Bruins 1999 draft evaluation

By George Bachul

After being ousted by Dominic Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres in the second round of the 1999 playoffs, the Bruins evaluation of the 1998-99 season was very positive. Jason Allison was their leading scorer at just under 24 years old, youngsters Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov both had strong sophomore seasons, and Byron Dafoe had just turned in a very solid season, his second in Beantown.

The Bruins coming into the 1999 draft were looking to address the aging blueline with Ray Bourque, Grant Ledyard and Dave Ellett still patrolling the blueline. The Bruins had selected two defensemen with their first two picks in 1998 in the second and third round (Jonathan Girard 48th overall and Bobby Allen 52nd overall) but there still looked to be some holes to fill on the back end. This coupled with the fact that the Bruins had only made five selections in total meant that the ten selections slated for 1999 were even more important.

The Bruins 10 picks have gone on to play 540 NHL games, for an average of 54 NHL games per pick.

Nick Boynton D – 1st round, 21st overall (Ottawa 67s, Ontario Hockey League)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 263

Originally selected by the Washington Capitals ninth overall in the 1997 draft, Boynton was unable to reach a contract with the team by the re-entry deadline despite a rumored seven figure signing bonus. Caps General Manager George McPhee curtly expressed after Boynton had decided to re-enter the draft that Boynton would never play in the NHL. Whether or not the Capitals’ GM’s comments provided inspiration may not be known but Boynton put in two very solid years after returning to the 67s culminating with a Memorial Cup win and the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the tournament’s MVP.

The Bruins had Boynton and University of Michigan blue liner Jeff Jillson as the top two rated defensemen in the 1999 draft. Jillson was selected at the 14th selection by the San Jose Sharks making Boynton available at the 21st selection much to the chagrin of Bob Murray and the Chicago Blackhawks who were visibly upset at the selection only two before their first round pick.

After two full seasons of development under head coaches Peter Laviolette and Bill Armstrong in Providence, Boynton was deemed ready for NHL action for the 2001-02 season. At the age of 25, Boynton has established himself as a top pairing NHL defenseman. In the 2001-02 season he was named to the NHL Youngstars Game and was a member of the NHL 2001-02 All-Rookie Team. In the 2003-04 season Boynton was named to the NHL All-Star Game for the first time. Boynton’s offensive totals have progressed upwards over his three NHL seasons, and with his penchant for hard work, the sky is the limit for the young rearguard.

Matt Zultek LW – 2nd round, 56th overall (Ottawa 67s, Ontario Hockey League)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Matt Zultek was a highly touted prospect coming out of the Brian Kilrea-led Ottawa 67s club when originally selected by the Los Angeles Kings 15th overall in the 1997 draft. (A pick acquired from St. Louis in a trade for Wayne Gretzky.) Unable to come to terms with the Kings, Zultek like Boynton re-entered the 1999 draft after winning the Memorial Cup alongside Boynton. One would have to wonder whether Zultek was the beneficiary of having Bruins scouts watching Boynton on a regular basis.

Zutlek was also unable to come to terms with the Bruins and was set back by a major knee injury. Zultek played briefly in the Canadian Collegiate League (CIAU) before having his rights traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for a ninth round draft pick in February of 2001. He has been splitting time between the Trenton Titans of the ECHL and the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League.

Kyle Wanvig RW – 3rd round, 89th overall (Red Deer Rebels, Western Hockey League)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 13

Kyle Wanvig is a potential power forward that was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the third round of the 1999 draft. After two average seasons with the Edmonton/Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, Wanvig demanded a trade from the Ice organization and was accommodated with his transfer to the Red Deer Rebels. After a decent season in 1999-00 for Red Deer, Wanvig broke out in 2000-01 with a 55 goal, 46 assist campaign to go along with 202 penalty minutes. Wanvig helped Red Deer win the Memorial cup and was named the tournament MVP in 2001.

After the completion of the season, Wanvig was unable to come to terms with the Bruins with $500, 000 difference in salary being the major stumbling block. Wanvig had thought he was traded to the Maple Leafs for Jonas Hoglund only to find out that the Toronto Maple Leafs did not get the paperwork to the league offices before the deadline.

Wanvig was drafted as a re-entry by the Minnesota Wild in the second round of the 2001 draft after his monster year in 2000-01. He did lose a major part of the 2001-02 year to injury but has performed well enough over the last two seasons with Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League to receive call-ups to the Wild. Wanvig has all of the tools to become an NHL regular in some capacity even if it is as an energy player on the bottom two lines.

Jaakko Harikkala D – 4th round, 118th overall (Lukko Rauma, Finnish Elite League)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

This strong, smooth skating defenseman was drafted in the fourth round being promoted from the Lukko Junior team to the Lukko Elite Team in 1999. He has continued his development in Finland with a couple of demotions back to the Junior League but since 2001 has been a permanent fixture on the Lukko Elite Team roster. Harikkala has a good skating stride and makes good decisions with the puck. He is a strong player that likes to take the body. At this time he doesn’t have top end passing or playmaking skills, which is likely why he decided to remain in Finland to develop. Appearing at the 2001 training camp, Harikkala does not have huge holes in his game. It would take a strong commitment to an NHL career before Harikkala would come over again. At this point he would have to be considered a very long shot to return to North America.

Seamus Kotyk G – 5th round, 147th overall (Ottawa 67s, Ontario Hockey League)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Seamus Kotyk was the fifth rated North American goalie by NHL Central Scouting in the 1999 draft. The Bruins were pleased to see him fall to the fifth round. This would be the third selection not only from the same league, but the same team. Kotyk fell into the category of a player that would become an unrestricted free agent if unsigned by the deadline due to his late birthday. After a solid playoff and winning the Wayne Gretzky 99 Trophy as OHL Playoff MVP in 2001 and culminating with the 2001 Memorial Cup win, Kotyk was also unable to come to contract terms with the Bruins when agent Larry Kelly and the Bruins could not agree on an equitable signing bonus.

Kotyk signed as an unrestricted free agent with the San Jose Sharks July 23, 2001. Since that time, Kotyk has presided in the nets of the Cleveland Barons in the American Hockey League, playing well enough to be called up to back up Vesa Toskala for seven games in November of 2003. General Manager Doug Wilson indicated that the call up was based on Kotyk’s fine play. He may have difficulty moving up in an organization that has such strong goaltending depth in Evgeny Nabokov, Vesa Toskala, Dmitri Patzold and Patrick Ehelechner.

Donald Choukalos G – 6th round, 179th overall (Regina Pats, Western Hockey League)
NHL Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

In 1998-99, Donald Choukalos was competing for the starting job with the Regina Pats after a midseason trade from the Calgary Hitmen for defenseman Brad Stuart. He ended up attending the 1999 Boston Bruins training camp where Assistant General Manager Jeff Gorton compared him to the same place developmentally as future No. 1 Bruins goaltender Andrew Raycroft.

As it turned out, Choukalos didn’t have an exceptional camp and was not tendered a contract. He went undrafted in 2001 as a re-entry. After two more lack luster seasons in Regina and a dismal season with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, Choukalos played a few games for the New Mexico Scorpions of the Central Hockey League. Choukalos now plays goal for the University of Calgary in the CIS (formerly the CIAU).

Greg Barber RW – 7th round, 207th overall (Victoria Salsa, British Columbia Hockey League)
NHL Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

After playing two seasons and being selected to the 1998-99 season, Greg Barber was selected by the Boston Bruins in the seventh round of the 1999 draft. Barber committed to the University of Denver and spent four seasons in Denver with his best year being his junior campaign registering 35 points in 38 games for the Pioneers. Barber attended the Boston Bruins training camp after completing his education but was not deemed worthy of a contract. It would be premature to rate Barber as anything but an NHL bust but he did receive a contract with the San Diego Gulls of the ECHL and was named to the league’s all rookie team and was a 2003-04 ECHL All Star. He is on the San Diego Gulls protected list for the 2004-05 season. His rights are not presently owned by an NHL franchise.

John Cronin D – 8th round, 236th overall (Nobles-Greenough Prep School, USHS)
NHL Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

John Cronin was drafted in the eigth round of the 1999 draft after a solid performance in 1998-99 season for the Nobles-Greenough Prep School. He went on to play for Boston University of the NCAA. Under coach Jack Parker, Cronin honed his skills until 2003 when he completed his university career and attended the Boston Bruins training camp. Cronin as a stay at home defenseman found it hard to keep up to the speed of the NHL game. Assistant GM Jeff Gorton indicated that his foot speed was the major inhibitor to his game. It was this deficiency that caused the Bruins to allow Cronin to be a free agent by not offering him a contract. He played the 2003-04 season for the Augusta Lynx of the ECHL and performed very well.

Mikko Eloranta LW – 9th round, 247th overall (TPS Turku, Finnish Elite League)
NHL Status: Retired NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 264

The Bruins selected established Finnish two-way forward Mikko Eloranta with a ninth round selection in the draft. Sven-Ake Svensson, the Bruins European scout, was instrumental in the pick and knowing that Eloranta would be inclined to make the immediate jump to North America upon being selected. He had two solid seasons of NHL play on the Bruins third line and was part of the trade that sent he and Jason Allison to the Los Angeles Kings in return for Josef Stumpel and Glen Murray. In September of 2003, Eloranta decided to return to Finland and play for TPS Turku.

Georgijs Pujacs D – 9th round, 264th overall (Dynamo Riga, Latvia)
NHL Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

Georgijs Pujacs was the Boston Bruins final selection in the 1999 draft. After coming over to North America for the 1999-2000 season, the stocky blueliner played one season for the Rochester Mustangs of the USHL and a brief stint for the Anchorage Aces of the WCHL. Pujacs returned to Latvia to play professionally in his homeland for Metalurgs Liepaja, and most recently for HC Orebro of the Swedish Division 1 league.

The Bruins in 1999 drafted five players from the CHL (including three from the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League), one Canadian junior, one US High School player and three Europeans. One other mitigating factor with the 1999 draft for the Boston Bruins is that Zultek, Wanvig and Kotyk were all unable to come to terms with the team, limiting the effectiveness of the draft year within two years of its completion. Nick Boynton will always be the flagship of the 1999 draft for the Bruins and the parlay of Eloranta and Allison into Glen Murray and Josef Stumpel gives the Bruins something to hang their hat on. All things considered with ten selections in the draft year, the results could have turned out much better if contract negotiations would have resulted in Wanvig and Kotyk still in the organization. The 1999 NHL Entry Draft was a very average performance for the Boston Bruins at best.