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New Role for Sweeney at This Year's Draft, But Same Approach as Ever

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BostonBruins.com Don Sweeney has been a part of plenty of NHL Drafts. But it goes without saying that this one bodes to be a bit different for him, as it marks his first as General Manager.

“It has been busy,” Sweeney said during a conference call with reporters on Friday morning. “[In terms of] the approach and preparation side, you spend a lot more time on the phone actually having these conversations, as opposed to in my previous situation [as assistant general manager], where things would get run by you. You’re now taking information that you’re gathering and presenting it in different fashions to people so you get their expertise, and blending it together to make what you think is the best decision for the organization.

“So that is very different for me. Do I feel good that I have institutional knowledge of where our players are at, and what we think we can do to improve our group? Yeah, I think that’s a big benefit for me, having been a part of this organization for the past nine years.”

While his personal experience leading up to this draft might be a bit different than the nine that preceded it, there are some things that will not change — like the Bruins’ approach heading into this year’s draft. They still plan to select the best overall player available, and hopefully one who can impact the NHL club sooner rather than later.

“I think that’s the natural reaction for all of us, as members of the management group, to say, ‘Well, who can impact our team in relatively short term?’” Sweeney said. “I think that's the selfish component to the draft, who can help our team now? When you get to a point where you feel like you have depth at every position — and some general managers might feel that way — they may change their philosophy and just say, ‘No, I’m going to take need in this situation because I have the ability to be patient.’ And other times, it’s a competitive business — performance-related — that you want to be able to have players that can impact your lineup as soon as possible.”

Sweeney also did not rule out the possibility of trading draft picks, whether that means moving up in the order or even to moving down. His mind is open, he said — to any and all possibilities. If there are proposals out there, he is listening.

“We’ve had talks moving in both directions, to be honest with you, and I think every general manager is going to have talks to see what may or may not transpire,” he said. “Again, there are players higher up on the list that maybe you’d really have your eye on, and there are players further down that you turn around and say, ‘Well, I have value — if I move this pick, there’s going to be a lot of value of people that want to move up.’

“I’m going to look at every option. I’m really not going to turn down anything. This situation I’m in now, I have to have my ears wide open.”

Last year’s draft was a successful one for the Bruins, to say the least. Boston selected David Pastrnak with the 25th overall pick and Pastrnak quickly transformed from a wiry prospect into an electrifying NHL talent.

Less than one year removed from his own draft day, Pastrnak has played in 46 NHL games, registering 10 goals and 17 assists for 27 points with a plus-12 rating. He also earned Boston’s Seventh Player Award, presented to the player who exceeded expectations of Bruins fans during the 2014-15 season.

While Sweeney does not necessarily expect this year’s first-round pick to become another Pastrnak — those players, after all, are special, and don’t come around all that often — but he certainly hopes for last summer’s success to continue into this one.

“I think David’s a great indicator that anywhere in the draft — and as deep as the draft is — I think you can find guys that will surprise you,” he said. “And I think we feel very comfortable that there’s going to be a tremendous player at No. 14, and throughout the draft.

“I think the draft is deep, and I think the first round is very exciting for everybody to be anticipating making choices.”

Overall, Sweeney said, the Bruins have put themselves in a position where they have plenty of young talent bubbling up the pipeline. The proof was in the development of Pastrnak over the last year. But even beyond Pastrnak, the Bruins have managed to compile a pool of young talent — through drafting and through free agency — that has set them up well for the future, especially given their salary cap constraints.

Since March, the Bruins have already acquired amateur free agents Joonas Kemppainen, Noel Acciari, Colby Cave and Austin Czarnik. The work is far from over, but the approach moving forward will remain the same.

“We feel very good about our players in general, and the depth, and we’ve seen progress,” Sweeney said. “It doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop. The merry-go-round certainly doesn’t stop. You enter the draft thinking, ‘Well, let’s continue this.’ We entered college free agency and [added] some players that we felt like have a chance to be National Hockey League players, to come and compete.”

Sweeney indicated that players like Pastrnak — high-quality first-round draft selections who are capable of quickly claiming a job in the NHL — don’t just drop into a team’s lap. Sometimes, players like Pastrnak have to be discovered, or unearthed, as Sweeney said.

That is a process that can last months, from the time a scout first comes discovers a player, to the time the front office has the opportunity to interview that player at the NHL Combine. Now that the draft is just one week away, the Bruins’ front office is firmly entrenched in that evaluation process once again.

“These players are young,” Sweeney said. “They’re not finished products by any stretch of the imagination. You go into the Combine, you asks questions about character, the scouts will do background work on people’s character and such, and that’s generally a lot of times where, as I said, intangible pieces will start to show itself.

“A lot of times, you have players that have a great skill set. They’ve been highly-regarded offensive players at their levels all the way up. But then they get to a certain level, and it’s not necessarily translating anymore. They’re willing to do all the things that sometimes other players aren’t, and they get themselves right back in the good graces, and they find themselves having long careers in the National Hockey League.

“That’s the beauty of young players, and coaches are very, very excited about players that are willing to do that.”

Pastrnak certainly fit that mold, as did Dougie Hamilton, whom the Bruins selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 Draft.

There are, however, questions surrounding Hamilton. As an impending restricted free agent who does not yet have a deal for 2015-16, Hamilton could receive offer sheets from other NHL teams, and those offer sheets could potentially jeopardize his future with Boston.

Sweeney would not comment on ongoing negotiations with Hamilton, but he did reiterate the fact that he believes Hamilton is an important piece of the Bruins’ future.

“[He is a] tremendous player,” Sweeney said. “[He] had a real good year, a real breakout year offensively, and continues to round out his game both on and off the ice as a foundational type player. So we’re excited to have Dougie as part of our group.

“Generally speaking, the possibility [of an offer sheet] exists. You have to be aware of it. Over time, there’s been certain players that bells and whistles go off, so you have to be [aware], and we are — we understand it — and we’re moving forward with how we want to get this done.”

Of course, the ideal scenario is that at the end of the 2015 Draft, the Bruins find themselves with a wealth of young talent that can, before long, can be incorporated into the NHL lineup. The ideal is that they are stocked with players who possess a unique combination of raw skill but are also willing to put the work in improve and excel.

Those are the kinds of players the Bruins acquired in Pastrnak and Hamliton, it is very possible that they could strike gold again in this draft.

For Sweeney, the art of finding those players lies in being open-minded — to any and all possibilities.

“David, this year, was able to jump in at a very, very young age, and was not overwhelmed, and had the confidence in himself — offensively, in particular — to go out and play against men right away,” Sweeney said. “Everything you threw at him, he just continued to absorb and get better, and certainly without the puck. Dougie’s in a very, very similar [situation]. The younger players — the skilled younger players — seem to have the confidence in their abilities, which I love, and they’re willing to go to work on some of the things that all coaches believe they can teach.

“These players fall into the exact same category, and the beauty of it is, they bring skill sets to the table that are so exciting at the National Hockey League level, and that’s what you’re hoping for. You’re hoping for guys that have the passion, with skill, to be able to play, and then be willing to do the things on the other side of the puck and be the same fashion of a player that’s trying to work his way up the lineup, but has intangible things — he wants to get better every day.”

Notes

Sweeney discussed the signing of 27-year-old Finnish forward Joonas Kemppainen, who inked a deal with the Bruins in late May. Given that this marks Kempainnen first NHL contract, Sweeney said that he will be expected to attend Boston’s Development Camp in some capacity as well as rookie camp. “Joonas had a tremendous season,” Sweeney said. “The second part of his season — the playoff stretch that he had — he rolled that right into the World Championship with Finland and played very well. He’s a little bit older, in terms of an entry-level situation, so I think that plays into his advantage. He’s a big, strong player that has versatility to his game, and how quickly he makes the transition to the game over here will probably indicate whether he can jump into our lineup.” ... Sweeney was asked about the possibility of unrestricted free agents Carl Soderberg, Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski returning to the Bruins in 2015-16. Of Soderberg, Sweeney said, “Carl was a very important part of our team this year, and in a perfect world, we would be able to retain Carl. It’s highly unlikely at this point in time that that will be happening, relative to our overall situation.” Later, he added, “I have spoken to both Carl and Matt’s representatives, and I’ve also spoken to Adam’s, in terms of what our intentions are. But obviously, it’s coming down to the wire in terms of their abilities to interview elsewhere. But I have been in communication with them, yes.”

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