Revisiting the Bruins’ Pivotal 2006 NHL Draft
June 24, 2006, was one of the most important days in recent memory for the Boston Bruins. It marked the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, a day that would lay the groundwork for a much-needed turnaround in the organization.
That draft day landed the Bruins some of their most important talent for their Stanley Cup contender years. Phil Kessel, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, and even Tuukka Rask became Bruins property on that day, setting the stage for a changing of the guard.
An Organization in Disarray
Leading up to the draft, things weren’t pretty. During the regular season, the Bruins traded away both of their first-round picks selected in the 1997 Draft, including team captain and star center Joe Thornton, as well as left winger Sergei Samsonov, who had tallied 376 points in 514 games as a Bruin.
The Thornton deal came first, in November. Like most of the hockey world, the Bruins captain was shocked to hear he had been traded, especially given the circumstances. Three months earlier, he had signed a three-year, $20 million contract to remain in Boston. Now, he was being shipped to the west coast in exchange for Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart.
Three months later, Samsonov was shipped away. The Russian, who was drafted seven slots behind Thornton in 1997, was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny, and a second-round pick at the 2006 NHL Draft.
Bruins then-general manager Mike O’Connell’s desperate attempts to save the season, or more likely his job, were unsuccessful. The Bruins fired him less than two weeks later.
O’Connell’s firing left a vacancy in the front office just months before a pivotal draft. Assistant GM Jeff Gorton assumed the role temporarily, but the Bruins found their answer at the end of the season when they brought on Peter Chiarelli to become the team’s seventh GM in history.
Chiarelli’s tenure in Boston lasted nearly a decade and had its fair share of criticism. However, it wouldn’t be fair to mention his time with the club without noting that he brought the Bruins their first Stanley Cup in 39 years, with the help of his 2006 draft class.
Heading into that pivotal draft, the Bruins were coming off of a last-place finish in the Northeast Division, and a season in which they traded two of their most talented players, including their captain of three years, and had fired their general manager. They were set to select fifth. Their selection? An exceptional skater out of the University of Minnesota named Phil Kessel.
Phil Kessel, 1st Round, 5th Overall
The Bruins must have felt fortunate to grab Kessel with the fifth pick. The 6-foot, 189-pound winger for the Golden Gophers had been hailed as a potential first-overall pick and was the subject of plenty of media attention as a result. Instead, he fell to the Bruins behind Erik Johnson (first overall), Jordan Staal (second overall), Jonathan Toews (third overall) and Nicklas Backstrom (fourth overall).
The speedy Kessel fit the bill for the Bruins – an explosive and dangerous center who was ready to step into the NHL. He spent two seasons with the US National Development Team Program before playing in college, including a 98-point season with the development team in 2004-05. He then went on to lead the nation in freshman scoring in his first season with Minnesota, tallying 51 points in 39 games.
Kessel’s international play also included the IIHF World Championships in May 2006, as well as the 2005 IIHF U-18 World Championships, where his 16 points in six games earned him both a gold medal and the recognition as the tournament’s most outstanding forward. All in all, the Bruins were confident that they had drafted a center who could produce.
They were right. Kessel had a respectable 29 points in 70 games in his first NHL season but would become a star in the league. Only, there was a catch – his stardom would not be cemented in Boston, but with the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
After three seasons with the Bruins (during which he tallied 126 points in 222 games), Kessel was traded to the Maple Leafs in exchange for a 2010 first-round pick, a 2010 second-rounder, and a 2011-first-rounder. The Bruins would draft Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight, and Dougie Hamilton, respectively, with those selections.
Milan Lucic, 2nd Round, 50th Overall
Milan Lucic was the third player selected by the Bruins in the 2006 Draft. Thirteen slots earlier, with the 37th overall pick, the Bruins selected Russian defenseman Yuri Alexandrov. After spending most of his time in Russia, Alexandrov played 66 games with the Providence Bruins, Boston’s minor-league affiliate, during the 2010-11 season. He never appeared in the NHL and became a KHL-career player.
Luckily, the Bruins’ second pick of the second round, a 6-foot-2, 204-pound winger from the Western Hockey league’s Vancouver Giants was more successful.
Lucic was considered a hard-working, hard-hitting forward — a power-forward in every sense of the word. He had 19 points the previous season in junior (compared to his 149 penalty minutes), but the Bruins had a hard-worker who would develop a scoring touch in time for their 2011 Cup run.
Lucic debuted for the Bruins in the 2007-08 season, at 19 years old, and played in 77 games. He scored eight goals and 19 assists for a 27-point rookie season. The next season, he more than doubled his goal total, potting 17 goals and 25 assists in 72 games. He was limited to just 50 games in his third season but bounced back with a career-high 62 points in 2010-2011 en route to the Stanley Cup.
Lucic played with the Bruins through 2014-15, before he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. He’ll be remembered mostly for his role in the 2011 Stanley Cup victory. His Cup-winning teammate and fellow 2006 draft pick, however, is still making an impact.
Brad Marchand, 3rd Round, 71st Overall
If the Bruins, or any team for that matter, knew how Brad Marchand’s game and talent would develop, he would’ve been drafted far earlier than 71st overall. For a player with a 5-foot-9 build, there’s always the question of whether your skill can outweigh your size. The Bruins were willing to make that gamble and, boy, has it paid off.
A prophetic quote from Marchand’s juniors coach demonstrates exactly what I mean:
“He’s going to be a dynamite steal,” said Ted Nolan, Marchand’s coach with the Moncton Wildcats, per HockeysFuture. “People might say he’s too small, but with the way the game’s changing, everything’s revolving around skill and speed and Brad Marchand is a perfect prototype for that new era of hockey.”
Thirteen years later, it’s safe to say Nolan hit the nail on the head.
After a season and change with the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins , Marchand debuted for the NHL Bruins during the 2009-10 season, tallying a single assist in 20 games. The next season, Boston’s Cup run, was also his rookie campaign. The small Canadian made an impact in his first full NHL season, notching 41 points in 77 games. He followed that up with an unforgettable rookie performance in the postseason, potting 11 goals and 8 assists in 25 games leading up to the Bruins’ Cup victory.
His rookie season was a sign of better things to come. Marchand consistently produced for the Bruins over the next few seasons, reaching a then-career-high 61 points in 2015-16. The two seasons after that, he exploded for 85 points apiece, latterly in 68 games. Last season, he cemented his place as one of the NHL’s elite scorers, breaking the 100-point total for the first time in his career (and he’s on pace to break it again this season).
Marchand’s résumé with the Bruins is already impressive. One Stanley Cup, two All-Star games, two top-ten finishes in goals, three top-ten finishes in points, three top-ten finishes in goals created, six top-ten finishes (including one No. 1 finish) in shorthanded goals, four top-10 finishes in points per game… and the list goes on.
And at just 31 years old, Marchand still has plenty of time to expand on that résumé, especially with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak as his linemates on “the Perfection Line.”
Of any player the Bruins drafted in 2006, Marchand has undoubtedly had the most impact. However, a player the Bruins traded for that day could make an argument…
Tuukka Rask, Traded from Toronto
On the day of the draft, the Maple Leafs made a trade that the Bruins will never let them forget, dealing Finnish netminder Tuukka Rask to Boston in exchange for Andrew Raycroft.
Rask, who was 19 at the time, was drafted by the Maple Leafs with the 21st overall pick a year before. He had played three seasons in Finland and put up very promising numbers for a young goaltender.
The Bruins brought Rask over to Providence for the 2007-08 season, where he debuted with a .905 save percentage as a 20-year-old. He also got four NHL appearances that season, posting an .886 save percentage in 184 minutes.
By 2009-10, he had proven his worth as an NHL-caliber goaltender. In fact, he dominated. At 22 years old, Rask split time with Tim Thomas and led all eligible goaltenders in both save percentage (.931) and goals-against average (1.97) in 45 games.
The next season, during the Bruins’ Cup run, Rask backed up Thomas, who went on a historic run to help capture the Stanley Cup. However, by this point, it was understood that Rask would soon take the reins from Thomas, and he did.
Rask helped lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012-13, posting a league-leading .940 save percentage and a 1.88 goals-against average (with three shutouts) in the postseason before bowing out to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Final. He won the Vezina Trophy the next season, after finishing with a .929 save percentage, 2.04 goals-against average, and seven shutouts.
Since then, Rask has been one of the best starting goaltenders in the NHL. He’s carried his team to two Cup Finals, and holds the second-highest career save percentage of all time (.921), and the fourth-best career goals-against average (2.28) for goalies with at least 100 games played. He’s been voted to several All-Star teams, has finished top-nine in goals-against-average six times, and led the league in shutouts twice.
Rask, like Marchand, still has plenty of game left. At 32 years old, the 6-foot-3 Finn’s résumé is likely to improve even more.
Over the next few seasons, Marchand and Rask will have to battle it out to determine which June 24, 2006 addition had a greater impact on the organization.
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