By: Zach Carlone | Follow me on Twitter! @zcarlone21
A nightmare from Bruins recent history continues to always find its way back into the discussion when talking about the current state of the team. That nightmare is the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The draft included high-end talent as the top three picks included the Edmonton Oilers selecting Connor McDavid first overall, the Buffalo Sabres selecting Jack Eichel second overall, and the Arizona Coyotes selecting Dylan Strome third overall.
General manager Don Sweeney, who was two months into the new job after the Bruins fired then-general manager Peter Chiarelli, made some blockbuster moves to collect three consecutive picks. Those selections came in the middle of the first round in what was considered one of the deepest prospect pools in draft day since about ten years earlier.
Sweeney traded then-Bruins winger and fan-favorite Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings for the 13th overall pick along with goaltender Martin Jones and defenseman Colin Miller. He also traded then-Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames for the 15th overall pick and two second-round picks. The Bruins themselves owned the 14th overall pick, and after shipping out two pieces of the Bruins core, it seemed as if Sweeney wanted to quickly rebuild his prospect pool and have three selections in a deep draft class. Innovative thinking, so it seems.
The Bruins selected three standouts from junior hockey in Canada. In order, defenseman Jakub Zboril, winger Jake DeBrusk, and winger Zachary Senyshyn were the Bruins three picks, and with three second-round selections on the table as well, Sweeney thought he was doing well for the start to a successful tenure. This was his first big gig as an NHL general manager, and anybody could sit here and tell you he did a relatively poor job. Outside of snagging Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo in the second round, this draft was a bust across the board.
All three first-round selections are still young, but time is running out for them to find a spot on the Bruins, especially with the team stocking up for an expected postseason run in 2021-22. Zboril has played in 44 total career NHL games, with 42 of them coming last season. He posted nine assists and still finds himself on the bubble of the Bruins roster.
DeBrusk, probably the most rewarding player of the three selections, has played in 244 career NHL games, collecting 67 goals and 134 points thus far. His production fell off tremendously last season, only hitting 14 points in 41 games, and he’s been a subject in trade rumors for much of the offseason. Senyshyn has played in just 14 career NHL games, collecting three points along the way. Here’s what Sweeney could’ve done differently in order to not miss out on the stacked 2015 draft class:
Package the Picks
Sweeney went through the hassle of trading roster players for picks just to select three guys who haven’t exactly panned out into a full-time NHL role. Obviously, he didn’t have a fortune-teller around to tell him the potentials of these prospects in the first round, but in hindsight, maybe trading two or all three of those picks to move up into the top-ten could’ve immensely bettered their chances of getting a reliable NHL prospect who would be bound for a fulfilling career. I think acquiring a top-five pick may have been difficult, but it’s possible to do something for a top-ten selection. Sweeney had three second-round picks to sweeten any potential trade offer if he desired to.
For example, Sweeney could’ve possibly traded the 13th overall selection along with two second-round picks to acquire the 10th overall pick. Perhaps he could’ve even packaged the 13th, and 15th picks to move up to 8th or 9th overall in some fashion. Such a small but impactful shift up the board could’ve landed the Bruins Colorado Avalanche winger Mikko Rantanen, who went 10th overall.
Rantanen is a goal-scoring dream, already notching 316 points in 333 career games. Defenseman Zach Werenski was selected 8th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Switz-native Timo Meier was selected 9th overall by the San Jose Sharks. Any three of those players could’ve been hugely beneficial towards building a contender, but Sweeney decided to stick with three picks with hopes of getting three different players of that same caliber.
Better Selections, Obviously
It’s tough to put the blame on a general manager who was promoted after a quick-firing in the month of April. Sweeney had just two months to prepare for the draft ahead in a totally new position. In the same breath, Sweeney had great resources to work with, the same scouts, and he wasn’t named Peter Chiarelli. This could’ve been his first success story as the general manager, building a contending Bruins team with a strong core. It wasn’t, and some of the prospects taken just after the 15th and final pick for the Bruins in the first round were much better choices. There’s no telling ahead or way to predict that nowadays if we were in Sweeney’s shoes back then.
Just ahead of the Bruins 13th pick, the Dallas Stars selected winger Denis Gurianov of the KHL. Just after the Bruins 15th overall pick, however, the New York Islanders selected center Matthew Barzal. A flashy speedster for the Islanders, Barzal has 252 career points in 289 career games. With centers Patrice Bergeron and former Bruin David Krejci still down the middle in the prime of their careers, it makes sense why the Bruins wouldn’t have wanted Barzal from a positional standpoint. However, the following consecutive picks, thinking about what if the Bruins got these players, are where it starts to get ugly.
With the 17th overall pick, the Winnipeg Jets selected American-born winger Kyle Connor. The left-winger is currently riding off of four consecutive 50-or-more point seasons. How remarkable would that have been to see Connor slotting in on the second line as one of David Krejci’s flanks? Following that selection, the Ottawa Senators selected defenseman Thomas Chabot 18th overall.
The 6’2″ defenseman could’ve been a solution to the Bruins weakness at the left-sided defensemen position. Chabot collected 31 points in 49 games last season with the low-achieving Ottawa Senators and has looked like a sure number one defenseman still improving every year. A top pairing involving Chabot and Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy could’ve been something opposing teams would absolutely hate to play against.
Those are just a few names the Bruins could’ve possibly had on their roster, but there’s obviously more. Winger Brock Boeser was selected 23rd overall by the Vancouver Canucks, and forward Travis Konecny was selected 24th by the Philadelphia Flyers. Both are closing in on the 100-career-goals milestone, most likely to be reached during this upcoming season, with over 200 career points to each of their names already. Them two possibly in the Bruins top-six would’ve been special.
The Bruins selected Brandon Carlo with the 37th overall pick, and that second-round selection would turn out to be Sweeney’s best pick of the weekend. In perspective, Finnish star Sebastian Aho was selected 35th by the Carolina Hurricanes, meaning there was still talented prospects to be selected during the upcoming round.
The other two second-round picks for the Bruins were Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon, who were selected 45th and 52nd, respectively. Forsbacka Karlsson hasn’t made an impact anywhere higher than with the Providence Bruins, and Lauzon actually played his first complete NHL season in 2020-21. He collected one goal and eight points in 41 games before being selected by the Seattle Kraken in the NHL Expansion Draft.
It’s easy to say the Bruins could’ve had a much better showing at the 2015 NHL Draft, but it’s fascinating to analyze what could’ve happened to the 2021-22 Bruins roster if they had made different selections during the draft. Their first-round pick in 2014 was David Pastrnak, and their first pick in the 2016 draft was McAvoy. Both have turned into exceptional pieces as part of the Bruins current core competing for a Stanley Cup. Outside of the 2015 draft, Sweeney has done an admirable job over the last handful of seasons making up for those miscues and has learned what it takes to be a respectable NHL general manager.