BSC’s Bruins’ Mailbag: DeBrusk, Trades, Prospects & More

It’s Mailbag time!

With the 2018-19 season underway, it’s time to start a monthly mailbag answering any and all questions regarding the Boston Bruins. In this mailbag, I will attempt to answer all of these questions fairly and objectively while paying attention to the past, present and future of players, drafts, trades, standings and whatever else may come up in questions.

With that said, let’s get this mailbag underway:

“Would You Consider Trading Debrusk to Edmonton so He Can Come Home? Who Would You Want in Return?” (Rudistic via Twitter)

I think it’s safe to say that the Bruins don’t plan on moving Jake DeBrusk any time soon. I’m on the same page in that regard as I think DeBrusk does everything a team should want from a player, especially one who’s only 21 years old (though soon to be 22 years old on Oct. 17).

In his rookie season, DeBrusk showed continued improvement through the year. While he didn’t necessarily blow the roof off of the TD Garden with offense, posting a very solid 16 goals and 43 points in 70 games, he was a mainstay on the team’s second line when healthy and never looked rattled. His ability to play a solid two-way game can be attributed to the fact that he worked so hard on that aspect of his game in his final season in the WHL as well as in the AHL.

Jake DeBrusk Boston Bruins
Jake DeBrusk (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One thing that should be noted about DeBrusk’s usage in his rookie season, however, is that he was very sheltered in terms of offensive zone starts. In 869.3 minutes of even-strength game time last season, DeBrusk started 70% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Starting only 30% of your shifts in the defensive zone will certainly help a player learn, even if he was tasked with playing against the opposition’s top-six each and every night. DeBrusk finished his rookie season with a 54.3 Corsi For Percentage (CF%) and a 1.3 relative CF%.

Impressively enough, DeBrusk’s zone starts have balanced out significantly in just three games this season. It’s a small sample size of only 53.9 minutes of even-strength hockey but in that time, DeBrusk has started 56% of his shifts in the offensive zone and has improved his CF% to a very impressive 63.8% and an even more impressive 18.4 relative CF% despite being held pointless with eight shots through four games.

It’s a small sample size, but DeBrusk’s usage is balancing into that of a more well-rounded player and the output on the ice isn’t diminishing as a result. In terms of point production, just about every player on the Bruins’ roster outside of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak (the team’s top line) has found themselves on the short end of the point column. Expect those numbers to rise as the season progresses (and naturally, expect DeBrusk’s ridiculous Corsi numbers to regress a bit as well).

Potential Oilers Trade Target

As for the second part of that question, assuming the Bruins and the Oilers had to make a trade and I was being realistic about options (not necessarily in return for DeBrusk, but just options in general), there are a few I’d have my eye on.

The first and most obvious option would be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Bruins could use another center on their roster and while Nugent-Hopkins cap hit would be difficult to fit under the Bruins’ salary cap in the present and in the future, he would improve their center depth significantly.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was one of many Oilers’ first overall picks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

At only 25 years old, the first-overall pick from 2011 would be an excellent addition to the Bruins given his ability to produce points and play a responsible two-way game. One of Nugent Hopkins’ strongest traits is his intelligence and that goes a long way in an offense like the one Bruce Cassidy runs in which players are expected to always be thinking a few steps ahead while acting on the fly.

Another interesting option would be Oscar Klefbom. A player that was linked to the Bruins this offseason through various rumors and reports, Klefbom would immediately improve the Bruins defense. One area where the Bruins struggled down the stretch and in the postseason last year was left-shot defense.

Though Krug and Grzelcyk are both good hockey players, Klefbom would be an all-around improvement on both. He doesn’t produce as many points as Krug but he is a far more reliable defender in his own zone and that goes a long way when your No. 1 defender is 41 years old.

“Where Do [the Bruins] Finish in the Standings in Your Book?” (Tkdmaxbjj via Twitter)

That’s a good question. I think it’s tough to make any sort of sweeping generalizations or predictions this early in the season, especially when we’re still trying to separate the contenders from the pretenders. With that said, I did mention prior to the season that I think the Bruins will finish with a 48-23-11 record, good for 107 points. With those numbers, I’d expect the Bruins to finish somewhere in the range of 2nd in the Eastern Conference (behind the Tampa Bay Lightning) and fifth in the NHL.

Related: Bruins 2018-19 Season Preview

This prediction is tough because it’s hard to know what teams will do throughout the season in terms of in-season transactions, who will get injured and the like. In that same vein, it’s also hard to predict if a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs will be able to sustain their winning ways with pure offense despite their offense being among the worst in the NHL right now. Only time will tell.

“#AskBSC Do You Think the Bruins Need to Make a Trade to Be Cup Favorites and If So, Who Would You Think They’d Look to Acquire?” (Shmoesports via Twitter)

I am almost positive the Bruins will make a trade at some point this season to bolster their center depth.

It’s early in the season and there’s still time for Trent Frederic or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson to make the jump to the NHL and play an impact role down the middle. It’s also early enough that the team can keep experimenting with players like they’ve done with David Backes, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari already this season.

David Backes Bruins
David Backes, Boston Bruins, Dec. 2, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With that in mind, the Bruins shouldn’t be competing with teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning or Toronto Maple Leafs with experimental pieces down the middle. If someone can grab the brass ring and be a star before a trade is necessary, then perhaps the Bruins will be okay. Despite this, there’s almost no way the team hasn’t been keeping an eye on potential centers who could be moved at the deadline this season who could shore up the middle of the ice the way Riley Nash did for the Bruins a season ago.

Related: Bruins Mishandling Third-Line Center Role

There are quite a few players who could be potential fits for the Bruins in that regard though it’s too early to really tell which teams will be buyers and which teams will be sellers by the time the deadline rolls around.

For the fun of it, let’s look at some of the unrestricted free agent centers coming up in 2019: Matt Duchene, Jason Spezza, Joe Pavelski, Kevin Hayes, Joe Thornton, Derick Brassard, Jori Lehtera, Marcus Johansson, Brock Nelson, Eric Staal, Brian Boyle, Tomas Plekanec.

There are obviously many other players who could have been listed, but that list is a nice mix of players on teams that will definitely be competing for the Stanley Cup this season (Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks), and teams that will likely be near the league’s basement (Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens).

Artemi Panarin, Columbus Blue Jackets
Artemi Panarin, Columbus Blue Jackets, Feb. 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Other positions that could be shored up would be right-shot wingers who could fill in a top-six role next to Krejci or Bergeron or left-shot defenders. The left-shot defender was covered in a previous question (though there are obviously more available to choose from) and for right-wing, players who can score and immediately slot into the top-six – something the Bruins were interested in this offseason with the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk and Artemi Panarin both linked to the Bruins in the offseason in some way or another.

This deal would likely be on a bigger scale, so it’s hard to really project at this point what type of blockbuster top-six winger the Bruins could bring in just a few days into the season, though Panarin is still an option as a rental.

“Out of All [the Bruins] Prospects, Who Do You Think Develops Into the Best NHL Player” (Bruinsfan374688 via Twitter)

This is a very tough question but an interesting one nonetheless. It’s difficult for a few reasons, specifically because it’s always a crapshoot as to which prospect will make the jump to a full-time impact player, which prospects will just be NHL role players and which players will fail to ever make it altogether. Another difficult part about answering this is defining “best.”

On the surface, my gut tells me that the choice is between two players – Jack Studnicka and Urho Vaakanainen. Interestingly enough, neither of those players project to have a tremendous amount of NHL upside as point producers. Both will certainly have their fair share, but it would be unreasonable to look at Studnicka and expect him to ever crack 70-plus points. Similarly to Vaakanainen, he could be a 25-35 point player every season throughout his career with the odd 40-point campaign in there somewhere, but he likely won’t ever produce Torey Krug-level figures.

Urho Vaakanainen (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With that in mind, of all the prospects in Boston, Studnicka and Vaakanainen look like the most well-rounded prospects in the Bruins system and should have long NHL careers based on their skillsets. They could also impress and find another step offensively at the NHL level (stranger things have happened) which would make them even more valuable than they currently project to be.

Related: Bruins 2018-19 Prospect Pyramid

If Anders Bjork was an option (he’s not technically a prospect based on game requirements), then he’d also be in this discussion. Of all Bruins wingers (not named David Pastrnak), he should be the most dynamic option. He’ll be capable of making his own space as he gets more comfortable in the league.