Coming into the offseason, the Boston Bruins had a couple of weak points that needed to be addressed prior to the 2017-18 season. Some of those points have been taken care of. They agreed to terms with Ryan Spooner (though his future in Boston remains uncertain), added some defensive depth with Paul Postma and locked down Notre Dame standout Anders Bjork.
Other points have not. In particular, there remains a vacancy on Boston’s second-line left wing, which will presumably be David Krecji’s line. Despite it being a primary issue for the B’s this offseason, Don Sweeney and company have done little to fill it. Thus, our question arises: Who will slide into the second-line wing?
Saying that the Bruins don’t have a second-line left winger is a bit misleading, as they do have left-wingers on the depth chart that can fill the void. The issue, of course, is whether or not any of those players will be able to produce at the level that the Bruins need.
Take a look at the options the Bruins have on the left side. The first-line left wing will be filled by Brad Marchand, who, after a pair of breakout seasons, is expected to be one of the Bruins’ top producers throughout next year’s campaign. After Marchand, though, things get a bit sticky.
The Bruins have a number of players that can play on the left side. Frank Vatrano, Matt Beleskey and Tim Schaller can all slide onto the left wing but they’re all expected to produce at depth player levels, barring a breakout season.
Of the candidates listed above, Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano would be the two most likely to fill the second-line hole, but each of them comes with their own baggage.
Beleskey struggled tremendously in the 2016-17 campaign, dealing with injuries and a concerning lack of production. Now, there is the potential for Beleskey to have a bounce-back season if the knee injury he dealt with last year is behind him — and there’s very little that would make Bruins fans happier than to see Matt Beleskey and his $3.8 million cap hit pay off. That certainly isn’t something that the Bruins can rely on, though.
So, we move on to Frank Vatrano, where things get even more complicated. Vatrano has come up big for the Bruins in a couple of key moments, which has helped him win over quite a few fans in Beantown. However, he’s struggled to produce consistently at the NHL level, and there’s some concern as to whether or not he’ll be able to improve upon that next season. Again, the Bruins would ideally like to see a breakout year for Vatrano, who will be entering his third season with Boston, but that’s a whole lot easier said than done.
Finally, there’s also Peter Cehlarik, who, at just 22 years old, is still trying to make a name for himself at the NHL level. Cehlarik looked decent in his stint with the Bruins last season, but like Beleskey and Vatrano, he’s not someone the Bruins can count on to produce at a high level.
As is the case with the Bruins in general, the team has a number of young options on the left side who will be breaking onto the NHL scene next season. In fact, the Bruins are particularly loaded on the left side, with Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk all coming through the system as left wingers.
Of course, the problem with rookies is that you never know exactly what you’re getting. The Bruins have high hopes for their young wingers, and I think it’s even fair to say that Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen are expected to produce to some extent for the Bruins this year.
However, assuming that either of these two, who have very limited NHL experience, will be able to simply slide in and solve Boston’s issues on the left-side would be overly-optimistic, to say the least. Sure, there’s a chance that one of the rookies has a strong breakout season, but once again, that’s not something that the Bruins can rely on at this point.
The Bruins have been linked to a number of players as far as trade rumors go this offseason, but there haven’t been many developments on the rumor mill lately, and any hopes of a trade leading up to the season seem less likely with each passing day.
Now, if the Bruins begin their season with one of the aforementioned options and aren’t satisfied, then trade talks will absolutely be front-page news ahead of the deadline. Even then, though, the Bruins probably won’t be too desperate to bring in a veteran winger who could decline with so many youngsters waiting to break onto the scene, so I think it’s safe to look elsewhere for an answer on the wing.
Bruins Have No Answer
While it certainly isn’t out of control, there is a problem for the Bruins on the left wing. Boston doesn’t have a reliable second-line option available in the NHL right now, and while their youngsters are promising, they can’t yet be relied on to produce at the level the Bruins need.
There is the possibility that one of the youngsters really impresses out of the gate — if I were to bet on one, my money’s on Anders Bjork — in which case this discussion will be forgotten in a few months. But, that’s merely wishful thinking at this point.
As it stands, the Bruins have a question mark on the second-line left wing, and no clear answer to fill it.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!