The 2014-15 season saw the Boston Bruins miss the playoffs for the first time in eight years. The club’s subpar performance led to the dismissal of general manager Peter Chiarelli and consequently the installation of former Bruins defenseman Don Sweeney into the role. While head coach Claude Julien and his staff have been reassured that their jobs are safe, the Bruins are closer to a rebuild than they are to contending for a championship. Bruins fans and front office personnel alike can only hope that the upcoming draft provides an opportunity for retooling on the fly rather than starting completely from scratch.
Under Chiarelli, the hallmark of the Bruins has been the team’s depth, so there are still some well-defined and emerging leaders within the club’s nucleus beyond aging team captain Zdeno Chara. That leadership can be found in the crease with Tuukka Rask, and on the blue-line with Dennis Seidenberg and restricted free-agent Dougie Hamilton. Add that to a group of forwards that features stalwarts Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Carl Soderberg and Milan Lucic, all of whom are still in their 20s.
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The aforementioned Chara looks to finally be slowing down now that he is 38 years old. Though Chara’s stature and physical presense are still effective in taking away time and space from opponents, as the saying goes in sports, father time is undefeated. The team will eventually need a young blueliner to evolve and fill the void. While the organization is likely pinning those hopes on a future star like Hamilton, he does appear to be a good candidate for an offer sheet this summer—so his return to Boston is far from a shoe-in. That said, finding another Zdeno Chara is a once in a generation feat on draft day, which means the Bruins are most likely to focus on filling other needs, mainly that of finding a future top forward who can provide some scoring punch.
Boston’s biggest strength lies between the pipes. Tuukka Rask was billed as a blue-chip prospect in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization not too long ago, and when the Bruins decided that the now-retired Tim Thomas needed a young up-and-coming prospect to challenge him in the crease, Rask lived up to his billing. While he has been unable to backstop the Bruins to a Stanley Cup, he is definitely the real deal. Even if Rask should eventually decide to leave Boston, the organization can rest easy knowing that Malcom Subban, widely considered a top goaltending prospect among league scouts, appears ready to make a permanent jump to the NHL in 2015-16. Subban’s development is reassuring in light of the fact Niklas Svedberg left the team earlier this spring in favor of the KHL.
Another strength the Bruins possess is the advantage of depth and experience at the forward position. All of the team’s key cogs are still in their late 20s and have their prime years remaining to live out. Krejci, Lucic, Marchand and Bergeron are familiar with Julien’s system and they are seasoned enough to understand their roles—yet still young enough to carry the team on a nightly basis. Leadership and depth certainly won’t be a problem in Boston, at least when it comes to what is happening up front.
Though consistency and experience are available by the truckload, it is in the skill level and upside department where the team is weakest. In the last number of years, the team has tried to remedy its issues with goal scoring. The Bruins managed to squeeze 30 goals out of an aging Jarome Iginla in 2013-14, but with him departing in favor of a long-term deal with the Colorado Avalanche last year, the team has not found a replacement. Loui Eriksson, who was acquired by the team in exchange for Tyler Seguin two seasons ago, will not be able to fill the void left by Iginla or Seguin.
Another area that needs improvement is the blue line. The team has to start focusing on finding Chara’s eventual replacement, even if his retirement is still a few years away. Although few expect Hamilton to leave even if he does sign an offer sheet, there is a chance that the young Torey Krug could become the team’s most talented option on defense. If the worst case scenario should come to fruition in Boston, Joe Morrow would be the next prospect climbing up the ranks to make it to the big show.
The Bruins’ first few years under Chiarelli yielded little in the way of draft picks that actually saw action at the NHL level, but he did make the team look good for hiring him back in 2006. That year, the club selected Phil Kessel, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic, all of whom became household names as part of the team’s core, with the exception of Kessel of course who would later be dealt to Toronto.
Over the last four years, the Bruins have focused a large portion of their picks in North America and the CHL, with an emphasis on drafting forwards. It appears the team is aiming for a good mix of both size and skill in its future, and while no picks have been used on a goaltender in each of the last two drafts, the team may be poised to use a later round pick on one this year with Subban appearing poised to become a full-time backup.
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14. Kyle Connor, C, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
Connor is currently committed to playing for the University Of Michigan for the 2015-16 season, so to say the least, he’s likely a few years away from the NHL spotlight. Such is the reality for players that go the college route. That said, his skills are undeniable and by the time this young graduate of the USHL’s Youngstown Phantom reaches his full potential, he could be a mainstay on one of the team’s top lines.
Connor finished his final junior season with 34 goals, 46 assists and 80 points, numbers that he piled up thanks to his ability to accelerate quickly and stickhandle in full stride. By the time the NHL version of him reveals itself to the world, Connor will likely earn his living as a two-way player with some offensive upside. He is a well-rounded talent that can be counted on in all facets of the game whether it means killing a penalty, chipping in offensively on the powerplay, or battling it out at even strength.
If there is one area of his game that requires improvement, it is Connor’s strength–a common issue among many prospects. With a strong work ethic and commitment to physical fitness, the sky is the limit for Connor. Considering some compare him to Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, the Bruins would be happy to select this young gun on draft day.