It's mid-March, the Bruins are sitting in a playoff spot and thoughts are beginning to turn towards the Stanley Cup Playoffs already. Which, for the 20 or so NHL teams still involved in a playoff race, still makes the 2015 Draft seem like something a long way in the future. But three months is nothing in hockey time - and with this go-round viewed to be a deep one and the Bruins brass currently presiding over a team that's hesitating between the old and the new, this could be the first in an important series of drafts in Boston.
Adding to the uncertainty-no-one's quite sure where the Bruins will pick. At the moment, they're picking 16th, but with only a narrow margin separating anything from 18th in the NHL (12th pick) to 10th (20th) and the possibility of the Bruins picking anywhere from 10th to 20th (assuming they don't win Lord Stanley) and all the way down to 30th on the long shot they do, there's a lot of potential first-rounders out there-and it's hard to keep track of them all.
So for its opening shot of 2015 Draft coverage, we at SCoC are picking out some names to watch. Nobody quite knows who Peter Chiarelli (or, possibly, his replacement) will be looking for or where they'll be picking, but we can begin to at least speculate.
However-some ground rules first of all. The top five are out. Try as hard as they might, the chances of the Bruins getting a top-5 pick are so miniscule as to count them out. McDavid isn't walking through that door. Nor is Eichel. Nor are Hanifin, or Marner, (well, not unless they drop radically or the Bruins start dealing). We're confining ourselves to realistic targets here first of all-and to that end we're looking in the group from around 9 to 25 in most draft rankings to pick out our names.
As far as positions go, we're looking at need, too. And also supply. As far as elite goalies go in this draft, there's currently only one (Ilya Samsonov of the MHL's Magnitogorsk) ranked by any of the scouting services in the top 30. While it's likely there will be a goalie taken by the Bruins in this draft, it'll likely not be until the later rounds. However, we'll highlight a name or two they may be watching.
So-here we go. Five forwards, five D, and a couple of goalies who Bruins fans should probably get more familiar with. After all, you can bet the scouting staff are.
MATHEW BARZAL, C, Seattle (WHL)
This 17-year-old is one of the prospects that is lost a little in all the McDavid/Eichel/Strome chatter, but make no mistake, the 6', 175lb pivot is a player who could fall right into the Bruins wheelhouse, given a little luck. Ranked anywhere from 7 to 17 according to draft scouting services and currently with 12+36 in 38 games in WHL action this season (only two off his season total from 59 last year), this Vancouverite is fast, skilled and good in both zones. He's creative, too, able to pick out a pass from anywhere. Young and mouldable with good hockey instincts, he's an intriguing prospect, particularly if he gets to learn his trade from Patrice Bergeron - one of the best two-way C's in the modern era.
NICK MERKLEY, C, Kelowna (WHL)
Sees the ice like a "hawk in flight" according to scouts - definitely a playmaker as evidenced by 67 assists in 66 games already this season. He's small by NHL standards at 5'11 and 191lbs but built like a fireplug, willing to go to the dirty areas if his team requires it, too. Needs to work on his skating at the NHL level, potentially - but another development prospect who could pay off big. One to keep an eye on particularly if Bruins end up picking towards the bottom of the round.
TIMO MEIER, RW/C, Halifax, (QMJHL)
Meier has stepped out of the shadow of Jonathan Drouin this season to become Halifax's next big star alongside Winnipeg pick Nikolaj Ehlers. The Swiss forward, who already carries NHL size at 6'1 and 208lbs, can play whichever way a coach asks him to-he has the skill and vicious shot to be a scorer and the size and snarl to be a grinder and has already played a leading role for his country at World Juniors. Ranked in the mid-teens by most scouting services, he's a player Boston should be looking hard at if looking to draft a forward.
MIKKO RANTANEN, RW, TPS Turku, (Finland)
The giant (6'4, 195lb) Finn is already playing alongside men in Finland's top league, which puts him at an advantage over the North American leaguers in this list. He's strong, skilled and displays excellent instincts, particularly down low...in short, he's the sort of player many Boston fans love. Getting him over to a North American system and his adjustment to the NHL game may be questions that see him slip a little in the draft-he's ranked anywhere from #8 to #19 by scouting services and 2nd among EU skaters by the NHL's ISS, which shows you that he may be something more of a long-term pick and possibly less of an instant-impact player than others in this list, but he has the size and strength to become a Bruin.
COLIN WHITE, RW, USNTDP/Boston College (NCAA)
Finally among the first crop of forwards, a local boy. White is from Hanover, MA, and at 6' and 183lbs is one of the standouts of the USNTDP this season. He's committed to Boston College for 2015/16, so is more of a long-term choice than the others in this list in terms of development. However, the local links would mean he'd sweat blood to be a Bruin, and the talent is certainly there for him to become a very good NHL player. He's very much a backup plan in this list compared to the other four, and will likely only come into play if the Bruins find themselves picking very late in the round or trade down at the draft.
THOMAS CHABOT, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Chabot's a tall, skilled puck mover who still needs to fill out a little into his 6'2, 181lb frame - an athletic skater with good vision and ability who fits the new breed of NHL defencemen nicely...you can never have too many of them, as the coaching saying goes. With the Bruins' depth at the role he can be brought through relatively slowly, too, and given all the time he needs to develop/fill his frame.
JÉRÉMY ROY, Sherbrooke (QMJHL)
One of the best skating defencemen in the draft if a little small at 5'11 and 189lbs, Roy is a potential franchise D just waiting to be pounced on by a lucky team in the teens thanks to all the attention being on the bigger Ivan Provorov. He's truly explosively quick and loves to carry the puck. His skating means he's rarely caught out when pinching forward and he can play physically where required, but his strength is as a rushing puck-carrier driving attacks forward from the back. He's an offensive engine whose aggressive and proactive attacking approach may be a bit rich for some coaches, but is a joy to watch.
BRANDON CARLO, Tri-City (WHL)
6'5 and 198lbs, Carlo has the size NHL scouts love in terms of height, and can fill his frame if required. At the moment he's more of a steady, two-way D who rarely makes mistakes...arguably the perfect foil to a Roy-type player. He's not a flashy pick, but will be one that is safe.
ZACH WERENSKI, USNTDP/Michigan (NCAA)
6'2 and 208lbs at 17, Werenski is another player who has the physical attributes and size that will make NHL scouts very excited indeed. He's big and a very useful skater, but raw in terms of doing all the "little things" that defensive play requires. Intelligent and mobile, he's not quite as aggressive physically as some would like, but shows an excellent hockey brain and is definitely a very exciting defensive prospect indeed. He may not fall to the Bruins even if they pick relatively early in the teens, but he's a player the Bruins staff will be hoping to be at least given a chance to consider.
JAKUB ZBORIL, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Zboril is Chabot's partner-in-crime in St. John. While Chabot is the flashy offensive player, Zboril is an emerging two-way defenceman whose calm attitude in his own zone, positional sense and surprisingly physical play (he's only 6' and 186lbs - not one of the bigger defensive D) has caught scout's eyes. He'd be a pick a little outside the usual Bruins wheelhouse, but could be a left-field pick late in the round or even early in the 2nd.
MACKENZIE BLACKWOOD, Barrie, OHL
At 6'4 and 204lbs the Canadian is the kind of goalie that is fast becoming the norm in the NHL. Big and agile with great movement and a love of challenging shooters, he's one of the top prospects around and has excited a lot of interest this draft already. He's not a puck-handler, so will need to work on that aspect of his game quite a bit, but if Buins are looking to add a blue-chip goalie then he's one of the best out there.
MATEJ TOMEK, Topeka, NAHL
More of a project than even Blackwood, Tomek is seen by many scouts as the goalie with the highest ceiling in the draft. Tall and rangy at 6'3, 185 he's lightning-quick into the butterfly and has great agility. Not one who will be seen in the NHL for a few years but with a sky-high ceiling for those willing to develop him.
So, there's your first dose of names to watch from a Bruins perspective this draft, all prospects who could be on the Bruins' target list come June and might well fall to them given the right circumstances.
Not bad at first glance, is it? Whoever's in the draft chair for Bruins, they'll have a lot of choice available.