Since 2011, the Boston Bruins have tried to draft a center, which could blossom into a second-line center. They have tried a few times.
The Bruins have selected Alexander Khokhlachev (Windsor, OHL), Seth Griffith (London, OHL), Ryan Fitzgerald (Valley, EJHL), Ryan Donato (Dexter School, High School – Massachusetts), Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (Omaha, USHL), Cameron Hughes (Wisconsin, Big Ten), Jack Becker (Mahtomedi, High School – Minnesota), Trent Frederic (USNTDP, USHL), Oskar Steen (Farjestad Jr., Sweden-Jr.), Jack Studnicka (Oshawa, OHL), Cedric Pare (Rimouski, QMJHL), Jakub Lauko (Chomutov, Czech), Curtis Hall (Youngstown, USHL), Pavel Shen (Khanty-Mansiysk 2, Russian-Jr.), John Beecher (USNTDP, USHL) and Matias Mantykivi (Saipa Jr., Finland-Jr.). Unfortunately, the Bruins’ front office has not had much success with these centermen.
Yet, there is a lot of hope that Beecher could turn into something special. Beecher was part of one of the best USNTDP squads in USA Hockey history. While he was not a centerpiece for the USNTDP, that had more to do with the USNTDP depth than with Beecher’s skill-set. Given that the USNTDP had a talent such as Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, Matthew Boldy, and Cole Caufield, it was bound to happen that some of the studs on the USNTDP would not get enough attention.
Beecher deserves more praise than he has been getting. As a bottom-six center, Beecher had recorded 15 goals and 28 assists in 63 games for the USNTDP. This season, Beecher has been playing his freshman campaign at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI. Unfortunately, the University of Michigan Wolverines does not have a surplus of offensive talent, and Beecher only has eight points in 14 games. Without some reliable wingers by his side, it is a challenge for Beecher to lead the Wolverines to glory. Even though that is the case, he has been doing a sufficient job in a top-six role for Michigan.
He was able to start his tenure off with a bang. In the clip below from Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93), you can see Beecher tip-in the puck on the power play in his first appearance in a Wolverines uniform. While it was an exhibition game, it was still good to see Beecher find pay dirt early on.
Also, Beecher had a strong showing at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan. Given how Beecher has looked so far, the Bruins might have found a top-six center. David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron are not getting any younger, and at some point, Beecher might be needed to step up.
Aside from Beecher, the Bruins have a decent amount of talent in their system. Axel Andersson (Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL) is looking like a reliable puck-moving defenseman. Jakub Zboril (Providence Bruins, AHL) is a solid all-around defenseman with top-four upside and could be called upon this season in the NHL if injuries arise. Urho Vaakanainen (Providence Bruins, AHL) has a steady stride and is an active pass first defenseman. In a short stint with Boston, Vaakanainen left a good impression with Bruins fans with his elite passing ability. Jack Studnicka (Providence Bruins, AHL) and Trent Frederic (Providence Bruins, AHL) have displayed great defensive ability throughout their junior and minor league stints. They also have plenty of offensive upsides, especially Studnicka, who has mustered 20 points in 22 games.
The most significant gaps in the depth chart are on the wings and in the net. Currently, the Bruins have Jakub Lauko (Providence Bruins, AHL), Anders Bjork (Boston Bruins, NHL), and Zach Senyshyn (Boston Bruins, NHL) on the wings. Lauko was quite impressive in the QMJHL with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and had been getting his feet wet so far this season in Providence. Bjork has been cruising back and forth on the 95 between Providence and Boston for the last few seasons. Senyshyn has appeared in four games for Boston this season, but got banged up and has spent some time on LITR. These three wingers have promise, but their ceiling is somewhat limited. None of these wingers possess elite offensive talent but do have a second-line upside.
In net, the Bruins do not have a candidate who looks promising enough to maybe one day take the reins from Tuukka Rask. Jeremy Swayman, Kyle Keyser, and Dan Vladar are the net-minders in the system. Keyser has the most promise but has not looked like a future NHL goaltender in his time with Providence. He has his work cut out for him.
In terms of draft tendencies, the Bruins typically take some USHL talent in each draft. Since 2016, the Bruins have selected six USHLers, including Beecher and Frederic. It is also worth noting that the Bruins do not take many prospects from Canadian junior clubs. They have only selected four Canadian junior prospects since 2016. Instead, the Bruins love to grab prospects from Europe. Bruins scouts are always finding top talent in Finland, Sweden, and Russia.
Given the Bruins’ draft tendencies along with likely going far into the playoffs, they will have no shot at Alexis Lafrenière (Rimouski, QMJHL), Quinton Byfield (Sudbury, OHL), Lucas Raymond (Frölunda, SHL), Anton Lundell (HIFK, Liiga) nor Alexander Holtz (Djurgårdens IF, SHL). Instead, they could have a shot of landing John-Jason Peterka (EHC München, DEL), Jan Mysak (HC Litvinov, Czech), or Kasper Simontaival (Tappara U20, Jr. A SM-Liiga) towards the end of the round one. All three prospects have strong seasons, but my go-to would be Peterka. While he is playing in the DEL and they are not known for having deep competitive clubs, Peterka has been lights out. The German winger consistently finds open ice, has a strong transitional game, and his stride is exceptional.
The Bruins could also wait till the mid-rounds to grab some winger depth. Carter Savoie (Sherwood Park, AJHL), Alex Laferriere (Des Moines, USHL), Ridly Greig (Brandon, WHL), and Alexander Pashin (Tolfpar Ufa, MHL) are all intriguing options.
In terms of adding some goaltender depth, the Bruins have little to no shot of landing the top goaltending prospect in the draft, Yaroslav Askarov (SKA-Neva St. Petersburg), but they could still end up with some decent goaltending. Amir Miftakhov (Bars Kazan, VHL) or Nicolas Daws (Guelph Storm, OHL) could be solid options for Boston. Both goaltenders seem to have come out of nowhere but have impressed analysts. Miftakhov made a splash at the CHL-Russia series and earned a spot at Russia’s World Junior camp. Similarly, Daws has managed to post a 2.11 GAA and a .937 SV% in 18 appearances for the Storm. Given how challenging the OHL is this season, it is quite impressive to see a goaltending prospect posting a GAA under 2.50 and an SV% over .910. Even though Miftakhov and Daws have strong seasons, the Bruins could likely grab them in the fourth or fifth round of the draft.
All-in-all, this is one of the best draft classes that we have seen in a long time, and the Bruins have an opportunity to grab a decent amount of talented prospects.