This year, it’s the equivalent of a mid-December game when the season is no longer new, and checkpoints like the All-Star break and trade deadline are a long way off: It’s difficult to stay interested and motivated, unless you’re the type who pays close attention to those who suddenly get a chance to make an impact.
So soon after the disappointment of losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, with relatively few selections and most so late in each round, it’s not easy to invest much energy in following what the Bruins do at the NHL Draft on Friday (Round 1, 8 p.m., NBCSN) and Saturday (Rounds 2-7, 1 p.m., NHL Network) in Vancouver, unless you’re heavily invested in prospects, scouts — and patience.
Unlike last year, when they sat out the first round after trading their pick to the Rangers to land Rick Nash, the B’s will make a selection in Round 1 — No. 30 overall. On Saturday, they’re idle until Round 3 (No. 92 overall), sit out Round 4, then choose again in Rounds 5 (154), 6 (185) and 7 (192). Their second-round choice (No. 61) went to the Devils to acquire pending unrestricted free agent Marcus Johansson; they sent the fourth-rounder to the Blackhawks last year for Tommy Wingels.
Trades, of course, could change anything from the Bruins’ draft positions to some of the faces on the team for next season, and the B’s aren’t opposed to making deals.
In separate year-end press conferences this week, general manager Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely indicated the Bruins would only be in listening mode when it came to higher profile players like Torey Krug (entering the final year of his contract, heading for unrestricted free agency) and No. 2 center David Krejci (at 33, he has two years left at $7.25 million), but seemed more open to exploring if there might be a market for David Backes, who now projects as a fourth-line player for the last two years of a contract that pays $6 million annually. A buyout would save the B’s almost nothing next year, and only about $2.3 million in 2020-21.
“If somebody blew us away (with a trade proposal) ... every player has to be looked at that way,” Sweeney said. “You have discussions all the time with general managers around the league ... they may see their hockey club, and (a Bruin) ... as a perfect fit.”
The Bruins haven’t expressed any great desire to move on from either Krug or Krejci, though, and their stated short-term target — a winger to fill out the top six forward group — indicates they have no plan to shop Krejci.
The Bruins have acknowledged, however, that despite coming off the most productive years of their careers, Krejci (73 points, matching his best year) and No. 1 center Patrice Bergeron (79 points, his best ever), who turns 34 next month, can’t be counted on to carry the load for much longer. The B’s need to think about replacing them, and while they have recently spent high picks on centers, it’s unclear if the likes of Trent Frederic (Round 1, No. 29, 2016), Jack Studnicka (Round 2, No. 53, 2017) will develop into well-rounded players in the mold of Bergeron and Krejci. (Ironically, Jakub Forsbacka Karlsson was, in fact, billed as an up-and-coming two-way center when drafted 45th overall in 2015, but he has at least temporarily left the organization to play next season in Sweden.)
With such a late pick in the first round, and no choice in the second, odds of finding another Bergeron or Krejci aren’t high, but they’re not unfathomable. Bergeron (No. 45 overall, 2003) and Krejci (No. 63, 2004) were both second-round selections.
The scouting staff has undoubtedly spent a good deal of its time trying to identify centers who can become capable replacements, and play with the young Bruins who have emerged over the past two seasons.
“I think it’s very important to have your centermen be responsible for both ends of the ice,” Neely said. “I think you win a lot of different ways, but you have to win playing sound defensively. (Bergeron and Krejci) do that.”
Teams with such players generally don’t want to trade them, so there’s only one other place to find them.
“Generally,” Sweeney said, “you have to select them, draft them, develop them, then put them in there and let them grow.”