In the second edition of the Ask BSC mailbag, the general theme of the questions asked surrounded the makeup of the Boston Bruins roster. Who will play, who will sit, who will be sent down and even an evaluation of a veteran on the team. With the regular season right around the corner, there’s no better time than the present to take a look at some of these questions and answer them as best I can.
“[The Boston Bruins] Have a Lot of Promising Prospects. A Surplus Some May Say. If Things Are Going Well Do You Part With Any at the Deadline? #AskBSC” (Drew Johnson via Twitter)
In the past, I’ve gone on record saying that the only two young players or prospects that I would absolutely not move are David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy. When the possible idea of the Bruins trading Pastrnak to the Columbus Blue Jackets for superstar-in-the-making blueliner Zach Werenski arose amid the lengthy contract negotiations this offseason, however, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t at least consider it. Still, it didn’t make sense to move a player in the Bruins weakest position depth-wise at right wing for a left-shot defender, arguably the Bruins deepest position outside of the left wing.
While there are many prospects that I’m a big fan of in the system, it would be hard to pass up the chance to pick up another legitimate star player should one come available in exchange for some of the Bruins valuable prospects. Ideally, players like Danton Heinen, Peter Cehlarik, Zachary Senyshyn and others make it into the Bruins top-six one day. When considering the fact that Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are likely locks in the team’s top-six for the long-haul, however, that leaves only two spots in the top-six for the team alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
Anders Bjork (who is as close to a roster lock as it gets) will likely occupy one of those spots. The other will likely be filled by Jake DeBrusk to start the year – that means the Bruins have an abundance of prospects who likely won’t be able to find their way into the roster if all goes exactly as planned with Bjork and DeBrusk. That’s just the beginning of the Bruins enviable problems, though.
Left-Shot Defense Looking Strong
When looking at the team’s blueline, it’s clear that the team is looking to build a core around McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug. While Zdeno Chara is still a very good top-four blueliner, it’s clear that the changing of the guard is closer than it is far and the team has planned accordingly. With the drafting of players like Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Ryan Lindgren and Urho Vaakanainen over the last half-decade – the latter four of which look like they can be legitimate top-four blueliners in the NHL one day, it’s clear that the Bruins have a surplus of left-shot talent. That doesn’t even begin to mention Emil Johansson, Wiley Sherman and Linus Arnesson who also fit the bill as left-shot blueliners.
If the Bruins are banking on two of the aforementioned blueliner prospects to step in soon and fill a top-four role (assuming Krug then moves to a bottom-pairing role to maximize what he can do despite his improved defensive play), that would leave a lot of capital for the Bruins to work with to potentially fill another need down the line. The difficult part of this question is the fact that a trade can occur with any combination of these prospects and it could be an absolute haul for whoever receives them. On the other hand, the Bruins could have a severe need at a position down the line and they could pull off a tremendous trade while dealing from a position of strength. For that reason, I’ll say that I would absolutely consider a trade involving a prospect or package of prospects if the situation calls for it.
“Everyone Asks About the Top Lines…I Want to Know Who Makes up the [Boston Bruins 3rd and 4th Lines to Start the Season? #AskBSC” (Dean Plunkett via Twitter)
It’s true. Throughout the offseason, much discussion has gone into who will fill the Bruins top-six openings. As mentioned in the last answer, the most likely options are Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk, at least to start the season. When looking at the bottom-six, however, the image really becomes murky. There are so many players in the mix that it seems unfathomable that the team won’t make a trade or two ahead of the season to clear up some of their surpluses – whether or not that happens is yet to be seen, however.
Most recently, the Bruins placed forward Kenny Agostino on waivers. A player competing for the second-line left wing spot and at worst a spot on the team’s third line, Agostino never really separated himself enough to earn a guaranteed spot on the roster. In the middle of writing this answer, Agostino was announced to have cleared waivers, meaning he can be sent to and from the AHL without restriction for the next 30 days – a good situation for the Bruins to see more of Agostino moving forward. Assuming he’s out of the equation to start the year, as are Peter Cehlarik, Danton Heinen and Jesse Gabrielle, that still leaves a plethora of names vying for a few jobs.
Who’s a Lock for the Bottom Six?
David Backes and Riley Nash are absolute locks for the bottom-six. Ryan Spooner has survived the entire offseason without being traded and played arguably his best hockey in a Bruins uniform during the preseason, showing increased size and physicality, making a believer out of those who may have lost faith last season (that would be me). So let’s assume that the competition is between Matt Beleskey, Frank Vatrano, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Noel Acciari, Sean Kuraly, Austin Czarnik and Tim Schaller looking to fill the last three spots alongside Backes, Nash and Spooner. Matt Beleskey will almost undoubtedly be in the lineup due to his cap hit, leaving only two spots on the roster.
Vatrano is an interesting player. At the AHL level, he was nothing if not a superstar. Still, his job isn’t secure. He’ll require waivers to be sent down to the AHL, however, so let’s assume he also fills a roster spot just for the sake of it. That would leave Forsbacka Karlsson, Acciari, Czarnik, Kuraly and Schaller looking to fill the final two roster spots. Forsbacka Karlsson dealt with an injury this preseason and could start the season in the AHL as a result. Czarnik was under the weather and won’t be playing in the Bruins final preseason game and words from head coach Bruce Cassidy likely indicated that Czarnik could also start the year in Providence.
The Final Cutdown
That would leave Kuraly, Acciari and Schaller. Kuraly has absolutely earned himself a spot in the lineup, though it would be hard to not see Acciari or Schaller in the lineup. Despite Acciari not requiring waivers to be sent down, the Bruins likely won’t take that into consideration when deciding between him and Schaller to start the year on the fourth line or in the press box. If I had to choose between the two, I’d keep Acciari with the big club and risk losing Schaller.
To summarize, that would be Backes, Nash, Spooner, Beleskey, Vatrano, Kuraly and Acciari in the bottom-six and as the 13th forward in whatever configuration the Bruins deem best.
Are You Still Mad the Bruins Passed on [Thomas] Chabot, [Matthew] Barzal, [Travis] Konecny, [Colin] White, [Kyle] Connor, [Brock] Boeser, [Joel] Eriksson-Ek and [Ilya] Samsonov? #AskBSC” (Brandon Murphy via Twitter)
It’s funny you should ask that. At the time, I was hoping the Bruins would look at drafting Colin White, Kyle Connor or Matthew Barzal. Instead, the team drafted DeBrusk and Senyshyn (I left out Zboril because he was exactly who I wanted the team to draft at the time).
So a little story leading up to the draft picks – during the coverage of the draft, an interview with former NHL player Louie DeBrusk and his son Jake was shown on television. DeBrusk wasn’t very high in my personal first-round draft rankings and seeing that interview made it fresh in my mind that I didn’t want the Bruins to take him. Of course, the Bruins would eventually take DeBrusk and through ups and downs, he’s proven that he is now worthy of an NHL roster spot to start the season. Senyshyn was another name and likely the most controversial first-round pick the Bruins could have made at the time.
With so many talented players still available, the Bruins took a player who was projected to go much later in the draft and likely outside the first round. At the time, I was upset that the Bruins took both DeBrusk and Senyshyn over Barzal, White and Connor. Still, hindsight is 20-20 and I’m not very content with who the Bruins chose that year. It’s hard to argue with general manager Don Sweeney’s draft tendencies and the development of both DeBrusk and Senyshyn has made me a strong believer in their abilities. Would it be nice to have one of those other prospects? Absolutely. Do the Bruins necessarily need them over what they currently have? I don’t think so.
How [Would You Grade David] Krejci’s Game Level After [the] Last Two Seasons? And How [Important Is He] for [the] Bruins Overall? Now and in [the] Future. #AskBSC” (Alexander via Twitter)
Krejci’s last two seasons haven’t been as bad as some would like to believe. Scoring 17 goals and 63 points in 72 games in 2015-16 followed by 23 goals and 54 points in 82 games in 2017-18, Krejci has still been able to contribute to the team, though not as consistently as of late as expected. With the highest cap hit on the entire roster, it’s obvious and to be expected that consistent production is expected from Krejci each and every season.
Nothing to Worry About
63 points two seasons ago is right in line with what Krejci has done throughout his career, so let’s focus more on last season and what went wrong. For starters, Krejci didn’t have a constant on his left wing. That’s been sort of an issue in recent years, but last year more than ever, Krejci was dealing with a revolving door of talent. While many were more than capable of filling the role, it was the inconsistency and inability to generate chemistry that really hurt the Bruins’ centerman in the long-run. On top of that, Krejci missed the entire offseason and had a very slow start to the season due to an injury.
As is often the case in professional sports, the injury lingered and limited Krejci for most of the year. Despite that, Krejci still scoring 23 goals (tying his career-high) while also recording over 50 points. He might not be the best choice as the benchmark for salary on the team, but he’s still a very valuable piece for the team moving forward. With Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic and Ryan Donato in the mix for future roster spots, however, Krejci’s eventual replacement could already be in the team’s system. As it stands, however, Krejci shouldn’t be seen as a risk to lose playing time or a roster spot due to one down season.
“Looks Like [Grzelcyk] May Get the Nod to Replace Krug. How Do You Feel About Him Over Cross, Lauzon, Zboril and O’Gara? Would You Choose [Differently]?” (Anthony Pagliarulo via Twitter)
Out of all of the players in competition to fill in for Krug to start the season due to injury, Grzelcyk was my top choice. He plays a similar game to Krug’s and though he could still use a little work to get up to NHL standard, he’ll never be able to do that playing against AHL players or sitting in the press box. Giving him an early opportunity on the team with the knowledge that Paul Postma and O’Gara could easily spell him should things not go as planned gives me confidence that the team will be okay either way.
If it was Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller who went down with injury, I might have chosen O’Gara over Grzelcyk, but the skillset missing with Krug leads me to believe that the Bruins need a more mobile blueliner with offensive instincts – something that Grzlecyk has proven he’s capable of as a Boston University Terrier and with the Providence Bruins.
Just in case you missed the first edition of the Overtime With BSC Mailbag, make sure to give it a read here! If you have any questions for the next edition of the mailbag, make sure you tweet at me using #AskBSC so it doesn’t go unnoticed.
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.