The Boston Bruins began the season without their top point-producer on the blue line, Torey Krug. The team was mostly healthy entering the season in comparison to a plethora of injuries that hampered them last season. This is no longer the case as two more defensemen and one forward went down over the weekend: David Backes, Charlie McAvoy, and Kevan Miller.
Backes took a high hit from Matt Benning in Thursday’s tilt against the Edmonton Oilers. He finished the game, but he was unable to suppress symptoms heading into the weekend and was sent home. According to head coach Bruce Cassidy, McAvoy wasn’t feeling well and was sent home for tests. Miller was likely injured blocking a shot against the Oilers and was sent home for X-rays. The Bruins’ questionable depth will be put to the test if these three are out for any length of time.
The Bruins padded the left side of the defense this summer by signing big John Moore, but that will be minimal help in this situation with two right defensemen out. In an attempt to band-aid the wounded blue line, they recalled 19-year-old rookie Urho Vaakanaien and inserted journeyman Steven Kampfer into the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks.
Season Debut for Steven Kampfer
Kampfer was drafted 93rd overall in 2007 by the Anaheim Ducks but was traded to the Bruins before making his NHL debut. He only played 48 games in two seasons with the Bs then bounced between the Minnesota Wild, Florida Panthers, and New York Rangers before landing back in Boston.
Interestingly, he played 38 games for the Bruins during their 2010-11 Stanley Cup Championship season but does not have his name on the Cup. A player must play at least 41 games with the winning team throughout the season or play one game in the Stanley Cup Finals to have their name engraved.
Kampfer made his season debut for the Bruins on Saturday after appearing in 22 games with the Rangers last season. He is the unanimous seventh defenseman for the Bs, but he was not inserted on the third line where he was expected to play to allow him to wet his feet with minimal minutes against the opposition’s lower lines. Instead, Kampfer was thrown into the fire on the second pair alongside Moore.
This was a tall order for someone who has never played more than 47 games in an NHL season since entering the league in 2010. To his credit, the veteran handled the situation well and finished the game even. With that said, this is not a second unit that the Bruins should deploy often.
NHL Debut for Urho Vaakanainen
Vaakanainen who is a smooth skating Finnish defenseman with decent size was drafted 18th overall by the Bruins in 2017. He was recalled on an emergency basis and jumped on a cross-continent flight overnight to make his NHL debut on Saturday.
Upon arrival, Vaakanainen was paired with another smooth skating but undersized left defenseman, Matt Grzelcyk. Grzelcyk is a great puck mover and is quickly becoming an asset for the Bruins, but the second-year blueliner is typically paired with Kevan Miller, a large, physical, stay-at-home partner.
Pairing Grzelcyk with the rookie and asking him to hold it down defensively while pushing the play from the back end was too much to ask and put Grzelcyk and Vaakanainen in a difficult situation that resulted in Vancouver’s first and only regulation goal. Not an ideal start for Vaakanainen, but he became more comfortable throughout the course of his first game.
Filling the Skates of Charlie McAvoy and Kevan Miller
It is unclear how long Backes, McAvoy, and Miller are out. Word is that Krug is skating and was scheduled to meet the team in Ottawa on Monday, but ran into flight issues. Though this will be a step in the right direction by adding another left defenseman to the mix.
If McAvoy and/or Miller are out for an extended period of time, the Bruins could be in trouble on the right side. There are only three right defensemen in Providence and none are NHL caliber. This means the Bruins only have one true NHL defenseman for the right side, Brandon Carlo. While defensemen often play on their opposite side, it is significantly more difficult to hold the puck and they become more susceptible to turnovers.
If management decides they need help, they may want to consider moving Grzlecyk to the right of the experienced Moore who possesses size, strength, and strong skating ability. Moore is the best candidate to cover any offside limitations Gryzlecyk may encounter. This would probably partner Kampfer with Chara, and Vaakanainen could play alongside the capable Carlo. It may not be pretty but it would balance the back-end while waiting for relief.
Impact of David Backes Injury
The injury to Backes is equally concerning especially for his health as he has a long history of concussions, but also because the Bruins are already struggling with depth on offense. Although Backes hasn’t tallied a point yet on the season, he has remained at an even rating while being the one constant on an unsolvable third line that has seen a rotation of the Bs’ freshest faces.
Backes will likely need time off to recover from another head injury, so it may be time for the Bruins’ brass to dig deep in Providence. Jacob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Trent Frederic couldn’t seize the third line center spot in camp, but one or both may have another opportunity to impress very soon.
It has been a disastrous road trip for the Bruins who are hoping to steal the final two possible points against the Senators in Ottawa before returning to Boston. Let’s hope they can regroup and recover at home, or hard times may be on the horizon.