Just when you thought it was safe to put away your hockey sweater for the summer, I am back with a quick down-and-dirty on the latest developments in the Boston Bruins camp since the season ended over a month ago. With the draft quickly approaching, we will take one final look at the Bruins’ biggest needs and who they may select to fulfill those requirements. Many thanks to those who responded to my earlier HF Draft Preview with good feedback that has allowed for one final tweak before the main event in Boston on Saturday.
Jeff Zehr. The big news in Boston last week was the signing of 1997 Islanders 2nd- round draft pick Zehr, who comes to the Bruins after a solid OHL career. He has shown promise as a power forward and seems to have every inclination of earning a place on Boston’s roster this year. He’ll have his work cut out for him, but this is an excellent move by management after Zehr could not come to terms in New York.
Eric Van Acker. Van Acker is a big(6’5, 220 pound) blueliner out of Baie-Comeau of the Quebec League and was Boston’s 11th choice, 218th overall in 1997. He’s a meat-and-potatoes stay- at-home defender who does not generate much offense, but could develop into a solid pro with the right seasoning.
Jim Baxter. The Oshawa Generals’ defenseman had a great year, leading team defensemen in scoring and establishing himself as a real power play point-producer. Boston’s 9th choice(180) in 1997 couldn’t agree on a deal with Boston and re-enters the draft.
Bob Prier. This late-round pick in 1996 had a solid 4-year career at St. Lawrence University and even led the Fighting Saints in scoring this year, but Boston passed on him because he is said to lack the necessary pro-level speed. Prier does not lack in the hands department however, and one hopes that he does not come back to haunt the team who gave up on him.
Boston has several needs it will look to address at the NHL Draft on June 26.
Forwards: Cam Neely’s retirement has left a void on the Bruins wing. Boston has addressed some of its problems at center with Jason Allison and Joe Thornton, but still seeks the elusive money forward who can deliver the important goal on a consistent basis. Here are some guys who might be around when the Bruins pick 21st and in the later rounds.
Scott Kelman, C Seattle(WHL) There is a lot to like about Kelman’s game despite the negative feeling about his offense(19 goals). Kelman seems to have the size, ability and heart to play in the NHL and most teams know it. Some wildcards will have to be chosen in the picks ahead of Boston for him to be available at 21, but who knows? Boston tagged him in the Hockey’s Future Mock Draft and with the 6th overall CSB ranking for North American skaters, he appeared to be a steal at that position. Chances are slim, but hey- we can dream, can’t we?
Barrett Heisten, LW University of Maine(HE) This Alaskan-born player did not create a ton of offense in his first college season, but the tools are there. He’s a banger with size who projects as a grinder at the NHL-level. However, his attributes and potential to turn out like a Bill Guerin-type player make him an attractive pick if available.
Matt Murley, RW Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute(ECAC) Murley is a goal scorer who projects as a solid second-round pick. His stock has risen recently, but may yet be a reach with a first round selection. Won’t be on the board when the Bruins draft in the second round, but Boston could move up to take him if he doesn’t go early in the the 2nd.
Michael Ryan, C Boston College High(Mass HS) Ryan is a project who, at 6-1, 170 pounds has yet to fill out, but has shown a great set of wheels and could go on to do great things at Northeastern University next season. After starring in Massachusetts, there is no doubt that the Bruins scouts are very familiar with Ryan. The question is, do they take a chance on him? Boston’s done it before. Shawn Bates, anyone?(1993)
Defense: With Raymond Bourque’s retirement on the horizon, the Bruins have gone after offense-minded defensemen in the past few drafts with Jonathan Girard and Ben Clymer. Clymer’s future is uncertain, although Boston College’s Bobby Allen has shown some point-producing potential. Boston knows the value of a good defense and would love to add another premier young defender to go along with young maestros Kyle McLaren and Hal Gill.
Branislav Mezei, Belleville(OHL) Two words: Big. Mobile. Its one thing to be 6’5, 225 pounds, but another entirely to be able to move that amount of bulk around the ice with the swiftness that the Slovakian native can. Some scouts say he is not that talented, but Mezei’s stock has soared this season and the thought of him patrolling the Boston blueline in a few years with 6’4 Kyle McLaren and 6’7 Hal Gill has Boston fans drooling. Mezei doesn’t produce much offense, but appears to have the right stuff.
Steve McCarthy, Kootenay(WHL) Hard to believe that just two years ago, Steve McCarthy was being considered for top overall pick in 1999. That is how far his stock has fallen, yet he’ll probably go in the first round. McCarthy has shown the ability to generate offense from the point, but he’s a bit on the small side as far as defensemen go, and his skating is considered sub-standard. McCarthy could turn out to prove his critics wrong, but there are enough questions there that he will go later rather than sooner in the first round.
Barret Jackman, Regina(WHL) If Jackman were a little bigger, he’d be a top 10 pick for sure. Still, there’s a lot to like about him. He’s got tremendous character, and although is only 6-0, 200 pounds, demonstrated a willingness to battle every night. Scouts love him, but aren’t sold that he’ll be effective at the next level. Of course, if you’re looking for a guy in a support role, Jackman could be the man. He might complement Boston’s d-corps nicely.
Martin Grenier, Quebec(QMJHL) If you like ’em big and tough, then they come no meaner than Grenier, who amassed 479 PIM in the QMJHL this season. The problem is, although at 6-5, 231 pounds, he’s definitely a warrior, Grenier’s offensive upside is virtually nil. What-you-see-is-what-you-get with him. He’s not very mobile nor has he excelled in his decision making, but given time, he could turn out to be a decent pro.
Goaltenders: Boston will attempt to land one of the better goaltending prospects although Brian Finley, Maxime Ouellet and Evan Lindsay(re-entry) will probably be gone by the time they decide to invest in one. There is some talent to be had, however, and if the time is right, expect Boston to move decisively. Right now, the only goaltending prospects the Bruins have are John Grahame, Paxton Schafer and Andrew Raycroft. Not for long…
Alex Auld, North Bay(OHL) Auld is huge at 6-4, but could use some improvement with his mobility. He had a decent year despite a losing record and has impressed scouts enough. There are concerns about his consistency, but given the chance to play in North Bay, he could blossom. Auld has the look and feel of a risky pick.
Simon Lajeunesse, Moncton(QMJHL) Lajeunesse has been second-fiddle to Maxime Ouellet for goalie hype in the “Q” this year, but Simon can play. Of course, he didn’t see much action(thanks to Devils 1997 1st rounder J.F. Damphousse, but that is due to change. Lajeunesse has not yet shown he’s for real, but he has the look of a solid prospect and will probably get his chance in the spotlight in the next couple of seasons. If he’s around at the tail end of the 2nd round round, expect Boston to be in a dilemma. If he’s still around in the 3rd, pencil him in as Beantown-bound.