Riley Bruce was an interesting pick for the Calgary Flames at 196th overall in last month’s NHL Draft.
He’s big. The team seems to value big players, particularly on the blueline, with the hope that one will turn into something special. Now they have a stable of towering players with names like Keegan Kanzig, Adam Ollas Mattsson and now Riley Bruce. Compared to his organizational teammates, he’s still pretty lanky and has a lot of room to pack muscle onto his 6’6″ frame.
He’s young. He turns 18 today, July 16, and won’t be eligible to play in the American Hockey League for two more seasons – he doesn’t turn 20 until just the summer prior to the 2017-18 season. That means that the club basically gets two full seasons of development out of him before he steps on pro ice full-time.
As a right-handed, defensive-oriented blueliner for the North Bay Battalion, Bruce seems to have his head on straight. He had the right attitude regarding his chances on draft day – he entered the festivities ranked 210th (dead last) among North American skaters by Central Scouting, yet remained optimistic.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen until draft day,” said Bruce. “It doesn’t matter where you’re ranked. Some guys that are ranked pretty high don’t end up going, some guys aren’t ranked and end up getting picked, so you just have to go in hoping.”
Bruce shared his excitement about the young core playing for the Flames right now, but even after a couple days at development camp seemed certain he had some work to do to get to the next level.
“I was always the biggest guy on my team growing up,” said Bruce. “Definitely coming here it’s a huge change in pace. Everyone’s very good hockey players here, and they’re all big, strong, fast.”
Let’s be honest: Riley Bruce is a project pick. But he’s a defensively sound big body playing on a team that’s pretty young. He played third pairing minutes last season and will probably get even more ice-time next season; the Battalion are graduating defenders Marcus McIvor and Brenden Miller, and Austin Kosack and Miles Liberati are among nine 1995-born players vying for just a trio of overage spots. There’s going to be some big changes for North Bay next season and Bruce will benefit from them.
But let’s emphasize this: he’s a project pick and he’s barely 18. It’ll be tough to judge the pick for a few seasons yet, but for a seventh rounder ranked dead-last by Central Scouting, it’s a pretty low-risk proposition.