Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s first National Hockey League Entry Draft was one for the ages. Just over one month after the former Boston defenseman got the job, he was at the helm of a draft that included six picks in the first two rounds, with three consecutive selections in the first round alone. Certainly, no story about Sweeney’s draft history is complete without a focus on that first one.
To collect a few of that glut of picks ahead of the 2015 Draft, Sweeney traded fan-favorite Milan Lucic and young defenseman Dougie Hamilton and made a few related moves. Those trades established the newly minted GM’s desire to build a winning team from the ground up.
In the 2015 Draft, the Bruins selected Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Zach Senyshyn in the first round, Brandon Carlo, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon in the second round, Dan Vladar in the third round, Jesse Gabrielle in the fourth round, Cameron Hughes in the sixth round, and Jack Becker in the seventh round.
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A few of those names are quite familiar to Bruins fans five years later. Carlo and DeBrusk have been regulars in the NHL lineup for a few seasons now. After that, the draft class has turned out to have considerably less impact on the team’s success, with the notable exception of Lauzon. The young defenseman had finally started to make a name for himself with the big club in the month and a half leading up to the league’s decision to suspend play because of Coronavirus concerns in March of 2019. This season, Lauzon played his first full season in the NHL for the Bruins and was a key member of their defense.
Goaltender Vladar, and forwards Senyshyn and Hughes, played a majority of this past season in the American Hockey League with the Providence Bruins. In July 2021, the Bruins dealt him to the Calgary Flames. Vladar played 23 games this season for Calgary, going 13-8-3 with a 2.88 goals-against average (GAA) and a .902 save percentage (SV%).
Senyshyn has been called up to Boston a handful of times in his pro career but has not stuck around long in any of those stints. He still seems to be one of the coaching staff’s go-to guys when there is a slot to be filled in Boston. Perhaps that bodes well for his future as an NHLer. Zboril made the Bruins roster this season, but struggled with his health and being a healthy scratch at different times.
Forsbacka-Karlsson has also seen a few games with the big club and spent a substantial amount of time in Providence. However, Sweeney announced last year that the young forward had decided to return to Sweden to play hockey there and be closer to family and friends. At the time, the GM said “JFK” planned to return to the Bruins organization at some point.
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Becker just completed his senior season at the University of Michigan where he had four goals and five assists in 23 games for the Wolverines. He has yet to officially sign with the Bruins, as he is using his extra year of eligibility to transfer to Arizona State University for the 2021-22 season. Unfortunately, Gabrielle never really made a name for himself in the Bruins organization, and he was waived by the team in April 2019.
Making a Splash in 2016
Although it took him a couple of seasons to truly come into his own, it’s safe to say now that Carlo is a bona fide NHL blueliner. However, arguably the best pick Sweeney has made in his tenure as the Bruins’ GM came when he selected a defenseman out of Boston University named Charlie McAvoy in the 2016 Draft.
The team’s fans were thrilled that the Bruins picked up the Long Island native, and he has all the makings of a future star today. In fact, McAvoy had cemented his place as a regular on the first defensive pairing alongside legendary captain Zdeno Chara. This season, McAvoy took over the role as the leader on defense for the Black and Gold after Chara and Torey Krug left in free agency in recent seasons. In 78 games this season, he had 10 goals and 46 assists with a plus/minus of plus-31, while averaging a career-high 24:39 a night.
One other member of the 2016 Bruins draft class, center Trent Frederic, has seen playing time in Boston since signing with the club. Frederic has earned a reputation for his physical play but has spent the majority of his time in Providence, but this past season, he made an impact in Boston. In 60 games, he had eight goals and 10 assists. Center Oskar Steen has impressed in Providence and made his NHL debut last season in Boston, playing in three games.
Defensemen Ryan Lindgren and Cameron Clarke and left wing Joona Koppanen round out the 2016 class.
2017 draftee Jack Studnicka had played exactly two games in Boston, in late Nov. 2019 before he made the Bruins roster at the beginning of the 2020-21 season. In 20 regular-season games, Studnicka had one goal and two assists in 20 games, before being sidelined with an injury in March. Following the injury, he finished the rest of the season with Providence.
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The 22-year-old phenom has put up just seven points wearing the Spoked-B. However, his numbers in Providence tell a much more impressive story. In 76 games played in the AHL, he has amassed 24 goals and 37 assists, and a plus-7 rating. A total of 60 of Studnicka’s games played with the “Baby Bs” and 49 of his 61 points were recorded in the 2019-20 season.
Others drafted in 2017 include goaltender Jeremy Swayman, center Cedric Pare and defensemen Victor Berglund and Daniel Bukac. Swayman burst onto the NHL scene this season in Boston and made a case to be the goal of the future for the Bruins by going 7-3 and recording two shutouts. He had a very impressive .150 GAA with a .945 SV% and allowed just 15 goals on 271 shots. Prior to his time in Boston this season, he was impressive in nine games with the P-Bruins with a 1.89 GAA and a .933 SV%.
First-Round Pick That Got Away
If 2015 was the most memorable draft to date of the Sweeney era in Boston, 2018 is likely the one that the GM would most like to forget. After trading for veteran power forward Rick Nash before the 2018 trade deadline, Sweeney entered the draft that June without a first-round pick.
The problem is, the Nash trade didn’t really work out, as he was out with a concussion for a large part of the time he was in Boston and never returned. It was an unforeseeable outcome at the time, to be sure. But that didn’t make the thought that a valuable first-round pick was ultimately wasted any less bitter of a pill to swallow.
Sweeney said he would try to trade for a first-round pick during the 2018 draft, but the right opportunity never presented itself. As a result, he sat, frustrated, and waited as the first round passed.
The first player selected by Sweeney in 2018 was Swedish blueliner Axel Andersson, who has since been dealt to the Anaheim Ducks at the 2020 trade deadline as part of the deal that brought Ondrej Kase to Boston. Rounding out the class of 2018 were forwards Jakub Lauko and Curtis Hall, D-man Dustyn McFaul and forward Pavel Shen.
June 2019 was a whirlwind for the Bruins. It seemed like no sooner had the team suffered a crushing loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final then it was time for the draft. The success in the 2018-19 season meant Sweeney had to wait until the penultimate pick in the first round to make his first selection. In addition, the Bruins had just five draft picks spread over seven rounds.
Rampant speculation over who would be taken in the first round ended with a somewhat surprising pick of speedy, big center John Beecher. The glimpse that fans got of Beecher in development camp was impressive. However, he could not do much else with the Bruins because he was committed to begin his collegiate hockey career at the University of Michigan.
Along with Beecher, forwards drafted by Sweeney in 2019 included Quinn Olson, Matias Mantykivi and Jake Schmaltz. Roman Bychkov was the line defenseman selected.
The NHL, and the world in general, have been thrown into disarray in recent days in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. The teams are starting to gear up for the revised Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the 2020 NHL Entry Draft details are still up in the air.
That being said, Sweeney gave up his first-round pick in the Kase trade, essentially to entice the Ducks to take on three-quarters of David Backes’ salary. In addition, Boston’s 2020 fourth-round pick went to the Devils as part of the 2019 trade for Marcus Johansson. As a result, the Bruins are once again entering a draft with only five picks, including no first-rounder. Whether the season resumes in some fashion or not, as the team with the best record in the league currently, the Bruins picks promise to be relatively late ones.
It is hard to imagine, based on what went down in 2018, that Sweeney will not make every effort to secure a first-round selection. Whether he can do that and find a few diamonds-in-the-rough in the process remains to be seen.
I am a 46-year-old journalist living in the greater Pittsburgh area with my husband and two cats. I am a proud Penn State University alum. Hockey is life. Not much else needs to be said.