If there is one area of Don Sweeney’s tenure as the general manager (GM) of the Boston Bruins that’s been widely criticized, it’s been his drafting. The one draft that is always talked about is the 2015 Entry Draft, his first as GM, which had three consecutive first-round picks at 13, 14, and 15. Two of those picks are currently on the roster, Jakub Zboril, and Jake. DeBrusk, while the third pick, Zach Senyshyn, was traded to the Ottawa Senators last season.
At the beginning of the season, the Bruins had the worst prospect pool according to The Athletic (from ‘Boston Bruins rank No. 32 in NHL Pipeline Rankings for 2022,’ The Athletic, Aug. 22, 2022). While the 2015 Draft is talked about in a negative way, it’s time to start talking about the 2016 Draft in a positive way. That summer, the Bruins had six picks, two in the first round, and this season, Boston is getting a boost from that draft class in their historic run through their first 47 games.
Bruins Finding Success in 2016 Entry Draft
Four of the six picks have made their NHL debut, but the two first-round picks have settled in as a big part of the roster, while a fifth-round pick recently made his NHL debut and is playing a key part in the bottom six. because of an injury to Tomas Nosek. Here are the contributions that have made a big impact so far this season.
It’s hard to believe, but Charlie McAvoy, picked 14th overall, is already in his sixth full NHL season and he is on his way to winning a Norris Trophy in the not-too-distant future. As my THW colleague, Vince Reilly recently wrote, he is a dark horse this season despite missing the beginning of the season while recovering from off-season surgery.
In 34 games, the former Boston University defenseman has four goals and 22 assists with an insane plus/minus of plus-18. He scored his fourth goal of the season in a 4-0 win over the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 22 on an impressive individual effort. He has excelled in all situations this year since returning for first-year coach Jim Montgomery, including quarterbacking the first power play unit.
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In 346 career regular-season games, McAvoy, just 25 years old, has 38 goals and 169 assists, but since Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug left following the 2019-20 season and Toronto playoff bubble, he has become the leader on the defense. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound right shot is locked up long-term and with Hampus Lindholm, solidifies the defense for nearly the next decade in Boston.
With his second first-round pick in 2016, Sweeney went off the board and selected Trent Frederic 29th overall from the University of Wisconsin. The former Badgers forward had the first-round label hanging over him, despite it not being his fault that he was selected. It has taken a little longer than expected, but the physical left wing is settling in nicely to the NHL.
Last season he showed signs of his game rounding into form in the second half of the 2021-22 campaign when he jelled on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith. They were becoming a difference maker, but his play tailed off late in the season and he struggled in the first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Like some of his teammates, he has benefitted from the coaching change last summer.
This season he is thriving on the third line with Coyle and Taylor Hall. He already has a career-high in goals with 10 and is just three assists shy of setting a new career-high with 11. He has been avoiding the antics that usually ended up with him taking a penalty and becoming a force on the forecheck and in front of the net. He is a big reason why the Black and Gold is three lines deep in production.
Sometimes all you need is an opportunity and that is what Joona Koppanen has and the 135th overall pick in the fifth round is taking advantage. He made his NHL debut against the Seattle Kraken on Jan. 12 and held his own. In three games, he has centered the fourth line in place of Nosek, who is out with a fractured foot, and been strong at the faceoff dot.
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He recorded his first NHL point on Jan. 22 against San Jose when he picked up an assist on a Nick Foligno second-period goal. The 6-foot-5, 216-pound left-shot has been developing his game with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) and had six goals and 14 assists this season in 36 games. What the future holds for the 24-year-old remains to be seen, but he is establishing himself as a bottom-six NHL forward.
The Rest of the Bruins’ 2016 Class
Oskar Steen, picked 165th overall and in the sixth round, has played in 23 career games for Boston over the last two seasons with two goals and six points. He has proven he’s NHL-ready, but he’s stuck behind the depth in Boston, and finding a roster spot might not be in the cards for him until next season at the earliest, if he’s not traded. Ryan Lindgren selected 49th overall in the second round has become a key part of the New York Rangers’ defense after he was part of a February 2018 trade. Cameron Clarke, picked one selection after Koppanen at 136 last played with the Toledo Walleye in the ECHL last season.
It’s been rare that the Bruins have found some success in Sweeney’s drafts, but this season, the 2016 class is putting their stamp on the season. McAvoy is going to be around for a long time and Frederic is a restricted free agent (RFA) following the season. Koppanen could easily get himself a fourth-line role next season in the NHL, depending on what is done with some of their pending unrestricted free agents (UFA). It’s taken some time, but the Bruins are getting depth from their draft class seven years later.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.