Bruins 2000 Draft Preview: Eyes On A Prize

By pbadmin
There are few benefits to a losing season, but one of them happens to be a high draft position. Clearly, Boston’s strong teams hurt many of the Bruins’ drafts in the 1980s and early 1990s. Other than Glen Wesley (#3 in 1987), Joe Thornton, and the Hartford trifecta
of choices(Kyle McLaren 9/95, John Aitken 8/96, Sergei Samsonov 8/97) acquired for,ironically enough, Wesley, Boston has not had many opportunities to select a player in the top 10 of any given draft year. As a result, bombs such as Dave Pasin, Rob Cimetta,
Shayne Stevenson, Kevyn Adams and Evgeni Ryabchikov hurt Boston’s chances of developing an outstanding crop of younger players to augment its aging superstars. As for this season, don’t be fooled. Despite the Bruins’ no-show in the 1999-2000, they have some excellent prospects in the system and with the 7th overall pick in this year’s draft , they could land a superb player. This year promises to be intriguing because of the large amount of European influence predicted. What does this mean? Well, for starters the field could be wide open with some big surprises in the early going come draft day. Of course, with this season’s pool being labeled as weak by many in the scouting business, a top 10 selection is never a guarantee of landing an impact player, but the Bruins will gladly take their chances.

Question: what do the Bruins need? Answer: everything. Boston will choose the best player available on their board when it comes time for them to make their selection, so it is anyone’s guess as to who they will opt for. Offense? They are still seeking the elusive sniper; a talent who can consistently score goals and help Boston’s anemic attack. Anson Carter and Samsonov have impressed at times, but health and consistency issues remain. Jason Allison is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, although given an injury-free season, he could get 40 goals with the right linemates. As for defensemen, well, you can never have too many of those. Boston is still smarting from Ray Bourque’s departure, but let’s be honest here. It was a given he was leaving sooner rather than later, so the Bruins have been quietly stocking up on rearguards for years now. If the right player is available on draft day, the Bruins won’t hesitate to pick up a blue chip prospect on defense. In goal, the Bruins have a
top young up-and-comer in the 2000 OHL MVP and CHL’s Oustanding Goaltender Andrew Raycroft, but could certainly use some depth at the position, with Regina’s Donald Choukalos and Ottawa’s Seamus Kotyk being the only junior age goaltenders in the Bruins’ system.

CENTER. Boston has some very good talent at this position. Once an area in which they were deemed thin, Allison, Thornton, Andre Savage and Shawn Bates are superb to decent. Swedish pivot Samuel Pahlsson is on the way over to the Bruins via MoDo, although he can also play wing if needed there. Leading the group of centers of this year’s draft class is talented Russian Mikhail Yakubov, who has impressed with his array of skills and could go in the top 10. Brad Boyes of the OHL’s Erie Otters is a wizard with the puck, but is merely an adequate skater. This is not a knock on the kid, but it has prevented him from running away with the nod for top OHL prospect, finishing behind Brampton’s Rostislav Klesla in the final CSB rankings. Czech Vaclav Nedorost edged first overall favorite Marian Gaborik in the mid-season CSB rankings, only to fall to #6 at the end. Why? A scoring slump at season’s end hurt him. He also could stand to put some
weight on his skinny frame. Kazan native Ruslan Zainullin has the rare blend of size and skill
and really has come on since his impressive performance at the Under-18 Championships in Switzerland this spring. The University of Minnesota’s Jeff Taffe and WHL veteran Brian Sutherby are other strong prospects at center and like Nedorost, are a bit light. There is no question they possess good offensive upside however and could become effective checking forwards with some strength development and experience. Other centermen with first round draft potential: Artem Krykov, Jonas Nordqvist, Sergei Soin and Jarrett Stoll.

WING. This position has been cause for the most consternation at the Fleet Center ever since the great Cam Neely called it quits in 1996. The Bruins have not replaced him and it has shown in their annual goal scoring totals. In fact, the B’s have had just one
30-goal guy other than Neely and none on the wing. There are some solid wingers available in the 2000 draft. The problem is, will any be around when the Bruins step up to the podium? The Bruins would love it if Prince Albert’s Scott Hartnell is there when they pick. All year, he had been tabbed as a sure-fire top 3 and may yet go in the top 5, but with the emphasis on the Euro skaters this year, a fall by Hartnell to #7 or beyond is not out of the question. Remember Jamie Lundmark? Teams love guys like Hartnell, a player who has skill, but is also a natural leader and brings fire to the ice. If Hartnell is there when the Bruins
pick, then size him for the black and gold sweater because he is a keeper at any slot outside of the top five. It goes without saying that Marian Gaborik and Dany Heatley will be gone. Alexei Smirnov is one winger who could be available when Boston chooses because of certain issues. Smirnov can do it all and he has the size to boot, but he has been plagued with questions about his consistency. His upside is tremendous, but those doubts have clouded his status. One player who may also be on the board when Boston selects is Brampton’s Raffi Torres. He is a safe pick and there’s a lot to like about this kid, as he is an
offensive catalyst who brings a lot to the table in terms of skill and grit. With seasoning, he should make an impact. Of the forwards in this year’s pool after Hartnell, Torres is probably the most likely to appeal to Boston. He scored 43 goals for Brampton and plays a solid all-around game. If he is on the board at number seven, our guess is that barring a surprise such as Hartnell or Klesla falling to into their laps, the Bruins will call Raffi’s name. Nikita Alexeev, who played in the OHL for Erie has seen his stock fall steadily since the beginning of the season. His size and skill package are unquestionably top-flight, but he has not made the big plays essential for elite status among prospects. He also seems to lack the ability to
finish and so, expect to see him go later rather than sooner. Eventually, there will probably be a team willing to take a chance on the enigmatic Russian, but probably not in the top 10. Perhaps the biggest wild card at this position is Russian right wing Pavel Vorobiev of Yaroslavl. Talk about a meteoric rise…he went from #40 at mid-season to numero uno among Europeans. Interesting. Is he for real, or did he simply get hot when it mattered most? He could go somewhere in the top 15, but he is without question, a high risk/high return type of player. You also have to really like the potential of Alexander Frolov and
Martin Samuelsson, two European forwards who could slide into premium draft positions because of the wide divergence in opinions amongst teams with regards to player ratings.

DEFENSE. Boston has a few of these. McLaren, Jonathan Girard, Bobby Allen, Nick Boynton and Martin Grenier won’t ever replace Raymond Bourque, but they are steps in the right direction. The best defenseman in the draft is Klesla, but there are questions as
to how good he will be. Being touted as a two-way puck carrying defenseman, some scouts see him more as a solid defense-oriented player who may join the rush occasionally but will take care of his own end first. It all depends on what you are looking for, but there is a good chance that Klesla will go with the second or third overall selection. Defense is a position critical to build a team around and if either Columbus or Minnesota buy into his advance billing, he will go quickly. Lars Jonsson, playing for Leksand Jr. (Sweden) has put up huge numbers and seems the best pure prospect as far as offensive defensemen go. The dilemma: Jonsson had a great season, but he did it at the junior level. It is hard to project how he will handle the jump to the SEL where he will play against some of the best men in the world. Russian d-men Ilya Nikulin and Anton Volchenkov have had solid seasons in
their own right, with Nikulin getting the edge in the CSB’s eyes. Boston College’s Brooks Orpik opened eyes
with his ferocious hitting and well-rounded hockey skills, but is a reach inside the top 10. Orpik is a popular choice in the Bay State because he is a known commodity, but his limited offensive potential coupled with undisciplined play in the 2000 NCAA Frozen Four
has raised some doubts as to whether he will be as good an NHL defender as some think. We are most afraid of Orpik’s name being called by the Bruins because we just do not feel he will be the best player available at the 7th position. He has fine tools and has played well
in two years at BC, but he does not seem to be blessed with the hockey sense so critical for the elite players at his position. More importantly, is Orpik a top three defenseman, or he is a fifth or sixth type guy? There is too much uncertainty there for us to be comfortable with the Bruins going for him. Perhaps the biggest darkhorse defenseman of the draft and one whose stock has soared in recent weeks is Finland’s Tero Maatta. More than one scout has raved about his raw talent and potential to blossom into one of the best two-way rearguards in hockey over the next couple of years. U. Mass-Lowell product Ron Hainsey has also impressed as a mobile defenseman who can move the puck and will likely go at the bottom of the first round. For Boston, it all comes down to how sold they are on the defenders beyond Klesla as he will surely be gone when the Bruins pick. The team will no doubt use some caution, however. The memory of Aitken at #8 in 1996 is enough to create some
doubt at using a high pick on a safe but unspectacular player in Orpik or a risky proposition such as Jonsson or Maatta.

GOAL. The Bruins have selected one goaltender in the first round in their history and the pick was such an unmitigated disaster, that you may never see them do it again as long as Harry Sinden can help it. The fact is, the Bruins have struggled with choosing goalies via the draft. Only four players since 1985 have even won a game in a Bruins uniform. That is a scary statistic especially when you consider that the B’s have taken 11 goaltenders over that period of time. Of those four, only one (Bill Ranford) developed into a number one goaltender in the NHL. This year, there is really only one netminder worthy of first round consideration, Boston University’s Ricky DiPietro. DiPietro impressed all season long with his superior puckhandling ability, while posting great numbers for a freshman goalie. His 77-save masterpiece in the losing effort against St. Lawrence University put an exclamation point on his potential. The bad news? The Bruins will not select him with their top pick because of their needs elsewhere as well as the risk asscociated with taking goaltenders so
high in the draft. It seems that for every Tom Barrasso (personality notwithstanding) and Grant Fuhr, there is a Ray Martyniuk or Jimmy Waite to cast enough doubt for a team to use such an important pick on a goaltender. Despite the lure of picking up a local player with unquestioned ability, the Bruins will probably opt for skaters with their first two picks in the 2000 draft. Calgary’s Brent Krahn will probably not be on the board when the Bruins choose in the second round and the likelihood of Boston getting a blue chip prospect in goal with this year’s talent pool being the way it is, grows less likely as the draft goes on. Besides, with Andrew Raycroft now in the fold with a new contract, the Bruins have made a wise commitment to this year’s Red Tilson Trophy Winner and are satisfied for the time being that he is their goaltender of the future. They may draft for some depth in net in the middle or bottom rounds, but the urgency to draft a top goalie prospect is not there. Union College’s Brandon Snee might be a decent sleeper pick for the Bruins in the middle somewhere.

THE SMART MONEY SAYS: The Bruins grab Raffi Torres and come away instantly successful in the draft before they make another pick. Torres might not ever
blossom into an elite scorer in the NHL, but his talent level and hard-nosed style indicate that he will be a very good player. Pair him with players such as Allison, Thornton, Carter or Samsonov, and Torres may well become another Pat Verbeek.

DON’T BE SURPRISED IF: Boston opts for Colorado’s pick this year at #27 and calls Ron Hainsey’s name.

BEST BRUINS PICK LAST TEN YEARS: Jozef Stumpel (2nd pick, 40th overall in 1991) Stumpy has become an elite centerman in the NHL. Not bad for a 2nd
rounder who put up some good numbers in his time with the Bruins.

WORST BRUINS PICK LAST TEN YEARS: Evgeni Ryabchikov (1st pick, 21st overall in 1994)This guy couldn’t even make it in the AHL. Wait, the ECHL. In fact, he never played a single minute for Boston. Meanwhile, the Bruins managed to find a stopper
with the 229th pick that year in John Grahame. Go figure.

SLEEPER PICK OF THE DECADE: Per-Johan Axelsson (7th pick, 177th overall in 1995)Its close between Grahame and Hal Gill, but PJ gets the nod here. He may
not be spectacular, but he is a fine 2-way forward who scores big goals and is fearless. He’s the type of guy you go to war with.

BIG PROMISE, LITTLE RETURN: Dmitri Kvartalnov (1st pick, 16th overall in 1992)”Special K” scored 30 goals in his first year (’92-’93) with Boston, but had no commitment to playing defense. As a result, he finished with a respectable 91 points in just 112 games, but couldn’t find another job in the NHL.