The Bear Cave

June 23, 2009 8:12 AM

Defense Might be the Way to Go in Early Rounds

Throughout their 85-season history, the Boston Bruins have always had a knack for bringing in some of the best defensive talent the game has ever seen. Following their second season as an NHL franchise, the Bruins brought the first big name in, acquiring Eddie Shore from Edmonton. From 1966 to 1975, Boston was the home to one of the best players to ever lace up skates, as Bobby Orr and his number four captured a pair of championships. Later in the 20th century, the legacy belonged to Ray Bourque, who leads the franchise in games played, assists, and points. Now, the big man on the blueline is the defending Norris Trophy winner, Zdeno Chara. This past season, Chara had 19 goals, 31 assists, 50 points, 95 penalty minutes, and a plus-23 rating to bring the award back to Causeway Street.

As you can see, defense is today's focus, as we continue to look ahead toward Friday night's draft.

In terms of the big club in Boston, the Bruins are in extremely good shape on the blueline. Five NHL blueliners are currently under contract, and three others are in an affordable price range. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman each registered 50 points this past season, and are each under contract through 2011, with Wideman being signed through 2012. Aaron Ward, Andrew Ference, and Mark Stuart will all see their contracts expire at the end of 2010, and all three will return to Boston unless there is a trade. Ward is the veteran of the group at 36 years old, while the other four are all under 33, with Wideman and Stuart still in their 20's.

Boston's three free agent defensemen this summer are Shane Hnidy, Matt Hunwick, and Steve Montador. Hunwick is restricted, while Hnidy and Montador are both unrestricted. Hnidy saw his playing time cut drastically toward the end of the season, so he will likely be tempted to sign elsewhere. With Hunwick nursing the surgery on his spleen, the Bruins might pitch Montador an offer to keep him around for at least one more year. Then again, he may walk, opening the door to either pursue the market or call someone up from Providence. With Hunwick being restricted, the team has some control, and will likely keep the 24-year old in the mix, as he has been impressive in two seasons since graduating from the University of Michigan.

Because of the question marks surrounding whether or not the team will sign Phil Kessel, it's tough to say how much money the Bruins will have to work with if they decide to go the free agent route for that final defenseman. If he does sign, the financial ballpark will likely be on the lower end, leading to either a recall from Providence or an unrestricted free agent such as Pittsburgh's Rob Scuderi or Nashville's Greg Zanon. If Kessel leaves, that could open up the wallet for players in the financial ballpark of Anaheim's Francois Beauchemin or Minnesota's Marc-Andre Bergeron. Those players would fit the Boston's need, as they come with experience, while not breaking the bank.

Looking at the potential names from the P-Bruins, the first one on the list is Johnny Boychuk. Boychuk will likely put Boston in a tricky situation, as he was the top defenseman in the AHL last season with 20 goals, 45 assists, and 65 points in 78 games. That was a breakout year for the 25-year old, as he had never recorded more than 32 points in one year. The difficult part is that Boychuk is a free agent, and with a season like that, he is worthy of an NHL contract. If the Bruins offer him one, they should be okay. If not, he could walk.

After Boychuk, the list becomes slim. Adam McQuaid has spent each of the last two seasons in Providence, and could be ready for his first taste of NHL action. All of McQuaid's numbers went up during 2008-09, as he had four goals, 11 assists, 15 points, and 141 penalty minutes at age 22. The organization seems to like what it sees out of Jeff Penner and Andrew Bodnarchuk. However, the two players are just one season into their professional careers, so another year in Rhode Island might be what the doctor ends up ordering. Free agent Ryan Stokes played in just 20 regular season games, and might be tempted to sign somewhere else, while Denis Reul has opted to reenter the draft after two years with the QMJHL's Lewiston Maineiacs. McQuaid and Bodnarchuk each have one season remaining, while Penner is signed through 2011.

The Baby B's should get at least one new face this year, as Alain Goulet has completed his final season with the Gatineau Olympiqus of the QMJHL. Yuri Alexandrov and Radim Ostrcil are two other options in Europe, while Tommy Cross still has three years left at Boston College.

With the depth beginning to run thin at the lower levels, the Boston Bruins might want to consider loading up on defensemen during the early rounds of the draft. Because the team traded Matt Lashoff to Tampa Bay, the ideal pick would be an offensive defenseman. Unfortunately, Boston has the 24th pick, meaning the likelihood of landing one of the top draftees will be difficult. Then again, the Washington Capitals selected Mike Green with the 29th pick in 2004, so anything is possible.

So, who might be around for the Bruins to take with pick 24 if they opt to go with a defenseman? First, let's do some eliminating. Cross off Victor Hedman, Jared Cowen, Oliver Ekman Larsson, Dmitry Kulikov, Ryan Ellis, and John Moore, as Boston will need more than a prayer for one of those players to drop into its range of selections.

From an offensive standpoint, the two ideal names are Stefan Elliott of the WHL's Saskatoon Blades and Calvin deHaan of the OHL's Oshawa Generals. Central Scouting has Elliott listed as the 17th best North American skater, while deHaan is listed as the 25th best North American skater. Figuring in goaltenders and European players, both prospects could be available when Boston arrives at the podium. Looking at the numbers, Elliott had 16 goals, 39 assists, and 55 points in 71 games, while deHaan had eight goals, 55 assists, and 63 points in 68 games. Because they are each in juniors, Elliott and deHann would be eligible to join the Providence Bruins as early as 2011-12.

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