It isn’t very often that you see a Stanley Cup Champion head to the podium with a top-ten draft pick in the first round, but that’s exactly what happened to the Boston Bruins in Minnesota on Friday. Thanks to GM Peter Chiarelli’s shrewd dealings, the Bruins closed out the Phil Kessel trade with a potential franchise defenseman in Dougie Hamilton. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, the Bruins also selected within the top-ten of the second round without trading up.
Headed into the draft, Boston’s prospect pool was replete with depth players, middle-six forwards, and bottom-three defensemen, Tyler Seguin‘s graduation created a hole at the top of the talent pyramid though, and they lacked legitimate high-end talent, particularly on defense. There was also a lack of big body power forward types, and depth in the goaltending pipeline. The Bruins addressed these needs systematically, taking stud defenseman Dougie Hamilton, dynamic forward Alexander Khokhlachev, two power forwards in the third and fourth rounds, and closed the draft by selecting a goaltender.
The Bruins said before the draft they knew someone was going to drop, they just never thought that player would be Doug Hamilton. They were so convinced he wouldn’t be there, he didn’t even come to Boston for an interview. Going into the draft, Hamilton was so highly regarded he was considered the top available defenseman in some corners.
Limitless, is a good word to describe his growth. He started the season at 6’3, and was measured at the combine at nearly 6’5. It’s not unreasonable to think this young man, who was still only 17 last week, could get even bigger. But size isn’t his only physical gift. Blessed with strong athletic bloodlines thanks to two Olympic parents, Hamilton is also considered to be an elite skater, and was voted the best skater in his conference in the annual, end of year OHL Coaches’ Poll. Hamilton was also voted the best offensive defenseman and third best defensive defenseman in that same poll, a poll that includes both past and future draftees. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t comment on Hamilton’s intelligence, as the Scholastic Player of the Year has maintained a 90 averages across the board in subjects as demanding as calculus, biology, chemistry and physics.
Statistically, Hamilton put up 58 points in 67 games, and posted a whopping plus-35 plus/minus in the regular season, and then followed that up with 16 points and a plus-seven in 14 playoffs games. Both marks led the team, a team that included fifth overall pick Ryan Strome.
Hamilton has drawn comparisons to players ranging from Brent Burns to Jay Bouwmeester but the most flattering comparison has to been that of Rob Blake. A right-handed, highly mobile, two-way rearguard who could help with puck retrievals, transition game, and shutdown opposing top lines, Hamilton could make an ideal fit for Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. Of course, with his ability he could also anchor a more offensive-minded pair of his own. It also remains to be seen just what kind of timetable Hamilton will have in terms of his NHL readiness. His skating, smarts and numbers compare favorably to Cam Fowler, but he’s grown a lot very quickly and will need time to play to adjust. With a Stanley Cup Title to defend, the Bruins certainly have no immediate need to rush him.
Alexander Khokhlachev, C/LW – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
2nd round, 40th overall
Height: 5’10 Weight: 188 lbs
With the tenth pick in the second round, the Bruins received another gift, drafting a potential high-end forward in Russian Alexander Khokhlachev. This first year OHLer was certainly a victim of the so-called Russian Factor where, where despite being ranked high by most major outlets, he fell all the way to the Bruins at 40. The Bruins however, believe any fear of signing him to be unfounded. Koko, as he is widely referred to, was a celebrity in Russia who left to train in the CHL because it was a faster track to the NHL. He has a great work ethic and says he can’t wait to get to the rink for practices and workouts. He came here without a word of English, yet by the end of the year, could handle himself comfortably in interviews. And he adapted on the ice just as quickly, learning to play a more North American game along the walls and in the dirty areas of the ice, showing both courage and compete level. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have those trademark Russian skills that make them one of the World’s hockey powers. His skills are undeniable. He’s a strong skater, quick and shifty, elusive in tight spaces and deadly in open ice. He has soft hands and good vision. In those ways, Benning compared his style to a younger Scott Gomez, but with better finish and more of a willingness to be the shooter. Khokhlachev scored 34 goals and 76 points in 67 games, and was among the top rookies in playoff scoring, recording nine goals and 20 points in 18 games, so the balance between his passing and finishing is evident in his stat line.
Had Khokhlachev been born six days later, he would not have been eligible for the 2011 draft, meaning he was one of the youngest players in the draft. That should speak volumes considering how highly regarded he was in a draft where he was almost a year younger than many of his peers.
Anthony Camara, LW – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
3rd round, 81st overall
Height: 6’1 Weight: 194 lbs
This was one of the Bruins more intriguing picks of the day. Most of the draftniks out there considered taking this eight goal, 17 point pugilist a reach in the third round. But the move is reminiscent of 2006 when, late in the second round, the Bruins reached to take a nine goal 18 point pugilist by the name of Milan Lucic. Obviously, it’s too early to predict that Camara’s career growth will have that kind of meteoric upswing, so perhaps a better comparison would be to Ottawa’s Chris Neil. Like Neil, Camara is a fiery and competitive player who brings a tremendous energy level and is a devastating body-checker. In fact, he was voted the best hitter in his conference in the OHL Coaches’ Poll. And, being a former first round pick in the OHL, Camara is said to have underrated offensive skills. He’s also the second youngest player in the draft, just 11 days shy of being a 2012 draftee so, like Khokhlachev, there’s lots of room and potential for growth here. And even if that offensive growth doesn’t happen, there’s a low bust factor on a player with his kind of determination and guile.
In one of his post draft interviews, Camara asked Bruins brass to convey a message for him, "Tell Lucic I’ll be looking for him in training camp!"
In the fourth round, the Bruins went for another power forward in left-wing Brian Ferlin. The third highest scorer in the USHL with 25 goals and 73 points, Ferlin has good hands, is strong along the walls and packs a terrific shot, but his skating is awkward and unrefined. His style and draft position is reminiscent of Michael Ryder with Ryder getting drafted in the now defunct 8th round, while Ferlin was selected as an overage 19-year-old, despite both being prolific scorers. It also took Ryder a little longer to get to the NHL, having to play two years of Junior and then three full seasons in the minors, but eventually, Ryder got his skating to a level that allowed his talent to come through. Surely, the Bruins are hoping for similar results with Ferlin, who’s set to attend Cornell in the fall.
Rob O’Gara, D – Milton Academy (Mass H.S.)
5th round, 151st overall
Height: 6’3 Weight: 185 lbs
The Bruins went local in the fifth round, opting for Milton Academy stalwart Rob O’Gara. The big, defensive defenseman with excellent mobility and a safe, smart outlet game is a long-term project, but he’s already experienced some success, winning the New England Prep School Championship, and assisting on the game winning goal. He has a year of high school left before he heads off to College, but his combination of size, skating and intelligence are intriguing.
With the last pick the Bruins addressed their lack of goaltending depth by adding Norwegian Lars Volden. This big, athletic butterfly goalie is currently playing in the Espoo Blues system in Finland. The Bruins like his raw tools and liked the league and organization he’s developing in. But there are questions after his less than stellar performance in the World Juniors, mostly about mental toughness. Hopefully, Volden has it within him to turn those painful lessons into positives, much like the Bruins themselves turned their 2010 playoff loss to the Flyers into fuel for their Stanley Cup drive in 2011.