Expansion Draft Preview: Boston Bruins

This is one in a continuing series of articles outlining the options available to the Seattle Kraken during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. To learn more about the draft, please see our Expansion Draft Primer.

Check out articles like this one for every NHL team on our Expansion Draft Previews page.

The Boston Bruins thought they had made the biggest splash of the trade deadline shenanigans by acquiring perennial star-slash-disappointment Taylor Hall. Then Detroit sent Anthony Mantha to Washington for a king’s ransom and stole their thunder. All Boston can hope for now is that Hall actually starts to perform at the level of the $8 million AAV he’s earning — not the $4 million AAV that Boston is paying him.

While the Hall transaction did shuffle the deck somewhat when it comes to the Bruins’ forwards, as we will soon show you, the focus for the Seattle Kraken for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will likely be a defenseman. Boston has three young blueliners with decent up-side potential; we’re also going to take a look at a much-maligned former first-round pick, and a middle-six forward in his 10th year in the league.

Let’s dive in…

Protected List

There are not too many question marks concerning the Bruins’ protected lists. In fact, the defensemen and goaltenders are pretty much identical no matter who you ask. The Bruins also have 3 players, all forwards, with no-movement clauses that mandate their protection during the draft. So really we’re talking about trying to sort out the remaining 4 forwards.

As you may have guessed, we are projecting that the Bruins will use the 7-3-1 protection scheme, and the following players will be protected:

Forwards: Patrice Bergeron (NMC), Brad Marchand (NMC), Charlie Coyle (NMC), David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Nick Ritchie, Trent Frederic

Defensemen: Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo

Goaltender: Daniel Vladar

Addressing the goaltender situation first: both Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak are unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, so they won’t be protected. Daniel Vladar is being groomed for the starter’s job, so he will be protected for the draft. Expect Rask to re-sign with Boston sometime after the expansion draft is over; Halak will likely hit the free agent market.

The Boston blue line consists of the three names mentioned above, several veterans who will be unrestricted free agents this summer, and a handful of promising youngsters. Protecting anyone other than the three names we listed doesn’t really make sense. In the forward ranks: of course you’re going to protect Pastrnak; Jake DeBrusk is probably over-valued (and over-paid), but both he and Ritchie are among the top 10 point producers on the team.

Beyond that, the one name on this list that I can’t figure out is Trent Frederic. He shows up on every “must protect” list in the Boston media. Every one. Why? He tops out as a bottom-six forward with very low point production, thoroughly expendable and easy to replace. It seems like an emotional decision rather than a logical one, but with everyone else in agreement on the matter I’m going to defer to their wisdom…

…and then point and laugh if it turns out they’re wrong, because deep down I’m still in 3rd grade. Not that the Kraken would be interested in Frederic anyway.

No Thank You

Nearly all teams have a few players who we don’t believe warrant consideration due to age/salary/performance issues that make them a less-than-optimal value. Defenseman John Moore falls into that category for the Bruins. Among the forwards, winger Ondrej Kase has been out for most of the season suffering from concussion-related ailments; the Kraken should avoid him for that reason if no other.

We will also mention here that the one youngster getting regular time with the Bruins who you will not otherwise see mentioned here, defenseman Jack Ahcan, is exempt from the draft.

Who’s Left?

The Bruins did shuffle some assets during their trade deadline moves in the last 72 hours. Winger Anders Bjork is now a member of the Buffalo Sabres, and in his place arrives the first name on the list of exposed forwards.

C Curtis Lazar, $800,000 AAV, signed through 2022. This former first-round pick burst on the scene with Ottawa with a goal in his first NHL game at age 19. That proved to be one of only 6 tallies that season, and to my way of thinking it is the Senators’ mishandling of his development that resulted in his wallowing in “first-round bust” obscurity for nearly all of his 7-year NHL career. What isn’t in doubt is his work ethic; is there more lurking just below the surface, waiting to be set free with the right team and the right coach? It would only cost a little over league minimum to find out.

RW Craig Smith, $3.1 million AAV, signed through 2023. This 6’1″, 208 lb. winger does his best work within arms’ reach of the crease — tips, tap-ins, rebounds, and walking right to the front door before snapping off a wrist shot the goalie can’t respond to. Smith spent 9 years in Nashville before signing in Boston, and he will be looking to add to his 170 goals and 182 assists when he suits up for his 700th career game tonight. We’ll add here that the Madison, Wisconsin native is a plus-76 over that stretch. He wouldn’t be a terrible selection, but middle-six forwards with those numbers can be had at lower cap hits.

C/RW Chris Wagner, $1.35 million AAV, signed through 2023. Hits, a few points, more hits, acceptable face-off win percentage, and more hits. 346 career games — 970 credited hits. There’s not much more to say here.

Fret not: as we mentioned, the better options are on the blue line.

LD Jeremy Lauzon, $850,000 AAV, signed through 2022. The highlight reel for Lauzon is one fight after another, but that doesn’t give you a full idea of what this kid can do. He plays a stay-at-home style, he does lower the boom in the hit department, but he also logs huge minutes on the penalty kill. He had a minus-1 season in his 16 game rookie year with Boston; otherwise he has never ended the season in the minus column. Ever. Two strong seasons with AHL Providence shows that he can adapt to his surroundings and play at a competent level.

LD Jakub Zboril, $725,000 AAV, signed through 2022. With Grzelcyk and Carlo having injury issues of late, the Czech-born Zboril has slotted in on the middle pairing for Boston, and is doing well. He’s a former 1st-round pick who has 3 solid seasons under his belt in Providence, improving his numbers each year. The increased opportunity has also afforded him some PP and PK time as well, and while his point totals aren’t noteworthy, he’s a budget-friendly bottom-pairing alternative.

RD Connor Clifton, $1 million AAV, signed through 2023. Clifton is also seeing time on the bottom pairing for Boston, but is less prone to fisticuffs. A product of the US National Team Development Program and Quinnipiac University, Clifton has displayed more play-making abilities than the other two — his last full season in Providence he notched 6 goals and 21 assists in 53 games, finishing the year at plus-13. He shows more patience and maturity as well, suggesting a higher ceiling.

Rough Around The Edges

The management of the Bruins’ roster has clearly been orchestrated with the expansion draft in mind; there is no big, ripe apple dangling in front of the Kraken scouting staff just begging to be plucked off the tree. As a result there is little hope for a deal that would net Seattle a more worthwhile player or a draft pick. Whatever selection ends up working the best for Ron Francis on draft day, I expect Boston will shrug and move on.

So, faced with the list above, plainly there is no clear-cut choice among this group. In the end it will depend on what the Kraken are in need of, and whether they are willing to dedicate any time to developing a more player who is more rough around the edges.

Clifton’s numbers put him a nose ahead of the other two defenders, but Zboril likely has more potential to graduate to taking on more responsibility. Smith is good for 20 goals and 40 points in a year, and has a remarkably favorable takeaway to giveaway ratio which suggests he’s a back-checking ace. I’m curious about Lazar, since he has his ardent supporters and virulent detractors; I’m just not sure taking on a fixer-upper is what we should be doing with this newly-minted club.

Even after looking closely at all of these guys I’m going to reserve judgement. I’ll rule out Lauzon and Wagner, but I’m going to watch the remaining season and playoffs — particularly to see what Lazar has to offer this potent Bruins club — before making a call here.

Check out the options from Boston yourself when the Bruins take on the Washington Capitals this Sunday. Game time is 9am, April 18th, broadcast nationwide on NBC.

Author: Tim Currell

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