The Boston Bruins have a bevy of players who can play in a variety of roles.
Whether it’s players that are capable of moving up and down the lineup without a second-thought, players who can play either wing position or even move between center and winger when needed, this has been a strength of Bruins hockey for a long time.
This isn’t exclusive to the Bruins either as other Boston teams have done a good job at following Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots lead with finding versatile players to fill multiple roles.
Versatility a Key Factor in Boston Sports Success
The Boston Celtics have blurred those lines and eliminated positions, utilizing ball-handlers, wings, swings and bigs rather than the standard five-positions. As basketball becomes “positionless” the Celtics are at the forefront of the shift with head coach Brad Stevens’ personal philosophy on the discussion.
The Boston Red Sox have been prone to using players outside of their natural position in recent years, including infielders playing in the outfield and outfielders playing in the infield.
This is especially true of superstar outfielder Mookie Betts who is consistently ranked as one of the top defensive players at his position despite coming up the ranks as an infielder.
While it’s great to utilize players in various ways to best suit a gameplan, the most important thing teams have to consider is how they can get the most out of their assets.
For a player like Charlie Coyle, the ability to play both at center and on the wing is incredibly valuable.
It’s part of what made him so appealing to the Bruins when they acquired him at the trade deadline in 2018. It’s also part of the reason they gave him such a healthy pay-raise moving forward as he just signed a six-year deal worth $31.5 million, nearly double what his last contract was worth in total value.
Coyle is Best Suited to Play Center
Still, while the Bruins are missing a winger in their top-six to play with either Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci (or Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand if Pastrnak played alongside the aforementioned players), they can’t open a hole at center to fill a hole on the wing.
They’ve explored playing Coyle on the wing in their top-six, but this isn’t a long-term fix that can be relied upon in the postseason.
It’s not an easy issue to fix as the decision comes down to potentially creating a dominant top-six that can take on the brunt of the work while the team’s bottom-six continues to look more like two fourth-lines than a third and fourth-line respectively or fielding a solid four-line team with an underwhelming second-line that hasn’t produced to expectation.
By finding a new winger, the Bruins can deploy one of the deepest forward groups in the entire league, especially considering the fact that the team has found great success with the trio of Coyle, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork playing together despite the relatively small sample size.
If the team can find a winger, the lines could look something like this:
Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
DeBrusk – Krejci – ?
Bjork – Coyle – Heinen
Nordstrom – Kuraly Wagner
As it stands, the team is doing exactly this, rolling with those lines against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night with Brett Ritchie filling the hole alongside Krejci and DeBrusk.
This is a great start, but again, the second-line is the clear outlier here with Ritchie, unfortunately, dragging down every line combination he’s been a part of this season.
Internal Options Haven’t Moved the Needle
Admittedly, there are internal options, the same usual suspects mentioned a thousand times before, who can come in and play a role and potentially fill this last hole.
A player like Peter Cehlarik coming in could be played either on the second line or on the third line with one of the other two wingers moving up a line.
Another option there would see Coyle moving up a line with someone like Jack Studnicka skating on the third line.
Studnicka himself could also play on the wing alongside Krejci and DeBrusk, though his talents are best suited at center for the long-haul and it’s in his best interest to keep him in Providence for the season, barring injuries, to get the most out of his development early on.
Zach Senyshyn, when healthy, also had a good showing in Boston for the first time since being infamously taken in the first round in 2015. He’s still dealing with an untimely injury, however, and it’s hard to trust that he’d be a consistent producer so early on in his NHL career.
This is true of Studnicka as well and Cehlarik has yet to prove that he can earn head coach Bruce Cassidy’s trust.
Bruins Need to Acquire a Winger
If the Bruins are going to be players in the trade market once again this year, something that seems more likely than not, they should most definitely set their sights on a winger option to bolster their lineup than a center to come in and play on the third line.
Coyle is a center who can play the wing, not a winger who can play center. Maximizing his value is the most important thing if the Bruins want to get the most out of their roster come playoff time, and he’s proven to be best suited down the middle as opposed to on the wing.
The winger market will become clearer as the trade deadline approaches and the Bruins will undoubtedly have their finger on the pulse of said market until they find a deal best suited for their liking.
In the end, acquiring another versatile player like Coyle who can play both center and winger is an option, but the majority of minutes they play should come on the wing and within the top-six.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.