Rehashing The Bruins’ Approach To The 2018 NHL Draft

Draft Logo

Photo Credit: NHL.com

By: Spencer Fascetta | Follow me on Twitter @PuckNerdHockey

Earlier this season, I did a deep dive on what I felt the Bruins could do at the 2018 NHL Draft. Obviously, several things have changed since then. For one thing, the Bruins no longer have a 1st Round Draft pick, as it was surrendered in the Rick Nash trade. Additionally, my opinions on players have changed and evolved as the season has gone forward. So, let’s take another look at what the B’s could do with their later picks, in order to maximize the value of the pick. A few things before I begin.

  1. I fully subscribe to a “Best Player Available” strategy at the draft table. Holes can be filled by using depth at a position through trade in the future, so maximizing value is the most important thing possible.
  2. I will not be giving players for every draft pick the Bruins have. That’s absurd, and if anyone is able to accurately predict a selection in the 200th pick range, they are in the wrong profession.
  3. I have used rankings from the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, TheDraftAnalyst, Future Considerations, and The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler. The rankings from TheDraftAnalyst are first-year-eligibles only.

The Bruins have the following selections in the 2018 NHL Draft:

2nd Round: 57th Overall

3rd Round: 77th Overall (via Florida in the Frank Vatrano deal)

4th Round: 119th Overall

5th Round: 150th Overall

7th Round: 212th Overall

So, who do I think they should target given that they won’t have a 1st Round pick? The idea is to find guys that have slipped through the cracks for a variety of reasons, who will then be available later in the draft.

G Jakub Skarek, HC Dukla Jihlava (Czech Extraliga)

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Photo Credit: Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images

Rankings:

Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): 60th

TheDraftAnalyst (January): 29th

TheDraftAnalyst (September): 19th

Central Scouting (Final): 2nd (Euro Goalies)

Central Scouting (Midterm): 1st (Euro Goalies)

Future Considerations: 95th

The Bruins had a plan in place with their goaltending and promptly watched it disintegrate when Malcolm Subban was claimed on waivers by the Vegas Golden Knights. Daniel Vladar looks good, not great, and Jeremy Swayman had a good freshman campaign at the University of Maine, but neither one projects as a truly elite goaltender. Skarek is the one goaltending prospect in this year’s class who has the ability to become one. He has been impressive in the professional ranks in his native Czech Republic since the age of 16, an impressive feat for any player, let alone a goaltender.

He has decent size, impressive athleticism, and his positioning is progressing nicely. He had a horrendous World Junior Championship, but that should not scare any team away from taking him. This is a player who should be available in the range of the B’s 2nd Rounder, and if he is available, they could replace the upside Subban brought to the table with Skarek. The underrated upside of this pick is that he could remain in the Czech Republic for a few more years before even attempting to come over to North America.

With the limited number of spots available for goaltenders within the organization (realistically, only 6 lineup spots, and 3 starters), the ability to have Skarek play in a decent professional league while getting the bulk of the starts cannot be undersold.

F Liam Kirk, Sheffield Steelers (EIHL)

Liam Kirk

Photo Credit: The Hockey News

Rankings:

Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): 95th

TheDraftAnalyst (January): 167th

TheDraftAnalyst (September): Not Ranked

Central Scouting (Final): 65th (Euro Skaters)

Central Scouting (Midterm): Not Ranked (Euro Skaters)

Future Considerations: Not Ranked

Kirk wins the “Who in the heck is that guy” award. The British native has never played outside his home country but has been playing in the EIHL (English Ice Hockey League) for two years already. In the Brits’ U20 games this year, as they attempted to be promoted from the Division 2A level, he had 7 goals and 7 assists for 14 points in 5 games. As a 17-year-old. He is easily the most talented player the British system has ever developed solely on their home turf – and the hockey world has taken notice. More than half a dozen teams have already expressed interest in drafting him, and he plans to (and will likely be drafted into) playing in the Canadian Hockey League next season. He needs to fill out his frame significantly, but he is one of the most dynamic players in the draft and has Nikolaj Ehlers-esque afterburners.

As a 15-year-old, he played in 10 games at the U20 level in England and put up 44 points. He played 17 games at the U18 level that same year and scored an absurd 98 points. Because of the unique situation he presents, the plan is for him to come over to North America and skate for a few NHL teams before the draft. It’s not just him either. His teammate, Kieran Brown, is a year younger than Kirk and is already being discussed as a potential draft pick in next year’s NHL draft.

The closest a player born, raised, and trained solely in the United Kingdom has come to the NHL since Tony Hand was taken by the Oilers in 1986 (Hand is widely considered the greatest English-born hockey player of all time, and has drawn praise for his ability from Wayne Gretzky) was the son of Rod Stewart (yes, THAT Rod Stewart), Liam, who spent time with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, became a go-to offensive player for them, eventually wore a letter for them, and played a few seasons in the ECHL before heading back home across the pond. Kirk will almost certainly surpass Stewart and Hand. Get ready, NHL. The British are coming.

C Yegor Sharangovich, Dinamo Minsk (KHL)

Yegor Sharangovich

Photo Credit: Francis Larrede Photography

Rankings:

Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): Not Ranked

TheDraftAnalyst (January): Overager

TheDraftAnalyst (September): Overager

Central Scouting (Final): 51st (Euro Skaters)

Central Scouting (Midterm): 71st (Euro Skaters)

Future Considerations: Not Ranked

Everybody has that one prospect that they can’t get enough of, and Yegor Sharangovich is the guy I’d die on a hill for (metaphorically speaking). He’s been passed over twice already, but every time I watch him play, I’m more and more convinced that he’s going to be a player. He was far and away the best player for Belarus at the World Junior Championships this year and has routinely been a part of the Belarussian team at the World Championships in the spring.

He also got regular playing time this year in the KHL as a teenager, an impressive feat for a league known for stifling its teenagers. For reference, Alexander Ovechkin scored 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points in 37 games in his draft-plus-one year. This past year, Sharangovich had 4 goals, 8 assists for 12 points in 47 games. Not necessarily on Ovechkin’s pace, but Ovechkin was getting significantly more high-end opportunities than Sharangovich. I love his release, and his dynamic ability to generate offense. Naturally, he is a little suspect in his own end, but that comes with experience. I think this is the type of player who is more than worth the risk in the later rounds because the upside is too high to ignore. The only question is if and when he comes across the pond.

RW Jesse Ylonen, Espoo Blues (Metsis)

Jesse Ylonen

Photo Credit: Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva

Rankings:

Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): 36th

TheDraftAnalyst (January): 44th

TheDraftAnalyst (September): 36th

Central Scouting (Final): 28th (Euro Skaters)

Central Scouting (Midterm): 28th (Euro Skaters)

Future Considerations: 58th

The American-born son of former NHLer Juha Ylonen (he was born in Arizona while his father was playing for the then-Phoenix Coyotes) is another European teenager playing in a league of men. Bruins fans will see a little bit of Jake DeBrusk in the way he moves on the ice, but the players are relatively different in their style. While DeBrusk is a straight line player, willing to go to the dirty areas constantly, Ylonen is much more of a perimeter player. He needs to add some muscle mass, and he needs to get more comfortable in his own end, but the vision and skating are already elite, and he seems to process the game relatively well.

He has a good, not great release, and could use it a bit more. He feels like someone who is playing in a lower echelon European professional league who may have a higher upside than he is able to show (a la a Jesper Bratt or Sebastian Aho – the Finnish one). He is a worthwhile investment in the 2nd, and should be a target should he slip all the way to the 3rd.

LW Sampo Ranta, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)

Sampo Ranta

Photo Credit: Todd Milewski

Rankings:

Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): Honorable Mention

TheDraftAnalyst (January): 78th

TheDraftAnalyst (September): 170th

Central Scouting (Final): 18th (NA Skaters)

Central Scouting (Midterm): 23rd (NA Skaters)

Future Considerations: 57th

The Wisconsin commit has a wicked shot, and it is difficult not to compare him to fellow Finn and 2017 1st Rounder Eeli Tolvanen. Ranta has a tendency to disappear within a game, and when he’s off, he’s very off. When he’s on, he has one of the best releases in the entire draft, and he already has the frame to work well along the boards or in front of the net offensively. He needs significant work in his own end, and I worry about his ability to think the game at times, but the raw skill set is difficult to deny.

D Jordan Harris, Kimball Union Academy (USHS-Prep)

Jordan Harris

Photo Credit: David Willis/The Eagle Tribune

Rankings:

Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): Not Ranked

TheDraftAnalyst (January): 318th

TheDraftAnalyst (September): 229th

Central Scouting (Final): 44th (NA Skaters)

Central Scouting (Midterm): 46th (NA Skaters)

Future Considerations: 74th

Harris is the epitome of the modern defenseman. He is an excellent skater, he makes a good first pass, and he is as cerebral as they come. The Northeastern commit is clearly a ways away from the NHL level and will play a year of juniors either with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL or in the USPHL’s NCDC conference closer to home next year as a result, but the upside as a 3rd or 4th round pick is hard to deny. He still has plenty of room to grow into his body, and, while I hate throwing intangibles around, he was the captain this year at Kimball Union, a school with a long history of producing high-caliber NCAA and pro players. He oozes with potential.

What do the Bruins have in Matt Grzelcyk?

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By: Spencer Fascetta | Follow Me on Twitter @PuckNerdHockey

Take a look at the Bruins’ defense corps this year. 300-year-old Zdeno Chara is logging significant minutes, while his toddler of a partner, Charlie McAvoy, looks like he’s been in the league for nearly a decade. I’ve already gone in-depth with our good friend Brandon Carlo, which you can read here, but he is a steady, young, Top 4 guy. Torey Krug is one of the most dynamic blueliners in the game, which I discuss in depth here. If anyone told you Kevan Miller had developed into a reliable two-way weapon, you would have booked them a one-way trip to a mental institution. Adam McQuaid, well, you can read my feelings on him here. They really haven’t changed much since then. They just made a deal for Nick Holden, who I give some thoughts on here. You forgot Paul Postma existed. That leaves Matt Grzelcyk, the pint-sized Boston native who forced his way into the lineup halfway through the season and has made quite the case to remain there.

NHL: Boston Bruins at Pittsburgh Penguins

Photo: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

That being said, there seems to be a bit of groupthink that Grzelcyk is not very good, and not only should be a nightly scratch in favor of McQuaid or Holden but that he probably doesn’t have a long-term future on the Bruins. There are a few contributing factors here. For one, he’s small. The Boston fan base has had the privilege of watching Torey Krug work his magic for the past 5 years, and have thus developed an unrealistic expectation that every undersized defenseman should be in that mold. To this point, Grzelcyk certainly has not displayed the level of dynamics Krug has. As I have stated in previous articles, I also feel as if the Boston fanbase clings to it’s Big Bad Bruins heritage like it’s a liferaft. Unfortunately, that liferaft has a 3-foot gash in the side of it and has been sinking faster and faster as the years have gone on. It is one of the reasons they are infatuated with Adam McQuaid, despite the countless pieces of information that state he is a below-replacement-level option.

 

In that vein, I thought I’d put together another one of my excessively long pieces on Matt Grzelcyk to convey to you, the reader, how good he actually is. As always, I used the fabulous database available at Corsica.hockey, and compiled them filtered datasets into my own massive database, simply for the ease of manipulation. This particular data was gathered on March 22nd, 2018, and I limited the data to any defenseman who has logged at least 500 minutes of ice time thus far this season. This, in theory, limits the dataset to defensemen who have played at least half of the season at the NHL level. The secondary dataset is comprised of the pairings data from Corsica, looking at the four players Grzelcyk has spent significant time with as a defense partner this year – Brandon Carlo, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, and Charlie McAvoy. The visuals are created through Tableau. If there is size scaling on the graphs below of the marks, it is by time on ice (pairings data) and time on ice percentage (individual data), the percentage of a team’s total time on ice a player is used in. Phew! That’s a long preamble. Told you I had a rambling tendency!

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Photo: Angela Spagna

Let’s get started by looking at the individual-player data. The first graph depicts the relationship between Corsi For per Hour (CF/60) and Corsi Against per Hour (CA/60). Corsi For per Hour is describes shot attempts generated for a player’s team while they are on the ice per every 60 minutes of play, and Corsi Against per Hour is the opposite – the number of shot attempts allowed by a player’s team while they are on the ice. This isolates a player’s impact on shot attempt generation in the offensive and defensive zones. In general, you want your CF/60 to be higher than 50, and your CA/60 to be below 50. Defensemen spend more time in their own end than forwards, and overall more time on the ice than forwards, so it makes sense to see that a majority of them are +50 CA/60 players. It’s a positive that so many defensemen are +50 CF/60 players as well. This would indicate that a majority of defensemen in the NHL who reach at least 500 minutes played are competent two-way players.

Corsi ForAgainst per Hour

What you will likely find interesting is that there are two Bruins I have highlighted that are -50 CA/60 players in addition to being +50 CF/60 players (there are in fact 3, Kevan Miller also falls in this range, but is much, much closer to the 50% line) – Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy. Every other marked player on this graph is a presumptive Norris Trophy candidate this season. So, what does this mean? Well, it means that McAvoy and Grzelcyk are both quite good at generating shots for their team, but they are able to balance that with being two of the best shot suppression defensemen in the entire NHL – as rookies. Not only that but Grzelcyk, at least according to this measurement, is the BEST (no, that is not a typo) shot suppression defenseman in the entire NHL. This comes with two caveats. For one, he has not played a full season in the NHL yet. In addition to that, when he has been in the NHL this season,a he hasn’t started to receive Top 4 minutes until the past week and a half, and that elevation in playing time was in direct response to the rash of injuries the team has suffered of late. Both of these facts contribute tomaller sample size than I would have liked. Regardless, the fact remains that he is a premier defensive defenseman at this point in his career.

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Photo: Steven Ryan/Getty Images

“But, wait!” you exclaim. “You just said he wasn’t getting significant minutes, he’s probably being sheltered!” Aha! I see you come prepared. So, I adjusted CF/60 and CA/60 by the quality of competition. This analyzes the CF/60 and CA/60 of all of the players who have been on the ice for the other team at the same time as the player in question. Based on this, Grzelcyk falls around the middle of the pack. You can see that Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug play some of the toughest minutes in the NHL, and Grzelcyk is not a massive amount behind the two. By no means does he play “sheltered” minutes; he just doesn’t have to try to shut down the league’s best on a game to game basis.

Corsi ForAgainst per Hour (Quality of Competition)

Let’s take a peek at the kind of players Grzelcyk has played with so far. Based on this graphic, yes, Grzelcyk does seem to have the benefit of playing with strong teammates. This should come as no surprise – the Bruins have (arguably) the best defensive forward of all time in Patrice Bergeron, and are consistently a strong defensive team. However, he falls in a similar range as McAvoy and Predators captain Roman Josi.

**Sidenote: I feel really badly for Erik Karlsson. Nobody has been forced to play with worse defensive players than him this year, and it isn’t even close. He hasn’t gotten a ton of help offensively thus far either. Looks like Ottawa may want to buckle up, this may take a while to fix.

Corsi ForAgainst per Hour (Quality of Teammates)

Let’s take a look at how efficient this group is at converting its expected goal output. Grzelcyk far outpaces the field in this case – he has far and away the highest goals for the percentage of this group, which is a measure of the number of goals that are scored by his team out of all goals scored while he is on the ice. Grzelcyk is near 75% – meaning the Bruins have scored 3/4 of the goals scored while he has been on the ice. His expected goals for percentage is still well above 50%, which tells me that although some regression should be expected, it should not be quite as extreme as one would think.

Expected vs Actual Goals For %

We’ve discussed his impact on both shots for and against, but how well does he take care of the puck? Well, let’s take a look at takeaways and giveaways per hour. Surprisingly, he falls into the defensively sound quadrant here, as he averages more takeaways than giveaways per hour. Contrast that with Norris candidates such as Drew Doughty, who falls into the risky quadrant (more giveaways than takeaways), and Grzelcyk falls firmly into the upper echelon of NHL defensemen. He actually is better at taking the puck away from his opponents than Charlie McAvoy, Victor Hedman, PK Subban, Torey Krug, John Klingberg, and the aforementioned Doughty. Pretty good company.

Giveaways vs. Takeaways per Hour

Well, is he benefitting from sheltered zone starts? As compared to his peers, only slightly. I want to point a few things out though. He gets SIGNIFICANTLY fewer offensive zone starts than Torey Krug (who, rather absurdly, gets nearly half of his zone starts in the offensive zone), and in fact, receives fewer than Charlie McAvoy. Additionally, he is THE BEST defenseman concerning shots for percentage, which is the percentage of all shots taken by his team out of the total number of shots taken while he is on the ice. When he’s on the ice, the B’s are taking nearly 60% of the shots.

Shots For % vs Ozs%

I mentioned earlier that Grzelcyk had benefitted from playing with high-end defensive-forwards such as Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. But what about his defensive partners? Well, looking at CF/60 and CA/60 of the 4 defensive pairings he has been a part of, all of them fall into the -50 CA/60 and +50 CF/60 quadrant. He and McAvoy may be one of the most dominant defensive pairings we have seen in Boston in quite a while.

Pairings Corsi For versus Corsi Against per Hour

How dominant is the McAvoy/Grzelcyk pairing? The former Boston University Terrier teammates have nearly 90% of the goals scored by either team while they are on the ice. He did the impossible and made Adam McQuaid look like an offensive threat. Kevan Miller has been a brilliant compliment.

Pairings Expected Goals For Percentage versus Goals For Percentage

Let’s take a look at their Corsi differential and Shot Differential. He and Carlo give up more shots than they generate, and are *ahem* less than good regarding Corsi. While the McQuaid pairing is decent as it pertains to shot differential, they are not very good regarding possession. Unsurprisingly, the McAvoy/Grzelcyk duo has been good in both aspects. However, the more surprising thing might be the sheer dominance the Miller/Grzelcyk pairing has shown. They are comfortably a definite possession pairing, but they obliterate the competition when it comes to shot differential. That’s absurd.

Pairings Goal Differential vs Corsi Differential

 

Who’s still with me? Well, congratulations – you’re one of the few. Let’s attempt to take all of this information, and answer the question I posed at the beginning: What do the Bruins have in Matt Grzelcyk? Based on my statistical analysis, Grzelcyk looks like an elite two-way defenseman, which is excellent at taking the puck away from his opponents and one of the best in the league at shot generation and production. Based on the vaunted eye-test, I see a young defenseman who realizes he is undersized and is able to use a ludicrously high hockey IQ to compensate for his physical limitations. His stick positioning is consistently brilliant, and he might make the best outlet pass in the league. No, that’s not hyperbole. He seems to be gaining confidence offensively, but he is a little tentative when it comes to jumping up into the rush. I expect this will come with time and experience. Grzelcyk might be the 2nd best defensive prospect the Bruins have, and I’m aware of how ridiculous that sounds. But yes, I think he’s better than Jakub Zboril, better than Jeremy Lauzon, better than Urho Vaakanainen, and better than Brandon Carlo. It’s not overly close. The only thing standing in his way is the perception that he is just another small defenseman.

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