Buckle up, Bruins fans. The NHL Draft kicks off Friday in Chicago (NBCSN, 7 p.m.) and all eyes in Boston are on general manager Don Sweeney.
The B’s are owners of the 18th overall pick and five additional choices in the later rounds, hardly the ingredients for a Celtics-style blockbuster.
But that doesn’t mean things will go to plan on draft day. In fact, after two seasons as Bruins GM, Sweeney has taught us to expect the unconventional.
In just his fifth week on the job after taking over for the fired Peter Chiarelli, Sweeney was the talk of the 2015 draft when he traded would-be franchise defenseman Dougie Hamilton to Calgary for a first-round pick and two second-rounders.
Hours after the trade, Sweeney cashed in by drafting a pair of forwards (Zachary Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson) and blueliner Jeremy Lauzon. The trio of prospects remains just that – NHL hopefuls still on the cusp of contributing.
The Hamilton trade was Sweeney’s first big moment as GM.
Unfortunately, the knee-jerk move also signaled the end of Boston’s run as a Stanley Cup contender and the start of a frustrating rebuild, one that ironically didn’t show steady signs of progress until last season, when defensive prospects Charlie McAvoy and Brendan Carlo unexpectedly emerged to fill the top-four void left by Hamilton.
Sweeney’s second draft as Bruins GM last summer was certainly less seismic, though it still produced a head-scratcher in first-round pick Trent Frederic.
Everything was making sense when Sweeney and Co. called McAvoy’s name 14th overall. Then things got weird. With the 29th pick, the B’s used their second selection of the first round on Frederic, a gritty American forward who draft experts had pegged for the second or even third round.
Doubling down, then-Bruins director of amateur scouting Keith Gretzky even had the guts to proclaim that Frederic "is not going to be a top-two line guy."
Translation: the Big, Bad Bruins had just used a first-round pick on a grinder.
The Frederic pick marked the second consecutive draft where Sweeney and his scouts went off the board in the opening round (Senyshyn also surprised many in 2015).
To be fair, both Frederic at the University of Wisconsin and Senyshyn in Canadian junior went on to answer critics with strong seasons in 2016-17. But until they evolve into top-six NHL contributors, they’ll continue to carry the pesky “reach pick” label.
So, what does Sweeney have in store this year?
Perhaps he goes for the trifecta and uses the 18th overall selection on another perceived diamond in the rough to go along with Senyshyn and Frederic. Maybe he packages picks and prospects and trades for an established puck-moving defenseman or scoring winger. The competition for both assets will be steep, though it represents the quickest path back to relevancy for the up-and-coming B’s.
There’s only one way to find out. If Sweeney’s last two drafts offer a blueprint for what to expect Friday, things just might get interesting. Fasten those seat belts.