EAST) – Big, big defenseman clocking in at 6’7 and 240lbs. Oleksiak will undoubtedly make it to the NHL because of his physical tools. If the Bruins think he has more upside and offensive potential than being a huge and mobile shutdown defender, I could see them trading with Edmonton at 19 to try to pick him up.
19. Boone Jenner, C (Oshawa, OHL) – Great hockey sense and work ethic from this youngster make him one of the more difficult to gauge players at the draft. On the one hand, he’s not an overtly talented skater or dazzling with the puck, but on the other, he’s one of those guys who is a force on the ice with what’s been described as an incredible will to win. If the B’s trade down below 20 (however unlikely that prospect is) he’s one of a few players that will be on their radar. If he’s around at 40, I’d be extremely shocked if the Bruins didn’t gobble him up.
18. Duncan Siemens, D (Saskatoon, WHL) – Duncan is a tough and strong defensive d-man prototype who might have a decent bit of offensive upside. While I love his playstyle and willingness to drop his gloves to protect teammates, I don’t like drafting defense-first players in the first two thirds of the first round, if they drop past 15, the Bruins might look at this low-risk selection who would immediately shore up the Bruins defensive prospect pool.
17. Matt Puempel, LW (Peterborough, OHL) – A guy I’ve liked for the Bruins since before the season, Puempel has a professional shot and projects to be a sniping winger at the next level, something Boston sorely wants though he’s probably a year or more away. Regardless, two consecutive thirty-plus goal seasons puts him in a lot of teams sights and he could go anywhere from eleventh to twenty-fifth.
16. Jonas Brodin, D (Farjestads BK, SEL) – I rarely hear the word ‘cerebral’ used when describing young players, but I’ve heard it twice in descriptions of Swedish blueliner Jonas Brodin. He may not be the most dynamic player, but he’s an effective puck mover who is undoubtedly on the Bruins’ radar. Since he’s already playing against men for Farjestads BK in the Swedish Elite League he could be a very desirable commodity come draft day.
Numbers 11-15 the Stephane Quintal Division
All these guys are potentially on the Bruins’ radar for the ninth overall, and while none of them stand out as selections the Bruins will call to the podium in June, if a minor trade does happen and the B’s move down a few spots, they are all names you should know. If they really like Beaulieu (which is a distinct possibility), but know he’ll be available down the line, they’ll start fielding offers for #9.
15. Mark Scheifele, C (Barrie, OHL) – Tall and lanky at 6’3, 175, Scheifele was a revelation this year, skyrocketing up draft boards across the continent. Scoring 77 points in 66 games for a bad Barrie club no doubt raised his stock even more. Good playmaking ability and (eventually) good size make him a relatively safe pick, though he could just as easily fall into the early second round. If the Bruins drop into the early teens, they will probably have their eyes on someone else and would trade down further before taking Scheifele.
14. Brandon Saad, F (Saginaw, OHL) – Saad came into this year as one of the most highly-touted draft eligibles in the entire OHL, however a mediocre season has scouts a bit worried. He’s got the physical ability and size to grow into a solid power forward and certainly has a lot of potential value in the mid and late first-round.
13. Sven Bartschi F (Portland, WHL) – Talented shoot-first forward who the Bruins might even tab at 9 if they like him enough. His skating is mediocre and he acts like more of a perimeter player at times, but his upside is undeniable. He could break into the top-10 (as fellow LFHR analyst Bill Ladd has suggested) which could give the Bruins a shot at one of the “Elite Eight”.
12. Mark McNeill, C (Prince Albert, WHL) – McNeill is a big, strong pivot who opened eyes with his 80-point outburst this season with the Raiders. With great defensive play and a willingness to drop the gloves (and good pugilistic ability) he has the feel of a Bruin-type player. I could certainly see the B’s making a strong play for this talented and tough forward if they drop out of the top ten, or in the unlikely chance that he becomes available after pick twenty.
11. Nathan Beaulieu, D (Saint John, QMJHL) – Sea Dog who is a decent-sized defender with good offensive potential and excellent skating game. If Hamilton, Murphy and Larsson are off the board at nine, the Bruins will likely consider this nicely blended version of their abilities. He brings solid physical play, intelligent defending and displays a significant amount of offensive talent. Playing on such a potent and capable team might suggest he’s overrated at fifth overall in Central Scouting’s North American rankings. But considering his effectiveness in nearly all aspects of the game, I would argue that he’s a steal anywhere outside the top-10.
Numbers 7-10, the Sergei Samsonov Division
Two of these four will be available at ninth overall unless some major surprises take place in the top-eight. Worst case scenario for the Bruins is that they will have to decide between Scandinavian Studs Zibanejad and Armia, or trading back for value… not a bad scenario at all.
10. Joel Armia, RW (Porin Assat, SM-Liiga) – Skilled Finn plays a gritty style and will grow into his 6’4 frame, making him a strong contender for the Bruins’ selection at 9th overall. His great shot and skilled hands combined with his decent speed (although it seems he’s more of a north-south skater than east-west) make him a can’t-miss prospect.
9. Mika Zibanejad, F (Djurgarden, SEL) – As the consensus builds for his inclusion in the group of eight draft eligible players at the top of the draft, the Iranian-Finn has become one of the most exciting prospects. With his excellent puck handling, solid size, good shot and skating and amazing passion for the game, he has scouts drooling. His amazing move 1-on-1 against fellow 2011 prospect Adam Larsson lit up the blogosphere and brought him even further up the charts. There’s a decent chance he goes as high as fifth to the Isles, but if he falls to ninth, the Bruins will happily take him and run.
8. Dougie Hamilton, D (Niagara, OHL) – While I may not be as high on him as most prospect-watchers, I don’t deny Hamilton’s outstanding abilities and excellent potential. At his very worst, this kid is a dependable second-pairing guy with great size who plays sound two-way defense. However, in my opinion, he just doesn’t offer the high-end potential that every player ahead of him on this list provides (and a few after him for that matter). Still, if he falls to ninth, don’t be surprised if the Bruins snatch him up and take this low-risk 6’4 defender.
7. Ryan Strome, C (Niagara, OHL) – Strome is an excellent playmaker who has the vision to be a solid 1C at the next level. Not a physical player, but has decent size at 6’0 and 183. He might sneak into the top-five but don’t anticipate him going very high unless Florida GM Dave Tallon is in love with him as FLA’s center for the future. Simultaneously, I’d be surprised if he fell past Atlanta at seven… but if he does, bet on him donning a Bruins jersey at the draft.
Numbers 6-3, the Glen Wesley Division
If the B’s want any of these players to pull on a Black and Gold sweater come June, they’ll have to be lucky or move into the top-five via the trade. Nugent-Hopkins is likely going first overall, so if he’s their guy, anticipate the B’s trying to swing a deal with Edmonton (as extremely unlikely as it is…). Many people (including myself) want to see the Bruins go hard after Ryan Murphy, but though there is a chance he will fall to ninth, it is in no way a certainty.
6. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C (Red Deer, WHL) – The WHL’s premier 2011 draft eligible is this far down my list for a number of reasons. Thinking practically, there would be 3 to 4 centers ahead of him at the start of the 2011-12 season, all but one of whom are under contract for at least one following year. Additionally, his weight worries me. As one of the lightest top prospects in memory (if not the lightest) he has a lot of filling out to do, which is always a concern. Furthermore, some have described him as a perimeter player whose production is heavily weighted towards the powerplay. All that being said, RNH is arguably the most talented offensive prospect in the draft with excellent vision, off-the-charts playmaking ability and masterful hands. Any team looking to swing for the fences by selecting Nugent-Hopkins will have to do business with Edmonton who is likely salivating at drafting another talented forward. If the B’s want him badly, they will likely have to first trade into the top five (as EDM won’t be amenable to dropping much lower than third).
5. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW (Saint John, QMJHL) – A world-class talent, Huberdeau won’t likely fall past sixth and could go as high as second to the Avalanche. Huberdeau was projected in the early second round by Red Line Report as recently as this past August, but has risen due to his outstanding production – 43g, 105p. Pegged as a playmaker, his ability to score has led to his burgeoning value. If the B’s move up, he’s a great option, but I don’t see them targeting him if they decide to trade into the top-five.
4. Sean Couturier, F (Drummondville, QMJHL) – Big, talented forward who was at several points this season, the de facto top projected player by several scouting organizations. Despite falling out of the top spot, Couturier has a lot to offer as a top-5 and certainly a top-10 pick. Despite his relatively poor skating, he will pique the interest of many a GM who sees that his size and skillset are a rare find. His excellent playmaking and scoring abilities combined with intelligent 2-way play make him an incredible value anywhere outside the top-three. There is a slim chance that his stock has fallen enough to make him available even at seven or eight, but if he does get to the Bruins at nine, I don’t expect to see any deliberation in the Bruins war-room besides how his name is pronounced. Expect him to be gone by pick seven, and as early as Florida at three (though I believe he’s one of three players with an outside shot at going #1 overall).
3. Ryan Murphy, D (Kitchener, OHL) – Murphy is one of the most divisive potential draftees in all of hockey. After being an occasionally dominating force from the blue-line, producing 79 points in 63 games for the Rangers this year, many argued he was the ‘best player available’, some suggesting that he was talented enough to be selected with the first overall pick. His lack of elite size and sometimes inconsistent defensive decision-making make him a risky prospect to project. Despite the risk in drafting a defenseman of short stature highly; his puck skills (perhaps the equal of Nugent-Hopkins), shooting and high-end mobility make him difficult to pass up. In the somewhat unlikely chance he falls to ninth the Bruins will be sure to thank Brian Burke as they head to the podium. He’s projected all over the first half of the draft board, but don’t anticipate him going before NJ at 4th or after Boston. If he’s the Bruins’ guy, I implore Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli to try to make a move to get him: the Devils, Islanders and Blue Jackets could all be interested in picking him up
Numbers 1-2, the Tyler Seguin Division
These are the two players the Bruins would grab first if available. Both have relatively low risk factors and project to be standouts at the next level. To acquire either, the Bruins would likely have to trade into the top-three picks in the upcoming 2011 draft.
2. Gabriel Landeskog, F (Kitchener, OHL) – This Super Swede has all the makings of a future NHL-captain, excellent player, excellent work ethic, and excellent leadership. At 6’1, 205, he’s got the size to be a power-forward and has a nose for the net, scoring 36 times during the 2011 OHL season. His brilliant two-way play, outstanding effort and hockey sense make him a very safe pick for anyone in the top-five. If he falls, it will be because his upside is not quite as high as some of the others on this list. There’s virtually no scenario that sees him falling beyond sixth and if he drops beyond fifth I’ll be surprised. I think the Bruins want him badly but will have to pay through the nose to get to where he’s available.
1. Adam Larsson, D (Skelleftea, SEL) – Of all the players in the draft, Larsson has one of the highest upsides with a very low. Solid offensive production at the point is to be expected. He has the size and skill to play in the NHL today, especially after performing solidly in two seasons versus men in the Swedish Elite League. Worst case scenario projects him as a #2 d with good puck moving capabilities, at best he could be a perennial All-Star defender who excels in the defensive, offensive and transition games. He is gone if he drops to fourth, as NJ will spring to grab their new franchise defenseman. Of all players not named Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, he is the most likely to go #1 overall to Edmonton. I have no doubts that the Bruins want him and would likely prefer him to Murphy simply because unlike Murphy, his chance of being a washout is so low.