Injuries and sports go hand-in-hand, but they can begin to hamper a team when they occur at a seemingly continuous rate.
The Boston Bruins find themselves in that very situation, nursing the wounds to Ryan Spooner, Adam McQuaid, David Krejci and Noel Acciari through the second half of October. More recently, it was announced that David Backes will be sidelined for eight weeks due to a case of diverticulitis that required surgery.
Spooner is slated for a late November return, while McQuaid could miss another six to seven weeks with a broken right fibula. Noel Acciari suffered a broken finger in early October, and with an originally scheduled six-week return, he could be ready to go in roughly two weeks. Krejci, on the other hand, has been suffering back spasms with no scheduled return.
Backes’ surgery, though, was arguably the worst card dealt to the Bruins so far this season. You have to feel for the 33-year-old veteran who was undoubtedly looking to have a strong sophomore season in Boston.
A few Bruins beat writers here at The Hockey Writers, Brandon Share-Cohen, Chris Gere, and Drew Johnson gathered to discuss just what the team is to do in the wake of all these injuries. The consensus seems to be that the prospects brewing in Providence are the best and most feasible options on the table, but just which players to choose is the reason for this debate.
Gere: Peter Chelarik & Austin Czarnik
Slovakian winger Peter Cehlarik debuted with the Bruins last season. In his 11-game audition, he only managed two assists, but his promise was evident. Playing mostly on Krejci’s left side, he never looked out of place.
At six-foot-two and over 200 pounds, he’s a big body who is strong on the puck and fights along the boards. In fact, his size and skating style reminds me a lot of Carl Soderberg — he uses his body to protect the puck well and looks comfortable in all three zones. He didn’t play particularly well defensively, but he appeared to possess the tools necessary to develop that part of his game.
He’s been overshadowed by stud prospects like Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk, and he’s certainly not in that class. However, he’s in a strong second tier of potential middle-six forwards with Danton Heinen. The Bruins are stocked with natural centermen, so Cehlarik could easily slot in on the third or fourth line wing and bump somebody over. While not necessarily exciting, I think he would be the safest choice.
If the Bruins want to go the other way and bring up a center, Austin Czarnik is their guy. He’s lighting up Providence to the tune of four goals and six assists in five games, and tallied an assist on the wing in Thursday night’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
I mentioned in my analysis of the Bruins’ future at center that I’m a big fan of Czarnik. He’s a liability in his own zone due to his size, but he could bring a much-needed offensive spark to the third or fourth line.
BSC: Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson
With the Bruins severe lack of high-end center depth due to injuries to Krejci, Backes and Spooner (and that isn’t even mentioning Acciari), it’s clear that something has to give. As of this writing, the Bruins have recalled center Czarnik from Providence to fill in for the interim.
While Czarnik has done a great job with the Providence Bruins to this point in the season, he isn’t the first name I’d call on to fill in a top-six role while the Bruins aim at getting healthy. Instead of Czarnik, my choice would be Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson.
In eight games in Providence this season, the 21-year-old has scored two goals and five points and has shown a high Hockey-IQ. His two-way ability that defined him heading into the draft and during his time at Boston University has undoubtedly translated to the AHL and there’s no reason to believe it won’t continue to do so at the NHL level.
The Bruins burned the first year of Forsbacka Karlsson’s contract last season by playing him in one game and because of that, they have no reason to not at least give him a look this season. What better time than when the Bruins are in serious need of centers with high potential?
Johnson: Anton Blidh & Forsbacka Karlsson
I agree with my colleagues and their reasons behind both of their calls. I like Czarnik’s speed and see the value Chelarik has defensively, but, like BSC, I’m a huge Forsbacka Karlsson fan and believe he should be next in line for a call-up.
He’s a developing two-way forward and has put up five points through eight games down in Providence. I liked what I saw from him in the preseason before he took an awkward tumble into the boards, injuring and effectively sending him down to Providence to heal and recuperate. I also think that, because the Bruins are four centers deep on the injury report, and considering Forsbacka Karlsson’s solid defensive play, he could fit nicely on the third or fourth line. Perhaps even give the Bruins reason to send Spooner packing if his unimpressive performances continue upon his return to the lineup.
But, why rule out Anton Blidh? Sure, he only scored 10 goals in each of his first two AHL seasons, but he’s tallied three goals in eight games thus far and brings a physical presence that could very well replace that of Matt Beleskey, especially if he can do better than the three goals and five assists No. 39 produced in 49 games last season.
Another one of our Bruins colleagues suggested Beleskey be demoted to Providence, citing that the best possible outcome is that he is picked up on waivers, ridding Boston of his $3.8 million cap hit. Beleskey has nothing to show in seven contests so far this season, so what do the Bruins have to lose in giving Blidh a shot?
At the end of the day, Don Sweeney and Bruce Cassidy know these players better than anyone. However, I believe most if not all the players discussed in this Bruins Round Table will receive a call-up in the near future.