The 2016 NHL Entry Draft will commence in three weeks back in Buffalo on June 24 and 25.
“The quality of the draft is good. I saw some really, really impressive kids over the course of the last four days,” Bruins General Manager Sweeney told reporters on Friday evening in Buffalo. “We feel very good with two picks in the first round, and again in the second round, that we’re going to get good players.”
The Bruins currently own the 14th overall selection in the 2016 NHL Draft. Depending on San Jose’s finish in the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins will also have either the 29th or 30th pick in the first round. Their second round selection — 49th overall — was acquired from the New York Islanders in the 2014 trade involving Johnny Boychuk.
Sweeney and his staff’s approach will be to acquire the best player available, and one based on organizational need.
“Selfishly, you’d like to have the best of both,” said Sweeney. “You’d like to identify the best player that you can possibly get and hopefully it’s a positional need. We’ve addressed areas that we’d like to continue to bolster within our organization and if the right player’s there, we’re going to be excited about taking him there.”
With a top-heavy draft (led by the top-ranked Auston Matthews), the Bruins are confident in whichever player they select at No. 14.
They are also ready for any change-ups that come into play.
“I think there’s a chance for a lot of movement going into the draft, and there’s been a lot of talk about it, so you have to expect that somebody might move into a position that you didn’t necessarily think they were taking that player,” said Sweeney. “But again, the depth up until that point is pretty good, so we feel comfortable.”
Comfortable doesn’t mean complacent, though.
“I haven’t disguised the fact that we’re open to do anything to improve our hockey club,” Sweeney stressed. “We addressed a lot of the things I needed to address last summer. We want to continue to do that through the draft and we’re committed to that, the development process, but we also want to improve our club, so if the opportunity presents itself, we’re going to do it.”
In addition to the two first rounders and second-round pick, Boston also has two fifth round selections and one each in the sixth and seventh rounds.
After a particularly strong top part of the draft begins to level off, information gathered during the interview process at the NHL Combine can help the Bruins’ staff gravitate towards certain prospects — even if they already know them well on and off the ice.
“They’re pretty coached up [for the interviews],” smiled Sweeney. “They expect you’re going to ask a string of questions and try and look for a little thread that you might get a nugget of information, but for the most part, it’s looking at their personality and seeing how they handle some of the questions, and where they see themselves, and what trajectory they think they have.”
“Ninety percent of the time, they think they’re ready to play in National Hockey League, next year, and I love the enthusiasm, but there’s a dose of reality that needs to kick in there as well. When you start to question along the lines of who they’re comparing themselves to, they realize they’ve got a pretty big hill to climb.”
Sweeney was asked by a reporter if he remembers any particular interviews from past NHL Combines that impressed him, or bolstered prospects’ chances of being drafted.
“Brandon Carlo stood out last year as a player that — he wasn’t overwhelmed by being in the environment,” said Sweeney. “He had played in the World Juniors [with Team USA] and sort of maybe exceeded expectations at that particular time.”
“He expected to hopefully go in the first round and he slid into the second, but he just — he came to development camp and it stood out, that he was a little more mature in terms of what he was — not just because he’s 6-foot-5, but because he was understanding and realistic and understood where his own game was and where it needed to get to.”
Carlo, chosen 37th overall by Boston in 2015, ended the 2015-16 season playing with Providence.
“You look for that in players,” Sweeney continued. “You love the confidence in these players — it’s pretty amazing the level of confidence they have. But they’re good hockey players and you see the league — their peers have made the jump, so they think, ‘why not themselves?’ being able to make that jump right away.”
“But again, it does take a little bit of a dose of reality, once they get amongst the players. We had a player today that said, he had asked the question, how old Chara was, and I said, ‘well, if you have the opportunity to be drafted by the Bruins and step on the ice, you’ll realize, that he’s not as old as what you think he is,” Sweeney smiled.
The hope is always that a player could jump in and impact the NHL lineup, but realistically, only a handful of prospects from the 2016 NHL Draft will be ripe and ready from the get-go (with that expectation coming directly from the NHL’s Director of Central Scouting, Dan Marr).
The Bruins bolstered their organizational depth with 10 draft selections in 2015. Prospects from that draft like Carlo will push for a spot. The 2016 picks will get that opportunity as well.
“I’ve said time and time again, we’re not going to be impatient with the development process of these players,” said Sweeney. “They’ll determine the timeline. The opportunity will be there when they’re ready.”
“We have players that are coming out of college in Robbie O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk and Sean Kuraly that will be knocking on the door, and our other players should be expected to be pushed in that regard.”
“Albeit, if we get a surprise, then it’s going to be great,” he said. “Other players have attributes — you watch [Jake] DeBrusk in the Memorial Cup, had an outstanding game the one night I was there — [he] has work to do. [Zach] Senyshyn’s the same way. So, again, we are not going to be impatient in terms of fast-boarding these guys, but we’ve got players who will hopefully continue to push here for next year.”