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Boston Bruins still left wondering about 2015 first-rounders

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(Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Even if no other pick from the 2015 draft class manages to take the ice for the Boston Bruins, at least they got one bona fide NHLer in Brandon Carlo.

The second-rounder has already made a fairly seamless transition to the NHL, and he’s expected to see even more responsibility in the next few years as Zdeno Chara continues to age. Even if he’s never as good as Chara was at his very best, there’s no question that he’s a valuable asset for the club. He already looks like he can thrive without the captain, and he could take over as his successor sooner rather than later.

As both he and 2016 first-rounder Charlie McAvoy look to make impacts next season, though, there’s a bit of a dark spot looming over Boston’s 2015 class.

Take a look at the first two rounds of that draft, via Namita Nandakumar of HockeyGraphs (@nnstats):

There are a few notable exceptions in the first round. Goaltender Ilya Samsonov isn’t likely to hit the NHL for a few years yet, and a handful of other players have minimal NHL exposure due to time in the NCAA.

A full two years after that draft, though, the majority of first-rounders have, at the very least, begun to make their impact.

The large gap in the middle of the first round, though — with a complete void in any NHL play whatsoever — belongs solely to the Bruins, who had three mid-first-round picks and spent them on reach selections.

As Boston heads into the 2017-18 campaign, quite possibly without any of those three on the opening roster, it’s worth examining what exactly happened there.

Ahead of the draft, defenseman Jakub Zboril was ranked 22nd overall by ISS Hockey — one full spot below Carlo.

Forward Jake DeBrusk was ranked 27th, and fellow forward Zachary Senyshyn of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds was ranked somewhere late in the second round — which was a major climb from where he’d been ranked heading into his draft year.

Despite looking like late first- or even second-round picks, Boston used selections 13, 14 and 15 to pick up those three skaters. They passed over names like Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor and Travis Konecny, all of whom have made their NHL debuts, with Konecny already looking like an impact player for the Philadelphia Flyers.

The problem, at the time, wasn’t necessarily that Boston had made a reach pick in the first round. Teams sometimes do that, particularly when a player seems to fit their need and they have more than one pick.

Two years later, though, the three players are joined only by goaltender Samsonov and a pair of skaters in Noah Juulsen and Nick Merkley — both of whom have battled significant injuries in their post-draft seasons — in sitting without any NHL time at all. Worse yet, none of the three look particularly ready to jump in next year and be immediate impact players, despite getting two extra years of development on many of their first-round peers. None of the three are at the top of the team’s prospect depth chart at their positions, either.

That’s a harsh reminder that Boston made not one reach pick, not even two reach picks, but three reach picks with a wealth of options in one of the strongest draft classes in the last decade.

There’s a chance, of the three, that DeBrusk will be ready for the NHL next year.

As the player considered at the draft to have been the safest of the team’s three selections, he made a smooth transition to the AHL last year to finish second in regular-season scoring on the Providence Bruins.

The 20-year-old left winger was one of the oldest players in his draft class, though, so it’s hardly unexpected that he was ready to go this past year. All the 2014 first-rounders were as well — and while he could make his debut next year, his scoring just wasn’t enough to say “yes, this kid is going to be the next scoring winger we need.” He also sits behind both Frank Vatrano and Anders Bjork on the team’s depth chart at left wing and will have to do some serious work to muscle ahead of either of them.

Then there are the other two first-rounders, and they’re a bit more of a concern.

Zboril is clearly talented. That has been apparent since his draft year when he showed that he had speed and plenty of spunk to his game.

His decision-making has left a lot to be desired, though, and a transition from the QMJHL to the pros as a defenseman can be particularly tough. Unless he absolutely blows Boston out of the water at training camp and in preseason, there’s little reason to rush him to the NHL — and it still remains to be seen exactly how he’ll manage during his first season in the minors.

That leaves Senyshyn. By far the biggest reach of the three, he clearly showed talent, work ethic and a willingness to develop his game during his stint with the Soo. They’re an organization that has been known in the past to work wonders on diamond-in-the-rough skaters, and his development arc during his post-draft years suggests he’ll be yet another one of those players.

His pro debut this spring, though, fell more than a little flat.

He went scoreless in a four-game postseason stint with Providence in the AHL and looked like he’ll need an extra year, maybe even two, in the minors before he’s ready to head to TD Garden.

Middle first-round draft picks, it has been argued, are a bit of a crapshoot. Over a large sample size, they fall flat more often than they thrive, particularly once you get out of the top 10.

Shrinking the sample size, though, the 2015 class was clearly overflowing with talent. So much so, in fact, that there are already second-rounders making huge impacts with their respective clubs.

Two players have already surpassed the 100-point mark just two years into their careers, one just came off a 61-point rookie campaign, and another two boasted 20-goal years this past season as well. One defenseman has surpassed the 50-point mark, and another just managed a casual 30-point debut season — and that’s not even mentioning Zach Werenski, who fell just shy of 50 points as a defenseman last year without even hitting a full 82 games.

Other first-rounders have been slow to get their feet under them as well, that’s not something anyone is denying. Lawson Crouse has just 12 points over 72 games as a predominantly fourth-line player, Dylan Strome struggled to keep up in his NHL debut and was sent back to the major juniors (as the third overall pick, nonetheless), and Denis Gurianov clearly needs more development with Dallas before he’ll hit his ceiling.

Boston had a trio of picks, though. They lost both Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic to get those selections, and then they reached for players who they found enticing. They didn’t trade down for additional assets, they didn’t trade up for a guaranteed stud … they just stood pat and rolled the dice.

Maybe all three will have an impact before long. Five years down the line, all the worry will seem foolish when they’re logging the team’s heaviest minutes and winning a Stanley Cup.

All indicators point to them needing significant grooming, though. And as Boston looks to pull itself back into perennial contention, it’s disappointing to think the Bruins didn’t utilize such a strong draft class to do so.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. David mccarron

    Aug 14, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Simply too early to make a judgement. Any NHL scout will tell you that after the first 5 picks or so, maybe 10 in a deep draft, the difference in skill from one pick to the next gets very slim. This is why I don’t understand people having a cow when someone projected for mid second round picked in mid first round. These are projections, not guarantees of success. Positionally, it may be the difference between the 6 and 10th rated right wing. Do you think there is huge difference? Get back to the outcome of the 2015 draft in a year or two to provide a more accurate and reliable assessment of success or failure. Keep in mind that players develop and peak at different rates/ages. Brett Connely clearly peaked before reaching the NHL, for example. I doubt many GMs second guessing themselves about 2015 picks just yet. Chill! 🙂

    • David mccarron

      Aug 14, 2017 at 9:32 am

      P.s. I don’t think the Bruins management and coaches have any ‘concern’ about the 2015 picks. I thinks it’s impatient fans and sports writers who are worried. Look at Senyshyn….Bs knew he would take longer than Konecny (sp?) and Connor to develop but he has chance to be better than both and has the combination of size, blazing speed, strength, grit, offensive skills that neither of these two possess in one package.

  2. kalinis

    Aug 12, 2017 at 7:52 am

    zboril needs more time no doubt but is a defenseman who has matured greatly the last year, but could earn a spot in boston this year, I don’t think he will but by next year could be in boston. then there is debrusk all he did was outscore vatrano in providence. I think he will beat out vatrano for any spot. Bjork is gonna end up at rw as that’s what he played in college, then there is shenyshen who has speed to burn , he has things to work on will probably start in minors but this is a kid is gonna score 40 goals in nhl one day, so I think u are to harsh on the boston prospects. and shenyshen is at worst the number 2 rw prospect in boston behind Bjork, debrusk is the top lw prospect and I expect to make the team this year and play with krjeci and pastarnak,

    • David mccarron

      Aug 14, 2017 at 9:38 am

      Agree….Bruins selected Senyshyn after a Juniors season playing bottom six on a loaded team. From the get go, they knew he soul take more time to develop than Connor and Konecny.. With his drive, size, strength, blazing speed, grit, offensive skills, I agree, future 40 goal scorer. It’s not about how quickly but how a kid develops, you can’t rush rookies. Brett Hull not recruited by any Juniors teams, had to try out and then 6th round pick!!

      • David mccarron

        Aug 14, 2017 at 9:41 am

        Typo. ‘Would take more time to develip’

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