In pro development, O’Connell gives stamp of approval
He has been gone from the organization for a little more than four years, but former general manager Mike O’Connell still has his stamp on the Bruins.
O’Connell was at the helm when Patrice Bergeron (second round, 2003 NHL draft) and David Krejci (second round, 2004) were selected. The two are thriving in the playoffs, and no one was happier than O’Connell, now in pro development and special assignments for the Los Angeles Kings.
“The thing that really struck all of us with Bergeron was his competitiveness,’’ said O’Connell. “He had a shortened junior season but we had enough viewings of him to understand what kind of player he was. He drives the bus, he doesn’t ride on it. I’ve seen it so many times throughout the season this year, how when he steps up and does the things he did in juniors at a young age. He leads. Krejci was [discovered by former Bruins scout Nik Bobrov] who really pushed him hard and really scouted him hard. He has the same type of qualities. He does it in more of a quiet way but he’s a very competitive individual. Both are outstanding individuals. We were fortunate to get both of them.’’
O’Connell said although most 18-year-olds coming into the pros require a substantial transition period, Bergeron was an exception.
“Patrice showed all that fortitude his first year with us,’’ he said. “I can remember a number of games distinctly, going into Philadelphia. They had a really good team and [Peter] Forsberg was on the team and our coach [Mike Sullivan] decided to put Bergie against him. Bergie was 18 years old at the time and it was just an eye-opener. Patrice did not care who he was playing against. It was an eye-opener how good this kid could be.’’
O’Connell said one of Bergeron’s best traits is he’s an exceptional teammate. For example, when the Bruins were running drills, they would often end the workout by having a shootout. If the players thought the shooter would score, they would go to one side of the ice. If they thought he wouldn’t, they’d go to the other side. If you picked wrong, you’d have to do extra skating.
“Watching the years with Bergie, he would always go [on the side] that the player would score,’’ said O’Connell. “For me, it just really spoke so much to his character. He was always pulling for his teammates. It was very subtle. Probably not many people would notice.’’
O’Connell said Krejci plays similarly to a former Bruins center who is widely regarded as one of the top setup men in the history of the NHL.
“Krejci reminds me a lot of Adam Oates, who I knew as a young player [when O’Connell and Oates played for the Red Wings],’’ said O’Connell. “They have very similar stick skills and elusiveness along the boards. Oates was a passer but he was an unbelievable checker and David is as well. I remember Nik Bobrov just pushed him on us. He said, ‘You’ve got to take this kid.’ Nik saw him and knew him. To get these two players when we got them is really a credit to [former assistant GM Jeff Gorton] and to Nik, who really pushed these guys, and to [former scout Daniel Dore, who is based in Quebec].’’
Although he isn’t with the Bruins, a team for which he played, coached, and worked in the front office, O’Connell said it’s gratifying to see the emergence of the young players he helped nurture.
“I am proud of that,’’ said O’Connell. “The people who got them in, who are no longer there, should be proud of that as well.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.