2006 Draft laid groundwork for current and future success of Boston Bruins

By Bill Ladd
Photo: Selected in the third round, Brad Marchand is amidst a breakout 2010-11 season and a key contributor to the Bruins’ current success. (Photo courtesy of www.theahl.com)

The 2006 NHL Draft has turned out to be a franchise shaping draft for the Boston Bruins. Not only did the Bruins pick up the face of their franchise in Milan Lucic in the second round, but they converted their 5th overall pick, Phil Kessel, into 2nd overall selection Tyler Seguin, 32nd overall selection Jared Knight and one more potential top-ten pick in 2011.

Phil Kessel, RW, Wisconsin (CCHA) – 1st round, 5th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 340

Kessel came to Boston with obvious offensive talents, most notably, speed to burn and a wrist shot that was both explosive and precise, but he was also considered to be stubborn in terms of not believing in the value of defensive hockey or an off-ice training regimen. Over the course of his first three years Kessel improved offensively, and with some not so subtle encouragement from the coaching staff in terms of ice-time reduction, benching and a healthy scratch or two, even became an effective back-checker, learning to pickpocket opposing forwards with quick stick lifts and steals. However, when Kessel’s entry-level contract was up, the knock on him was he still hadn’t learned to battle through traffic and score from the dirty areas. Still, when Kessel scored 36 goals in his 3rd year, the Bruins were willing to give him $4m per year for three more years, presumably believing that if he never progressed any further, $4m was still a good number for a one-dimensional, 36 goal man, and at best, it bought them another three years to see if maturity would help them get through to him and get his game to the next level. But Kessel saw things differently. He believed his value to be closer to that of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks, and after a long period of rumors and speculation Kessel supposedly asked for a trade. That’s when Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke stepped in and forced the issue to come to a head.

Kessel eventually signed a multi-year deal worth $5.4m annually with Toronto, and the Bruins received Toronto’s next two first round picks as well as their second round pick in 2010. Kessel went on to score 30 goals in his first year in Toronto, and is on pace for over thirty this season. The holes in his game are still there however and his one-dimensional style regularly draws the ire of Toronto fans and media.

Kessel may not have been the player the Bruins originally wanted on draft day, but the selection may have ultimately set the franchise up for the next decade.

Yuri Alexandrov, D, Cherepovets Severstal (Russia) – 2nd Round, 37th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Bruins still have NHL hopes for Yuri Alexandrov. A five year veteran of the Russian Elite League and later the KHL, Alexandrov has just entered his first season of North American professional hockey and has had a lot to learn. His strength, training regimen and nutrition habits were all subpar. In addition, he had to learn English, how to play the North American game, and adjust to a smaller ice surface. So it should come as no surprise that he hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire. His 27 point pace is respectable, and every game he shows flashes of his smooth skating and trademark, puck-moving poise, but on-ice product has mostly been underwhelming. Still, the IQ and natural abilities are there. If Alexandrov can adapt and add the requisite strength, he could still become a solid NHL defenseman in the mold of a Toni Lydman.

Milan Lucic, LW, Vancouver Giants (WHL) – 2nd Round, 50th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 245

The Bruins most popular player has often been compared to Bruin icon Cam Neely, and for good reason: Lucic is a beast. He’s one of the league’s hardest and most active hitters, and combined with his devastating pugilistic skills, is one of the league’s most intimidating players. In his first three seasons, Lucic found his niche by augmenting skill players on scoring lines, banging bodies, creating space, and turnovers. And he also showed tremendous leadership abilities; defending his teammates, scoring big goals and personifying what it meant to be a Bruin. As a result, he was rewarded with a lucrative three year deal averaging just over $4m per season. Given that, to that point, he’d never scored 20 goals, many outside Boston questioned the move, suggesting they overpaid for popularity, as opposed to on-ice value but Lucic, as always, has risen to the challenge of his lucrative contract. In this, the first year of his three year deal, Lucic was determined to prove he was worth the investment and has come out of the gate guns blazing, ripping off 10 goals in his first 17 games. However, the offensive explosion did lead to a drop in Lucic’s physical play. The Bruins brass, wanting to make sure he didn’t lose that part of his game, talked to Lucic in mid-December about trying to find more of a balance between his offensive and physical games, but that discussion may have caused a hiccup in Lucic’s production, as his physical play suddenly increased, but he was carrying the puck less, taking fewer shots, and as a result went into an 11 game goal scoring drought.

It appears Lucic may have found his range once again and to date has 19 goals and 13 assists through 46 games. Look for him to continue his 30 goal pace and continue to embrace his role as a power forward.

Brad Marchand, LW/RW, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) – 3rd Round, 71st overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 66

The Bruins found something of a mid-round gem when they selected Brad Marchand. A winner and clutch performer at every level, Marchand won two gold medals on Canada’s number one line in 2007 and 2008. Once considered to be the most hated player in ‘the Q,’ Marchand gradually learned over his productive two year apprenticeship in the AHL to tone down the theatrics and expend that energy hunting pucks. Starting the season on Boston’s fourth line, he quickly showed fans and coaches alike that he was capable of more. Now, the 5’9, 183 pound rookie is the Bruins sparkplug, smothering players with his relentless puck pursuit, and owning the corners where he’s nearly impossible to knock off the puck, using his low center of gravity to get underneath defenseman and his explosive cuts and starts to spin off checkers and beat coverage.

Currently on pace for a 20 goal season, as well as leading the league in shorthanded goals, look for Marchand to continue to be a factor for Boston, and to possibly build on those totals as his ice time and role expand.

Andrew Bodnarchuk, D, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) – 5th Round, 128th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 5

Bodnarchuk is a small but spirited puck-moving defenseman in his third full season in the AHL and unfortunately, their just doesn’t seem to be a lot of growth in Andrew’s game to this point. He currently has only seven assists in 43 games for Providence, which is a point below last year’s totals of five goals and 10 assists. There is a chance Bodnarchuk could make it to the NHL on the strength of his skating and industrious style, perhaps as a Francis Bouillon-type, but given the quality of defenseman recently added to the Bruins prospect pool in Kampfer, Bartkowski, and others, it doesn’t look like it will be with the Bruins. Bodnarchuk’s entry-level contract expires this summer.

Levi Nelson, C, Swift Current Broncos (WHL) – 6th Round, 158th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

On December 9th, 2010 the Bruins traded Levi Nelson to the Tampa Bay Lightning for winger Juraj Simek. The Providence Bruins, struggling to score goals, swapped the gritty but offensively challenged Nelson for the more talented 23-year-old Simek, who scored 21 goals for Norfolk last season. With Norfolk, Nelson has a goal and an assist through six games. While he is still young, it seems Nelson’s chances of making the NHL are quite slim.