The Boston Bruins’ stars have been performing well this season. However, when it comes to the rest of the team’s depth, most have been underwhelming. It’s a big reason why the Bruins have a 14-10-2 record and are fifth in the Atlantic Division. However, to be more optimistic, it feels right to discuss three players who have been pleasant surprises. Even if they haven’t been elite, they are exceeding expectations. That alone warrants praise.
Although the Bruins would benefit from adding a second-line center, Charlie Coyle has been a nice little surprise filling that role this season. The 29-year-old has scored seven goals and 14 points in 26 games, and he only needs two more points to match the 16 he had in 51 contests last season. After a down season, there was a lot of negativity surrounding him before the start of this campaign, but he’s proving his critics wrong.
The Bruins needed Coyle to bounce back this season. After the sudden departure of David Krejci, the team failed to bring in a legitimate 2C replacement and have been forced to utilize the Weymouth native in the role. With that, Erik Haula hasn’t necessarily met expectations, evidenced by his five points in 25 games thus far.
Even if Coyle is not replicating Krejci’s offensive production, he warrants praise for getting back to form. With his 14 points, he is tied for fifth with Taylor Hall in team scoring. After his 2020-21 campaign, his $5.25 million cap hit over the next five seasons looked scary, but his play is slowly starting to change that. Here’s hoping he can produce at a similar pace from here.
Heading into the season, many fans assumed that Anton Blidh would again find himself in the AHL. Over the five previous seasons, the Swedish winger suited up for 38 games with Boston. Yet, the 26-year-old shocked many by making the Bruins’ opening-night roster over former bottom-six mainstay Chris Wagner. That alone warrants him to make this list, but there’s more to the story.
Blidh has been making his case to become a permanent member of the Bruins’ bottom six. In 12 games this season, he has a goal and a career-high four points. With that, he’s tied in points with newcomers Tomas Nosek and Nick Foligno while playing fewer games. He also already has 31 hits. It’s hard not to admire the step forward he’s taken this season, and he will be a player to watch closely as the season progresses.
The Bruins have a decision to make with Blidh, though. He’s eligible to become an unrestricted free agent, and there’s a good chance he will be sporting another jersey next season, especially if another team offers him a better chance of being an everyday NHLer. It’s good timing for him, as he is playing well enough to earn a one-way contract.
Before his unfortunate injury, Jakub Zboril was starting to impress. After playing just one game in October, it seemed as though he didn’t have a spot on the roster. Yet, due to inconsistent play from Mike Reilly and Connor Clifton, Zboril managed to get back into the lineup in mid-November and became a mainstay on the bottom pairing because of his excellent play. His lower-body injury appears to be long-term, so his surprising start is now on hold.
That does not mean all hope is lost. Assuming Zboril can return before the season’s end, he could continue to play this well. In 10 games this campaign, he has three assists and a plus-1 rating. He’s seen a slight increase in his rate of production after recording nine helpers in 42 games last season. However, his offensive contributions do not tell the whole story, as his play on the back end has also looked far more stable than in his rookie campaign. He’s also 24 years old, so perhaps this aspect of his game will continue to improve as he gains experience.
The Bruins will never make up for how badly they messed up in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Yet, Zboril is now the first-rounder with the best chance of making it less frustrating. Obviously, Jake DeBrusk’s days in Boston are numbered, while Zach Senyshyn doesn’t seem to have much chance of ever making the Bruins’ lineup permanently. Once the Czech defenseman is ready to return, hopefully, he will continue to show signs of improvement.
Once the Bruins return from the holiday break, we’ll see if Coyle and Blidh can build on their strengths. Of course, the same should be said once Zboril returns. If they can continue to perform similarly for the rest of the season, they could help the Bruins cement themselves as a legitimate playoff team. Alas, we’ll have to wait and see on that front.