The Boston Bruins are going to need to make a decision soon with regards to forward Peter Cehlarik.
If it feels like that statement has been repeated for years, that’s because it has been. In fact, it’s felt that way since Cehlarik got his first taste of NHL action during the 2016-17 season, playing in 11 games and recording two assists.
On the surface, that stat-line is underwhelming and does little to incite excitement. This is even more true when considering that Cehlarik skated almost exclusively alongside David Krejci and David Pastrnak at five-on-five play during that stint and was unable to record anything better than two assists.
With that said, though, there’s a reason Bruins’ fans have remained so bullish on Cehlarik. Anybody who’s watched him understand that he has what it takes to be an NHL forward and is more than capable of filling a role.
Things aren’t always that simple, though, and the Slovakian forward has been limited to just 37 total NHL games in his young career.
Cehlarik’s NHL Tenure Has Been Anything but Consistent
Cehlarik would score one goal and two points in six games during the 2017-18 season while skating with a variety of linemates (information courtesy of Corsica Hockey), including Krejci, Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk, Riley Nash, David Backes, Ryan Spooner, Tim Schaller, Frank Vatrano, Danton Heinen, Jordan Szwarz, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari.
While he was given a fair shake during his first 11 games next to a loaded duo of Krejci and Pastrnak, his next six games saw him skate on 19 different line combinations for varying amounts of time. The most consistent linemates he’d skate with at five-on-five were Krejci and DeBrusk (38.02 minutes at five-on-five in four games) and Bergeron and Pastrnak (15.62 minutes at five-on-five in two games).
It’s hard to hold any lack of success against him with this being the case as he was never given a long enough look with any linemates to create chemistry or find a steady workload.
In 2018-19, Cehlarik would find himself skating in a more consistent setting. Though he did log time with various linemates, he’d find himself skating most consistently alongside Krejci and DeBrusk, continuing what that they started a season ago.
Skating in just under 105 minutes of ice time with those two, the line would post a Corsi-For% of 60.39 as well as a Goals-For% of 71.43. They complemented each other well and Cehlarik even found himself scoring four goals and six points in his most recent 20-game stretch in the NHL. While those numbers may still not be eye-popping, they represent positive growth for a player looking to make the permanent jump to the NHL.
Why does all of this actually mean something now compared to all of the times it was mentioned in the past? Well, it’s because Cehlarik’s future in Boston should actually be determined prior to the 2019-20 season due to his waivers status.
Cehlarik Destined for Roster Spot, Trade or Waivers
When it comes to Cehlarik’s future, there are three options that the Bruins have to work with.
The first two options go hand-and-hand together. Either Cehlarik makes the roster out of training camp and finds himself slotting in somewhere in the team’s top-nine, or he ends up being placed on waivers as the team looks to once again send him to Providence.
On the one hand, it makes sense to give Cehlarik a look out of training camp when the team has so many open spots on the wing to fill. These spots aren’t open due to a lack of options, however. Instead, they are open because there are so many players directly competing for the opportunities.
As it stands, the sure-fire locks on the Bruins’ roster for opening day Bergeron, Pastrnak, Krejci, DeBrusk, Brad Marchand, Charlie Coyle, Sean Kuraly and Danton Heinen (fresh off of a new contract extension signed this offseason).
That leaves four spots open, including a top-six winger spot, for players like Cehlarik, Anders Bjork, Joakim Nordstrom, Chris Wagner, Karson Kuhlman, David Backes, Oskar Steen, Brett Ritchie and even Jack Studnicka, who all seem to legitimately have the opportunity to make the opening night lineup.
There’s a chance that Cehlarik still makes the roster and doesn’t make the opening night lineup depending on how the Bruins want to allocate the space on their 23-player roster.
So far, Cehlarik has done everything he can to earn a spot on the roster.
In the event that Cehlarik doesn’t make the opening night roster, the Bruins then have to decide if they want to risk losing the 24-year-old for nothing on the waiver wire or if they want to try and trade him to try and recoup value (or as part of a bigger move altogether).
There’s a chance that he could clear waivers and return to Providence, a team that he’s scored 43 goals and 99 points with in 137 games since the 2016-17 season. That’s a big risk, though, especially if the Bruins really do like Cehlarik’s game and long-term potential.
A trade could get them value in return, but given his lack of NHL production, he’s unlikely to command a return that will leave the Bruins satisfied. Unfortunately, though, the Bruins and Cehlarik have stretched this decision out as far as it can go and something has to give.
While it’s unclear what the Bruins will ultimately do with Cehlarik, what is clear is that they’ll have to make their decision relatively soon.