PHILADELPHIA - One couldn’t help but notice the change in the Bruins draft strategy last season.
Gone were the traditional OHL players taken in the top rounds in six drafts with Wayne Smith in charge of Boston’s scouting department, and instead the Bruins had a much more European flavor to their selection process.
Something needed to give as Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton were the only NHL regulars produced in those six drafts following a loaded 2006 draft class that produced Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand, with the handprints of then-B’s assistant general manager Jeff Gorton all over it prior to his departure to the New York Rangers.
First-round pick Zach Hamill and second-round pick Tommy Cross were both bona fide busts in 2007, and that was underscored by Logan Couture and P.K. Subban getting taken immediately after them.
Top picks such as Joe Colborne, Max Sauve, Jordan Caron and Ryan Button similarly aren’t going to live up to their billing in the 2008 and 2009 drafts, though at least Colborne netted them Tomas Kaberle in the 2011 deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There’s still hope for the 2010 and 2011 classes with names such as Justin Florek, Ryan Spooner, Craig Cunningham, Zach Trotman, Anthony Camara and Alex Khokhlachev all knocking on the door at the NHL level. Several of those players are expected to claim NHL spots on the Bruins this season. They will ultimately dictate the success or failure of those draft classes.
There are also undrafted players, such as Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller, that have become strong NHL players thanks to the NCAA scouting efforts of B's bird-doggers Scott Fitzgerald and Ryan Nadeau. That has been a major success for the Bruins scouting department over the past few years, and has offset some of the missed draft opportunities.
Still, given the missed chances in the scouting and player selection process, the Bruins were clearly looking for a change at the forefront of their scouting department. They exacted that change last summer and the results were noticeable once the names of their 2013 draft picks were read.
When it was over, the Bruins selected three players from the Swedish Leagues – including one Czech-born player doing his thing in Sweden – and it seemed an eye-opening departure from the norm over the first six years of the Peter Chiarelli era on Causeway Street. It was also pretty clear in B’s development camp that the European guys could play and would be assets to the organization.
The draft picks went along with Swedish forwards Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg being brought into the fold at the NHL level and goalie Niklas Svedberg getting groomed out of the Swedish leagues.
It was a page right out of the Detroit Red Wings playbook and it makes sense given some of the qualities found in Swedish NHL players: modest, hard-working, two-way players that are team-oriented, pay attention to playing responsible defense and tend to shy away from the natural media spotlight that can shine brightly in Boston.
There is a down side, as well: those same kinds of players can get a little passive when the going gets rough in the playoffs and Eriksson and Soderberg combined for just three goals in a disappointingly short postseason run.
Linus Arnesson, Peter Cehlarik and Anton Blidh all were plucked out of the Swedish junior leagues. Those names seemed to make a bit more sense when the Bruins announced roughly a week later that Keith Gretzky had been named the new director of amateur scouting.
The former Phoenix Coyotes scouting director is a big proponent of Swedish prospects and pays close attention to budding hockey talent in Europe. The Great One’s sibling had an influential hand in the Desert Dogs drafting Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has turned into one of the best blueliners in the NHL over the past five years.
The Bruins are working to turn their scouting department into more of a global outfit when it comes to draft classes and amateur free agents and that should be the case again this weekend at the draft at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly.
“I feel we have a real tight list. I think we’ve had some real productive meetings with Keith [Gretzky] at the helm, and he’s got a different perspective on things. He also knows what the Bruins ideals are, and kind of the ingredients that we want in players,” said Chiarelli. “I have complete confidence in Keith [Gretzky] running this draft and we’ve got some real good guys behind him and above him that can really give him good lateral support.
“A guy like Scott Bradley [who was named Bruins assistant GM on Friday] has been terrific in that regard in giving Keith [Gretzky] tutelage and pointing him in the right direction, and giving him support. I feel good about our amateur group, and I am looking forward to this draft.”
With ex-Bruins assistant GM Jim Benning leaving after the playoffs to become GM of the Vancouver Canucks, Chiarelli announced - along with the Bradley move - that former Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. is the new B's executive director of player personnel. Ferguson was the executive who dealt a young Tuukka Rask to Boston in exchange for Andrew Raycroft among his missteps in Toronto.
Benning was a consensus-builder and keen talent evaluator who could identify Bruins-style prospects, such as Khokhlachev. Those are the main qualities that landed him the job in Vancouver.
Bradley was the scouting director for the Bruins in that loaded, franchise-altering 2006 draft, and will undoubtedly have his imprints on whatever plan the B’s enact on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
Ferguson had been one of San Jose’s top scouts the past few years after getting fired in Toronto and one Sharks organizational source said he was the trusted talent evaluator that the organization would send in to evaluate players they were considering for in-season trades. In Boston, Bradley will be the overseer of the Bruins scouting department as Benning was quite successfully for the past seven years. Ferguson will assist Bradley in a senior capacity and essentially fill the advisory position Bradley filled over the past few years.
It’s clear now there are significant changes underway in the way the Bruins scout, draft and develop players, and that’s not a bad thing at all given the early returns from last season with another draft day upon us.