Boston Bruins

Why it's probably silly to stress over Bruins draft 'reaches'

Why it's probably silly to stress over Bruins draft 'reaches'

In the NHL draft on Friday, the Bruins used the 18th overall pick on Urho Vaakanainen, a Finnish defenseman who was not a consensus first-round prospect. What idiots. 

Oh, not the Bruins. Well, maybe. Who knows? But the for-sure idiots are people who are inclined to lament the pick. 

This isn’t because I’m necessarily a big fan of Vaakanainen. Like you, I’ve not watched full games of him. It’s because if you blindly criticize an NHL draft pick past the middle of the first round, you are an absolute maniac.

The NHL draft might be the most difficult draft in professional sports. There are sleepers in every draft, but no draft lends itself to going off the board more than hockey. Maybe baseball. Maaaaybe. 

Why? Because players are so hard to project that the best talent evaluators in the world are often incorrect in the long-run. There’s so much projection involved that the 18th-best player at the time of the draft could very well be a nobody at the next level. We cling to the pre-draft rankings for dear life, but Craig Button’s final list is far different from Todd McShay’s big board. This isn’t because McShay is any smarter than Button; it’s because projecting teenagers who haven’t grown into their bodies for a job when they’re 22 is a heck of a lot harder than projecting a 22-year-old for a job when they’re 22. 

Scouts and a lot of media know to a tee what these players are now. There's no questioning their knowledge. Yet what makes the draft so fascinating is that, unlike a draft like the NFL and, to an extent, the NBA, it's more of a question of what they may be. 

Case in point: As part of a piece I wrote for WEEI.com back in 2015, I attempted to quantify what a “hit” and a “miss” was in the first round of the NHL draft. The explanation is in the story, but for our purposes “hit” means NHL regular or close to it. I looked at a seven-year sample and these were the findings: 

Picks 1-10: 62 hits, eight misses
Picks 11-20: 29 hits, 41 misses
Picks 21-30: 20 hits, 50 misses

This isn’t to suggest that teams should throw darts at a board. That would sell short the importance of having good players on entry level contracts, which is critical in today’s NHL. It would also foolishly suggest the work done by scouts isn’t equally critical. 

Yet where the Bruins picked on Friday, they were in the range where they’ve got less than a 50-50 chance of the guy panning out. Taking a risk on a guy they like rather than a bigger name (like there is a “bigger” name than Vaakanainen; just a little name humor) with whom they're not enamored is a totally respectable approach. 

Under Don Sweeney, the Bruins go off the board regularly. Jake DeBrusk was considered a minor reach at 14th overall in 2015; Zach Senyshyn was considered a major reach with the very next pick. Those picks were easier to question considering a presumed top-10 pick was still on the board in Kyle Connor. If they end up being wrong on that, they'll deserve criticism just like anyone who took someone who proved to be a lesser player before the 17th pick. 

A year later, the B’s took Trent Frederic in the first round when there hadn’t been a peep about that kid being a first-round pick. The jury is still out on all of these guys, but they’ve developed well since their selections. 

But going by the book isn't a clear-cut recipe for success, and the B's know it. The 2012 draft wasn’t great. Go look at the late first round of that draft; Tanner Pearson is the exception, not the rule, given that he became an NHL regular. Picking in that range, the B’s took a player ranked in that neighborhood: Malcolm Subban, who has yet to become a starting NHL goalie and may never do so. 

The Bruins would have received a whole lot of what-the-hell-are-they-doings had they taken a lower-ranked goalie in that spot. Yet Matt Murray was in that draft and he ended up becoming a starting goalie as a third-round pick. They’d also have been panned if they took Shayne Gostisbehere, who went in the third. 

Like any draft, guys drafted in later rounds can become great players. Yet the NHL draft usually isn’t going to give you a star in the first round the way the NFL draft does, so you might as well take the guy you like where you want. That’s what the Bruins do, and it’s really not as silly as it sounds. 

Bruins' Krug suffers fractured jaw, out at least three weeks

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Bruins' Krug suffers fractured jaw, out at least three weeks

BRIGHTON -- Now that the preseason games have started, it was inevitable that the injuries were going to start popping up for the Bruins.

Torey Krug will be out at least three weeks after suffering a non-displaced fracture in his jaw after taking a puck to the mouth in the second period of Tuesday night’s win over the Red Wings. And both Matt Beleskey (foot contusion) and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (upper body) are considered day-to-day with injuries.

Forsbacka Karlsson tumbled head-first into the end boards in the second period Tuesday. Beleskey suffered his injury in Monday night’s win over the Canadiens in Quebec City.

The Krug injury is significant, of course, and likely to cause him to miss at least the first few games of the regular season. It’s a tough break for the puck-moving defenseman, who missed all of last year’s playoffs because of a knee injury after staying healthy for the first 81 games.

It will give the Bruins a chance to give much closer looks to younger, left-shot defensemen like Matt Grzelcyk, Robbie O’Gara, Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril. All three were ticketed to start the year in Providence.

Here is the expected lineup for tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden, with Anders Bjork getting his first official look while skating right wing on a line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron:
 
Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork
Gabrielle-Nash-Acciari
Blidh-Cave-Senyshyn
Agostino-Spooner-Heinen
 
Chara-Carlo
Grzelcyk-Cross
Lauzon-Postma

Czarnik trying not to be 'the forgotten man' in Bruins camp

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Czarnik trying not to be 'the forgotten man' in Bruins camp

BOSTON – With all of the talk about young forward prospects Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk, it would seem that Austin Czarnik wants to serve a reminder that he can play a little hockey too.

For the second year in a row, the 24-year-old diminutive forward is putting together a strong start to his training camp with a multi-point performance in a 4-2 exhibition victory over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night at TD Garden.

Czarnik finished with a penalty-shot goal, two points and tied for the team-lead with four shots on net while playing with the energy, skating aggressiveness and in-your-face attitude that he’s going to need for NHL success. He also made his point that there are more than just a couple of young forwards in camp who can potentially help in Boston this winter.

“He was very good. I think the forgotten man, maybe, he was thinking [a bit] because we’ve talked about a lot of young guys. He’s still a young guy, and wants to make his mark and push for a job on the team,” coach Bruce Cassidy said of Czarnik, who posted five goals and 13 points in 49 games for the Bruins last season. “I thought he looked real good tonight. He won a lot of pucks. He’s always going to make plays in space, that’s his game. He won a lot of pucks and did a lot of little things well.”

It was Czarnik who really helped put the game away in the second period when he sped past a pair of defenders and forced them into hauling him down for a penalty shot with the B’s already up, 2-0. Czarnik patiently slowed his penalty-shot attempt before ripping one past Petr Mrazek’s glove hand in what ended up being the game-winning goal. Czarnik was in the middle of things again in the third on the insurance marker as he engineered a 3-on-1 rush before expertly feeding to Teddy Purcell for the sizzled one-timer.

Czarnik was downplaying the idea that he’s been overlooked in camp but show there was a strong need to remind the B’s organization how he can potentially help them as a fast, aggressive, pesky little center that can also make some plays.

“I’m not going to worry about [getting overlooked]. It’s part of life, you know it’s happened a lot? I’m not going to worry about that,” said Czarnik, who similarly won a job with the Bruins after a strong initial training camp last season. I’m just going to worry about myself and just try to do the right thing every single time and show them what I can do.

“I need to be an energy guy. There’s a lot of young talent now, you know, on the power play and everything now, so I need to try to create energy on the penalty kill and the fore-check. So that’s what my main focus is going to be.”

The energy really is the key to Czarnik’s long-term hopes with the Bruins and, consequently, the rest of the NHL. If he can play with the same skating legs, high energy and rapid pace that he’s consistently shown in preseasons, then there’s no reason to think he can’t help the Bruins. But there were far too many lulls in Czarnik’s rookie NHL season where the skating game wasn’t good enough, there wasn’t enough bite to his fore-check and there just weren’t enough plays being made on the ice.

Clearly, Czarnik is trying to change that impression in this camp with the B’s, but that could prove to be a much more difficult task with so many more quality forwards now battling for a few jobs on the roster in Boston. 

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