The 2006 NHL Entry Draft occurred amidst the beginning of a major housecleaning for the Boston Bruins. With newly named general manager Peter Chiarelli still tied up with obligations to the Ottawa Senators, and a coaching decision waiting on the horizon, interim General Manager Jeff Gorton made his first major trade on draft day when he sent Andrew Raycroft to Toronto in exchange for Finn goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask. The Bruins hung onto the No. 5 pick, a decision that paid off when they drafted University of Minnesota standout Phil Kessel. They then traded a pair of picks to the New York Islanders for the opportunity to draft Moncton Wildcats center Brad Marchand, a teammate of Bruins prospect Martins Karsums, in the third round, and they finished the night with a total of six picks.
The Bruins drafted a total of four forwards, two defensemen, and for the second year in a row, selected no goaltenders.
Phil Kessel, C
1st round, (5th overall), 6’0 189 lbs, U of Minnesota (NCAA)
“I’m so excited,” a smiling Phil Kessel told the media shortly after he was drafted. “I think I fit in great. It’s a great city and I think they have a great team there.”
Kessel has been subject to intense media scrutiny in the past year, and with that, enormous expectations heaped onto the shoulders of the 18-year-old who many thought, at one time, would be picked first overall in the draft. That the talented forward fell to the fifth slot is a testament to the talent that succeeded him in the draft, however, and it looks like the Bruins finally landed the high-caliber center they so desperately needed.
The belief is that Kessel could be ready for the NHL as early as this fall, an opportunity that he looks forward to. His most obvious asset is his exceptional skating ability and an explosive breakaway speed that leaves his opponents a step behind. His passing skills are also excellent, both in accuracy and in his ability to find an open teammate. More good news for the Bruins is that Kessel is also known for his the ability to find the back of the net. Overall, he has tremendous hockey sense and a highly polished game for a player his age. Kessel is a creative player who not only makes things happen, but makes the players around him better.
“I think his hands are the most underrated aspect about Phil,” University of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia told Hockey’s Future prior to the end of the 2005-06 season. “People talk about his skating ability, but his passing ability is incredible and it’s hard. A lot of times those passes are coming so hard that guys can’t even hang on to them. He can make those great tape-to-tape passes. Skilled players will try things that the average player can’t.”
Kessel played with the US National Development Team Program for two years before his freshman season at Minnesota. During the 2004-05 season he had an astounding 98 points (52 goals, 42 assists) with the USNTDP, and while there was initially an adjustment period to college hockey in 2005-06, he went on to score 51 points (18 goals, 33 assists) and was tops in the nation for all rookie scorers. He has numerous international tournaments on his resume as well, including the IIHF World Championships in May of 2006, and the gold medal winning Team USA in the 2005 IIHF U 18 World Championships, where his 16 points in six games and solid play earned him recognition as the tournament’s most outstanding forward.
Kessel seemed at once thrilled to be drafted and relieved to have it out of the way. When asked if the Bruins gave any indication they were interested, he said yes, and then added, “They grilled me pretty hard in the interview process, and I think overall it came out pretty good.”
He will need to continue to work hard, especially on his strength training, if he’s to make his debut in Boston next season. If he doesn’t play in Boston for the 2006-07 season, look for him to play another year of college hockey with the Golden Gophers.
Yuri Alexandrov, D
2nd round, (37th overall), 6’1 174 lbs, Severstal Cherepovets (RUS)
The Bruins selected lanky Russian defenseman Yuri Alexandrov with their second pick, a teammate of Bruins prospect Vladislav Evseev with the Severstal Cherepovets in the Russian Hockey League. Hopefully Alexandrov will turn out to be the better pick, as Evseev still has yet to make any noise since his draft during the second round in 2002. So far, it seems the smooth-skating Alexandrov may be just that, though he still has a way to go before he is NHL ready.
Central Scouting describes Alexandrov as a “steady player who likes to play a simple, risk-free game”. He completed his first season in Russia’s highest level professional league in 2005-06. While he didn’t play top minutes, what’s impressive is that he made the team right out of camp at the age of 17. Alexandrov played 37 games, with a total of two points (1 goal, 1 assist) and 18 penalty minutes. Despite the fact that he needs to bulk up and continue working on his strength, the young stay at home defenseman has an aggressive style and won’t shy away from contact. He’s an excellent skater who thinks the game well, and can quarterback the power play. His stats don’t necessarily show it, but he also has some offensive ability.
One of his greatest qualities is his attitude, and in turn, his outstanding leadership abilities. Alexandrov played for Team Russia in the 2006 World Juniors U-18 competition, where he served as captain, and finished the tournament with 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists), 10 penalty minutes, and a +7 in six games.
Milan Lucic, LW
2nd round, (50th overall), 6’2 204 lbs, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
The Bruins turned a few heads when they drafted bruising power forward Milan Lucic in the second round. At 6’2 204 lbs, he has the size to play an aggressive, physical game, and he uses that to his advantage. From delivering a jarring body check, to dropping the gloves, Lucic knows his role, which is to throw the other team off their game, and to get his team riled up. He completed his first full season with the Vancouver Giants in 2005-06 with a total of 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists), a +4 and 149 penalty minutes in 62 games. Perhaps most telling as to what piqued the Bruins’ interest, is that Lucic is a tireless worker with a terrific attitude. The energy the winger brings with each shift is an intangible that cannot be measured in stats.
“He really sets the tone on our team with his work ethic,” Giants coach Don Hay told Hockey’s Future during the week of the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament. “[He] finishes his checks and when he hits people he hits them hard. He’s not afraid to change the game with dropping his gloves or going to the net and making things happen.”
Like many young players, Lucic will need to continue working on his skating, particularly his speed, which is one of the weakest areas for the 18-year-old. What’s promising is that Lucic improved tremendously in the space of a single season, a trend that, if it continues, could turn him into an effective checking line player for the Bruins.
Brad Marchand, C
3rd round, (71st overall), 5’9 183 lbs, Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
The Bruins found their fourth pick skating on the same Moncton Wildcats team as Bruins prospect Martins Karsums. Brad Marchand grabbed attention with his feisty style of play, offensive instincts, and strong skating ability.
“I bring a lot of energy to our team, with my strength and my work ethic,” Marchand told Hockey’s Future during the Memorial Cup Tournament. “But I also bring playmaking ability and a scoring touch. When I get into the offensive zone, I’m very capable of setting up plays and creating opportunities.”
The additional ice time he received in his second season with the Wildcats proved beneficial, as Marchand more than doubled his offensive output, putting together a solid 66 points (29 goals, 37 assists) and 83 penalty minutes in 68 games for 2005-06. He was also a key contributor in Moncton’s Memorial Cup run, and tied for second on his team with four points in five games.
Marchand is on the small side, but he’s a fierce competitor who makes up for any size discrepancy with a never-give-up attitude. That high energy game takes a toll on opponents, making Marchand an effective pest, especially as he continues his pursuit of the puck and battles for possession in the corners and along the boards.
“I’ve never seen a guy more determined to get a puck in all the years that I coached junior hockey,” said Moncton head coach Ted Nolan in an interview during the Memorial Cup Tournament. “He wants that puck, he battles for that puck. He kind of plays like Pat Verbeek. He’s strong on his skates. One on one play in the corners, there’s not too many better at his age, in this league for sure. He’s going to be a dynamite steal. People might say he’s too small, but with the way the game’s changing, everything’s revolving around skill and speed and Brad Marchand is a perfect prototype for that new era of hockey.”
Marchand has definite offensive skill and a good overall defensive awareness, though at times he tries to do too much and gets himself in trouble.
“I think I have to work on making the simple plays,” he admitted. “I was trying to make the fancy perfect play and it backfires sometimes. I have to work on chipping the puck instead of beating a guy sometimes and try to pass around him, just chip it in or chip it deep.
His smaller size means that he often has to rely on his skating and hockey sense, which so far he’s able to do successfully in the “Q”. Following the Memorial Cup, he was part of a trade that brought Luc Bourdon to Moncton, and sent Marchand to the Val d’Or Foreurs. His time with the Wildcats, however, was undoubtedly a valuable learning experience.
“Ted’s [Nolan] taught me a lot about sharing the puck around and being a more team-oriented player,” Marchand said. “He’s helped me work on a lot of aspects of my game and it’s helped me. This year, I had a fantastic year and I think a lot of it is because of Teddy.”
Andrew Bodnarchuk, D
5th round (128th overall), 5’10 172 lbs, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
The Bruins spent their fifth round pick on two-way defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk from the Halifax Mooseheads. Bodnarchuk is on the small side for a defenseman, but there’s nothing small in the way he approaches the game. He’s the type of player that will give a solid effort every shift and he isn’t afraid to confront the opposition. One of the strongest assets with Bodnarchuk is his skating, which, along with his ability to see the ice and anticipate plays, helps to negate some of the misgivings about his size. He has good overall puck control and a solid, accurate shot.
Bodnarchuk was utilized successfully in the Halifax power play and penalty kill, and he scored five of his six goals on the season on the power play. He finished his rookie campaign in 2005-06 with 23 points (6 goals, 17 assists) and 137 penalty minutes in 68 games, and played a big role in the Mooseheads’ defense.
Levi Nelson, C
6th round (158th overall), 5’11 167 lbs, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
The Bruins used their final pick on this smallish forward, a relative unknown, originally from Calgary, Alberta. Nelson is a hard-working, high character forward coming off his rookie season in the Western Hockey league. He put together an impressive 38 points (21 goals, 17 assists) and 63 penalty minutes in 63 games with Swift Current. He’s another energy guy, combining offensive instincts with strong skating ability. Nelson spent time on the powerplay, where he scored seven of his goals and had eight helpers for the season. He was fourth on his team in scoring by the end of the season and earned rookie of the year honors with Swift Current. Nelson was selected to join the 2005-06 Canada U-18 team at the World Championships in April of 2006.
Kevin Forbes, Dustin Nielson, Glen Jackson, DJ Powers, and Eugene Belashchenko contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.