3 Bruins Who Could Be X-Factors in 2022-23

Going into the 2022-23 season, there are some questions facing the Boston Bruins with Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk missing the beginning of the season recovering from offseason surgeries. Filling those holes on the roster is going to be key if the Black and Gold are going to survive until those players return.

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First-year coach Jim Montgomery inherits a roster from former coach Bruce Cassidy that is basically the same as the one that skated off the ice following a Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the playoff last May. The only additions were David Krejci returning on a free agent contract and Pavel Zacha, who was acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Devils in July for Erik Haula. The Bruins could find the beginning of the season tough, but they do have some players who could be x-factors when the season begins Oct. 12 against the Washington Capitals on the road.

Connor Clifton

The Bruins had an abundance of left-shot blue liners, but McAvoy’s absence shrinks the right side even more than it is. That’s where Connor Clifton comes in. A steady defenseman for Cassidy the last couple of seasons, Clifton played mostly on the bottom pair and held his own. Last season, he played in a career-high 60 games with two goals and 10 points, while averaging just over 16 minutes a night. At 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, he’s a little undersized, but he is not afraid to be physical and sacrifice his body with 156 hits in 2021-22 with 62 blocked shots.

Connor Clifton, Boston Bruins
Connor Clifton, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With McAvoy out, Clifton could very well find himself in a top-four pairing on the second pair behind Brandon Carlo. Being paired with Derek Forbort or Mike Reilly is a possibility, but he has a chance to make an impact in a contract year. When McAvoy returns, he could be even better for Montgomery on the third pairing. 

Trent Frederic

When Bruins general manager (GM) Don Sweeney drafted Trent Frederic 29th overall in the 2016 Entry Draft, it raised some eyebrows with Frederic not even predicted to be a first-round pick, but more of a second or third-round selection. His development has been not been as quick as Boston would have liked, but after making the roster out of training camp in the 56-game shortened 2020-21 season, he made some strides in 2021-22.

Trent Frederic Boston Bruins
Trent Frederic, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Midway through the year, Frederic was put on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith and the trio supplied the Black and Gold with a producing third line. It appeared as the season went along that Frederic was rounding his game into form for the NHL, but had a setback against the St. Louis Blues. He took an undisciplined penalty in the second period that led to a power play goal in a Bruins’ loss in April. Frederic was a healthy scratch and it set him back as he struggled the rest of the season and into the postseason.

With a new season upon him, Frederic will look to take the next step in his game in the NHL. Marchand’s absence is going to give him a chance in the top-nine, even after Boston acquired Zacha, who will most likely play on the third line when Montgomery’s team is healthy, which will put a damper in Frederic’s spot. Playing the first two months without Marchand in the lineup should allow Frederic to begin the season better than he ended it last season. The Bruins are hoping that he can find his offensive game he had at the University of Wisconsin, where he had 32 goals in two seasons for the Badgers.

Jack Studnicka

Is this the season that Jack Studnicka makes the roster and makes an impact in the NHL? The Bruins certainly hope so. Looking to find a way to inject youth into the lineup, Studnicka could be the missing youth piece they are looking for in their forward grouping.

Jack Studnicka Boston Bruins
Jack Studnicka, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He has been seen and has been developed in the American Hockey League (AHL) as the replacement for Patrice Bergeron and Krejci when they retire. Studnicka, however, has been blocked from a full-time spot because of recent veteran free agent signings of Haula, Tomas Nosek, and Nick Foligno, all while doing everything that was asked of him last training camp when he all but earned the No. 2 center spot behind Bergeron, only to be edged out by Coyle.

Where would he fit on the roster this season? Slotting him in as the fourth-line center is the place to go. He’s proven he’s NHL-ready and getting his feet wet on the fourth line is the step the Bruins should be looking to take. He is a better option than Nosek or even Frederic for that matter and he could very well be a sleeper and x-factor on the fourth line this season.

There is no doubt that the Bruins are going to need contributions from everyone on the roster at the beginning of the season as they miss their first-line left wing and two of their top-four defensemen. Any of these three players is more than capable of having a big season and being an x-factor behind the top players on the team.

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