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Anderson: Whining over Bruins passing on Barzal is a waste of time

Ty Anderson
December 09, 2017 - 5:37 pm

The Bruins will get their first look at the player they passed on three times in a row at the 2015 NHL Draft tonight, as Mathew Barzal and the Islanders come to town.

A key cog of an Islander team that’s won 16 of their first 28 games this season, Barzal comes to Boston with eight goals and 27 points in 28 games, and is perhaps leading the race for the 2018 Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. The early results show that the Bruins -- who used their three consecutive picks to draft Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Zach Senyshyn -- absolutely swung and missed on Barzal.

But wasting anything close to a real moment of Barzal’s budding career -- or the careers of DeBrusk, Senyshyn, and Zboril for that matter -- wetting the bed over the Bruins not drafting him seems like a needless and borderline pointless exercise in misery.

The Bruins could have drafted Barzal just like they could’ve drafted Logan Couture instead of Zach Hamill. Just like they could’ve drafted P.K. Subban instead of Tommy Cross. Or literally anybody instead of Jordan Caron at No. 25 in 2009. We get it. We all get it. You’re an exhausting person incapable of experiencing joy or appreciation.

It also ignores the fact that the Bruins have their own version of this on their roster.

You don’t think that the 23 teams that had picks before David Pastrnak, who has the most goals and second-most points among the entire 2014 class to date, went to the Bruins with No. 25 overall pick regret not grabbing him? There are probably some European scouts that actually lost their job over this. Vancouver, who hired then-B’s assistant general manager Jim Benning a month prior to the draft, missed on Pastrnak with two different picks before then! The Islanders organization currently reaping the rewards of the Bruins not grabbing Barzal had the No. 5 overall pick in 2014, and picked Michael Dal Colle, a player who has still yet to appear in an NHL game.

Pastrnak, meanwhile, is entering his third season as a full-time NHLer, and is currently paced for 44 goals and around 80 points this season if he stays healthy.

Everybody in the world wishes they could have drafted that kind of talent.

But when you’re talking about something as wildly unpredictable as drafting, this happens to every team. Hell, everybody in the league passed on Johnny Gaudreau multiple times, and 19 of the 70 players picked before Brad Marchand in 2006 have never even touched NHL ice, and I’m beginning to doubt their chances of making it.

The counter to that point is that the Bruins passed on Barzal three times in a row.

But when you look back at 2015 and a failure to grab Barzal, it was clear that the Bruins had a plan that went out the window. I don’t think you can be honest with yourself and say that the Bruins had the intentions of going back-to-back-to-back with those picks. There was a greater move at hand (believed to be a trade-up to nab Massachusetts native and Hurricanes d-man Noah Hanifin), and when it fell apart before their eyes, the Bruins and their then-rookie general manager Don Sweeney were left scrambling.

They actually scrambled alright, too, all things considered.

With the exception of the Zboril selection, which was a ‘best defenseman available’ pick given the Dougie Hamilton trade, the Bruins never aimed for a best player available mindset. They instead aimed for players that fit their desired identity and balance.

They obviously liked DeBrusk’s heavier game on the wings, which made sense when you consider the fact that the Bruins had just traded Milan Lucic out of town, and that their situation on the wings was in need of a long-term boost. The Senyshyn pick remains the wild card to most, but it’s a pick that’s aged well, with Senyshyn blazing his way through the OHL and currently adjusting to the pro game of the AHL. It’s also worth noting that they were not alone in their pursuit of ‘reaching’ for Senyshyn in round one, and that the Black and Gold's depth chart on the right side was a definite sore spot at that time. Going with both players seemed to make more sense than going all-in on another center in Barzal, especially with the David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron both signed long term and at or still near the top of their game as top-six NHL talents. 

And even if you didn’t love their first round, Sweeney ‘recovered’ on day two, as he was able to grab Brandon Carlo in the second round. Carlo, of course, has emerged as a stable top-four defender quicker than just about anybody could have predicted. He also picked up center Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (16 points in 22 AHL games as a true first-year pro) and sturdy d-man Jeremy Lauzon by the end of round two. The Bruins may have found additional keepers within that class with strong picks in round three (goalie Daniel Vladar), round four (Jesse Gabrielle), and round six (Cameron Hughes).

It’s all in line with what’s become a completely loaded and restocked prospect pool that you’re beginning to see deliver on the NHL level under Sweeney’s watch, from Charlie McAvoy to Anders Bjork to Danton Heinen to DeBrusk, and with more coming.

Is it a picture that would look better with Barzal? Of course. I’d be dumb to try and deny that. But lost in the ‘what could have been’ hemming and hawing is that this is not a misstep that has drastically altered the Bruins’ long-term plans or ruined their franchise.

But I guess it’s hard to realize that when you’re always preoccupied waiting for the sky’s sudden fall.

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