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2020 Draft Reaction: Win now, because later doesn’t matter

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The Boston Bruins did a lot of the same things they usually do at the draft under Don Sweeney. This is in fact part of the problem.

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Michael Penhollow/NHLI via Getty Images

So! After a truly glacially paced draft, the Boston Bruins have gotten their picks in. They are:

  1. Mason Lohrei - D - 52nd overall
  2. Trevor Kuntar - C - 89th overall
  3. Mason Langenbrunner - D - 151st overall
  4. Riley Duran - C - 182nd Overall

Fans were...uh...a little less than impressed at the selections. We couldn’t find much info outside of EliteProspects and individual clips. Analysts were considerably annoyed. Don had to go on air and remind people he had a scouting staff that did things. It was a weird reaction to a weird draft.

So, let’s talk it out with some moderately thought out opinions I had whilst looking at these players in the broader context of who the B’s are, where the B’s are going, and what they appear to want to do.

I - This is a draft a Win-Now team makes.

It’s absolutely, abundantly, incontrovertibly clear that the Bruins are only thinking about one thing right now, and that’s the cup window.

And more importantly, winning before it closes.

The Boston Bruins have been in “Win-Now” mode for about three years now, and don’t appear to be especially concerned about how their draft capital is spent, nor do they really seem to care about if that draft capital turns into NHL players because, at least in their minds, they’re going to use the promise of these players to turn into 4th-5th rounders and NHL players at some point down the road in a future trade. They’ve been doing that to their draft classes for a little over a couple of years now, and while sure, it’s paid some dividends, it’s ultimately left the cupboard and the depth of this team looking like something is desired. Jack Studnicka is, was, and still feels like the prospect that generates the most excitement even after all those drafts.

That is by design, not accident.

Because caring about the cupboard means worrying about the future. Something that Don Sweeney does not seem terribly worried about the future. Because Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand’s cup window is slamming shut at an alarming rate, and they gotta win now before it does completely.

II - Cam’s wish coming true

Over the past few years, with each playoff exit, Cam Neely has said something to the effect of “we need to get bigger and/or faster to compete” without fail, and while it has sort of bounced back and forth between skill and size, this was the draft that definitely felt the closest to a version his vision post-playoff exit: Two large defenders, one of whom is a coveted RD (the bruins don’t have many), and the other is 6’5. The Forwards chosen weren’t small kids either, but thankfully all had a common denominator of being decent skaters, a major flaw in large players that mars their play to this day.

Of course, it remains to be seen how all of these guys, many of whom sticking to the USHL, will handle the next step. While you can’t teach size, you can’t teach reaction time either. And that’s something that isn’t always taught evenly among big players.

III - The USHL: North America’s only Junior hockey league with tall guys.

The USHL is the US’s premiere junior hockey destination, with teams mostly dotting the midwest. While many of these players have garnered significant interest due to high powered offensive talents like the Hughes Brothers, Charlie McAvoy, Cole Caufield, and the like, many of these players tend to trend into the later rounds because of the option to go from the USHL to the NCAA, which does help development, but gets you to the NHL a little later than your Canadian junior counterparts.

However, if you apparently asked the Bruins scouting staff this year, the USHL might as well be the only junior league in North America.

Of the 4 players selected, all were from USHL or US high schools, and over half are going to the NCAA...When the NCAA decides it’s safe to actually continue. Lohrei to Ohio State, Kuntar to BC, Duran to Providence, and Langenbrunner to Harvard. Of course, almost none of them will be playing in the NCAA this year thanks to..well...you know.

This thought comes not as a reaction to this draft in particular, but instead puts a clear highlight on draft classes that are becoming increasingly less interested in looking at the CHL and Europe for talent, and is just the latest in a couple drafts that indicate either their scouting staff/direction is beginning to become worryingly focused on size, American-ness, or the USHL’s type of prospect that now litters the Bruins organizational depth, many of whom will not be playing this year thanks to the pandemic.

And while sure, “maybe the scouts saw something we didn’t!“ is a fair assessment, all we have is expert testimony, bits of film, and very rudimentary prospect data (which is kind of the tone Don Sweeney took), it all kinda reeks of...well...

...Yeah.

It’s a little funny, and maybe a trend to be at least a little concerned about in the future, is what I’m saying.

IV - A matter of Trust

Any of the above would be fine in or out of context. Like a weird quirk of a general manager or team at the draft, like Bill Belichick trading down, or the Oilers picking consistently in the top 5, or Buffalo first round picks either busting or being traded out of town.

But this is the thing that has bugged me about the whole thing since the beginning of the draft...was how repeatable it felt. They didn’t just go far off-board with Mason Lohrei, they went so far off-board again. For what seems like the fifth straight year in a row. They went for a player that stumped any analyst who was paying attention again. They went for a guy that nobody pegged for the round they were drafting in again. It didn’t feel like shock anymore, wondering what were the scouts thinking, it was becoming annoyance. I didn’t expect much, they didn’t have a first this year after all and weren’t going to find the be-all end-all answer to their woes at 58th overall, but I was at least hoping for something a little better than this, right?

And you know what? I’m not heartless or stupid. I accept that I don’t have nearly the kind of resources that Don Sweeney and his scouting staff have, I can’t devote every hour of my day towards looking at prospects across every league in the world, and I don’t have the in-house numbers that the Bruins are using. Maybe every single one of these guys is a Boston Bruin in five years and I look like an idiot. And I hope I do! I’d much prefer prospects to surprise me!

And ALL OF THAT would be at the very least acceptable if, and only if...Don had ever actually won at least 50% those gambles up to this point. He has barely even gotten to that point. Almost every one of the players he’s gambled on are either still struggling to make the NHL or have a mountain’s worth of adversity to overcome before they even make it to the AHL, and that’s including the stoppages, the injuries, and other things simply out of their control.

It gives the impression that draft day with Don Sweeney in charge feels less like a chance for the next generation to make it to the NHL in Black and Gold and more like a holding pattern. Like the needs of some ephemeral desires outside of what’s actually been ailing the team (offense) took precedence over improving the team by picking the best players available.

It gives the impression that Boston’s going without much of a point into their drafts, and it makes it hard to trust Don Sweeney’s comments about their selection process; You’ve already burned us so many times with this, at what point do you stop being surprised or angry and just stay at annoyed? Moreover, at what point do you stop trusting?

And that’s what bugs me the most. I don’t think Don’s draft day was bad, it was just underwhelming, and at least in my opinion motivated by shortsighted gains that will probably spell his doom when Krejci/Bergeron begin regressing in full or retire outright.

But...

V - Free Agency will have to be where you make it happen.

The Bruins have indicated all over the place that they plan on making some major changes, and if that’s true, now’s never been a better time to do so when the FA window opens. Sure, we’ve covered the problems possibly facing UFAs, but the Bruins have money to burn, so they might as well get in on whoever is tangibly strong at offense that can actually improve them in time for the projected 2020-21 season start date of January. Most of these players will fade from fan’s memories, and we’ll be thinking about the possibility of Tyler Toffoli or Taylor Hall entering the UFA period and leaving it as Bruins

If they can’t make a significant maneuver to possibly improve this team, it won’t reflect well on Sweeney. But then again, he’s wriggled his way out of trouble before, so let’s give it a month to see how this offseason really treats him.