Coming into the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft on Friday night in Minnesota, the Bruins own the ninth overall pick and might finally be ready to buck that trend and add a young puck-moving defenseman to their stable of prospects.
If they do, it won’t be because of any change of philosophy. The Bruins will still be selecting the best player available regardless of position rather than drafting for need, but this year’s draft just might give them a chance to address a weakness in their system while picking the top player left on their board.
“You always want to pick the best player,” Chiarelli said on Thursday. “We obviously, we’ve got some good depth at center, on our current roster and coming up [in the system]. So from afar, you’d think we’d want to draft a defenseman, but you have to be careful that you don’t bypass a real good player. So we’ll be wary of that. We haven’t changed our strategy at all.”
Still, after having the Bruins pick forwards Phil Kessel, Zach Hamill, Joe Colborne, Jordan Caron and Tyler Seguin in the first round the past five years, Chiarelli recognizes the club could use an infusion of high-end blue-line talent to the prospect pool.
“We haven’t drafted a lot of defensemen, elite defensemen, meaning with our top picks,” Chiarelli said. “We have kind of replenished that side of things through trades, so I guess that would be something we’d be looking at.”
Fortunately, sitting at No. 9 with the final pick culled from the trade of Kessel to Toronto, the Bruins should have some pretty good defensemen to choose from. Two of the best could provide Boston with the kind of offense and power-play production from the back line it lacks, and the Bruins got an up-close look at both last week when they brought Ryan Murphy and Nathan Beaulieu to Boston for pre-draft visits.
“It was really cool,” Murphy said. “It was my first time in Boston. My dad told me I was going to love it and I did. It’s a great city. I got to see Fenway Park. I got to see the Garden. I really liked it.
“I thought it went good,” Murphy added. “I met with them at the [scouting] combine so obviously I did something right for them to invite me to Boston.”
Murphy’s done a lot of things right in his junior career with Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League. He’s undersized at just 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, but there’s nothing small about his offensive production after putting up 26-53-79 totals in 63 games with the Rangers.
“I’m an offensive defenseman who obviously does a lot of my work on the power play,” Murphy said. “If a team’s going to draft me, it’s going to be for my offensive ability and that’s on the power play. If I went to Boston, I’m guessing they’d want me for a power-play guy.”
Murphy is unapologetic about his free-wheeling ways. He takes risks to create that offense and doesn’t plan to alter that style at the next level, though he also insists he’s capable of taking care of things in his own zone as well.
“Whatever team I get drafted to I’m not going to change my game to a stay-at-home, big defenseman,” Murphy said. “I’m going to play my game that I played in the OHL and the game I played in minor hockey. I’m just going to stick to it. If a team tries to change me, I’m obviously going to do what the coach tells me to do, but in the long run I’m an offensive defenseman.
“I know I have to be reliable in my own zone, and I have been this year,” Murphy added. “I went from a minus-3 player to a plus-23 player, so I know how to play defense. It’s just a matter of if the coach trusts me or not.”
Murphy actually grew up a Leafs fan in Aurora, Ontario dreaming of being drafted by Toronto. He could still be taken with a Toronto pick, only it’s now owned by the Bruins.
“Growing up in the Toronto area I was obviously a Maple Leafs fan,” Murphy said. “I always figured I’d wear a Toronto jersey because I lived there. But nowadays I could see myself going to any team. It’s a pretty wide-open draft this year and I have no idea what’s going to happen.”
Beaulieu also got a taste of what kind of hockey town Boston has become again when he visited with the Bruins as well last week.
“I was actually in Boston this last week,” Beaulieu said. “I flew up there and met with Peter Chiarelli and the crew. They’re great people and the city is unreal. I couldn’t believe how nice it was there. It’s a beautiful spot, so you never know.
“It was the day after the parade, so the city was still buzzing,” Beaulieu added. “I got the whole tour of the city, right into Charlestown where my favorite movie was filmed, The Town. So it was wicked. I couldn’t believe it.”
Beaulieu had 12-33-45 totals in 65 games for Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, then was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star Team as he helped the Sea Dogs become the first team from the Maritimes to win Canadian junior hockey’s top prize. Beaulieu has good size at 6-foot-2, though he’ll still need to fill out his 174-pound frame. He’s more of a well-rounded defenseman, but still sees providing some offense from the back end as one of his primary responsibilities.
“I think I’m an offensive guy, a power-play quarterback,” Beaulieu said. “But I can shut down first units also. I’m a special-teams guy. I bring offense to the table, but I also feel I can shut down guys.”
There are other blueliners the Bruins would love to have a shot at landing as well. Swedish phenom Adam Larsson isn’t likely to last anywhere close to ninth, but Dougie Hamilton could slip. He’s the complete package with offensive skill (12-46-58 in 67 games with Niagara in the OHL), size (6-4, 193) and even a bit of a mean streak (77 PIMs), but the knock on him could be that he’s too smart.
“A couple teams maybe thought that [I was too focused on academics],” Hamilton said. “One team asked me if I was really committed to hockey and in two years would you go cure cancer or something like that. I had that question.”
Somehow, being too good a student shouldn’t scare away a GM with a Harvard pedigree like Chiarelli, but Hamilton did say that he hasn’t spoken with the Bruins since the combine and has only met with the New York Islanders since then.
That lack of contact could be Chiarelli’s way of outsmarting the other teams after Hamilton, or the Bruins GM could have his sights set on another player altogether. The one thing that’s certain is that there should be plenty of talent available when the Bruins step to the podium for the ninth pick, and this time the best player available may even give the Bruins some blue-line help.