It seems that the times of experimentation have come to an end for the boiling-hot Boston Bruins. With the additions of forwards Charlie Coyle, from the Minnesota Wild and Marcus Johansson from the New Jersey Devils, the roster has taken what hopes to be its lasting shape ahead of the final push to the playoffs.
In what has been a successful season from the start, the Black & Gold, mostly due to the injury bug, have given six of their top prospects their first tastes of the NHL, to the tune of 43 combined games. The dual-search for depth defensemen and plugs for the holes on both the second and third lines saw varying results, but none that could keep general manager Don Sweeney off the trade market.
If the B’s remain healthy the rest of the way, it seems likely that this half-dozen won’t have further roles to play in Boston, meaning that their first impressions must suffice until training camp. Should that prove to be the case, here is a deeper look into their respective results to date, listed by most games played, and where each stands moving forward.
After just 58 career games in the AHL with the Providence Bruins, Lauzon, considered one of the top two prospects on defense along with Urho Vaakanainen, received his first call-up to Boston. Coincidentally, it came after a sustained concussion by the latter, who you can read about below. Despite different stints, the pair provided a glimpse of the blue line’s promising potential.
Lauzon made his NHL debut on Oct. 25 in a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden. The 2015 second-rounder scored his first goal, the game-winner, against the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 11, leading to a drastic spike in playing time in his next three games. Over a 15-game stint, the 21-year-old was a minus-one with 10 shots on goal.
While some more offensive production would have helped his case, the native of Quebec succeeded by keeping quiet, as only a defenseman can do. Lauzon finished with an even-rating in nine games and plus-one in three. With a fully healthy defensive core, it seems likely that he will remain with the Providence Bruins for the remainder of the season and push for a promotion in 2019-20.
The former University of Wisconsin standout needed just 50 games with Providence before his NHL debut on Jan. 29, a 4-3 shootout loss against a physical and imposing Winnipeg Jets team. While not doing so in the more typical manner with either a goal or assist in his 8:29 of time on ice, the 21-year-old made it a memorable night with an old fashioned beat down of Brandon Tanev.
Frederic failed to register his first NHL point over the final 10 games of his tenure with Boston. Playing exclusively in the middle, with a mix of wingers, including his boyhood-idol David Backes, the native of St. Louis never found his footing, with only 13 shots on goal and five games without a single bid. Prior to being called up, he netted 10 goals through 37 games with the Wanna-B’s.
Further seasoning with Providence will prove beneficial to the continued development of Frederic. As the 29th-overall pick in the 2016 Entry Draft, he was the last of five first-round picks in two years, joining Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, Zach Senyshyn and Charlie McAvoy. With two of those five already integral pieces, Frederic’s next call-up could prove pivotal in determining his fate in Boston.
As far as hype goes, the 23-year-old defenseman is certainly the least heralded of the group. Selected in the fifth round of the 2013 Entry Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes, Clifton instead opted for the Black & Gold, signing after his junior season at Quinnipiac University in 2017. A solid first season in Providence saw him finish third among defensemen with four goals and 13 points in 54 games.
Clifton’s time with Boston came after Zdeno Chara suffered a lower-body injury on Nov. 14. He made his NHL debut just two nights later in a 1-0 overtime loss to the host Dallas Stars. Just as Frederic would two and a half months later, the 5-11 blueliner readily dropped his gloves, getting the better of Jason Spezza.
Over a nine-game stretch, Clifton didn’t find the scoresheet, but did well to keep opponents off of it, only once finishing with a minus rating. While he remains buried on the organizational depth chart, the Bruins can take solace in knowing they have capable role players at such an important position. The New Jersey native has five goals and 16 assists through 47 games with Providence.
Could the undrafted and former NCAA Tournament MVP out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth be the final B’s first-year to make his debut this season? Every sign points to that being the case, but with David Pastrnak out at least two more weeks, Kuhlman should remain in the mix.
Following a 4-2 win over the host Los Angeles Kings in his NHL debut on Feb. 16, the Minnesotan had points in consecutive road games, a goal against the San Jose Sharks and an assist in Vegas. The 21-year-old has been a healthy scratch since his fourth game against the St. Louis Blues.
Vaakanainen and Zboril
Mentioned earlier, Vaakanainen’s two-game trial, beginning on Oct. 20 in a 2-1 overtime loss to the host Vancouver Canucks, came to an end after an elbow to the head from Ottawa Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki, leaving the former concussed and the latter suspended for a game.
With Ryan Donato, the preseason’s top prospect, now in Minnesota, the 18th-overall pick in 2017 assumes that role. The 20-year-old’s play at the World Junior Championships backed that case, helping lead Finland to the gold medal with four assists and a plus-five rating in seven games.
Zboril, one of the aforementioned five first-rounders (13th overall in 2015), played 68 games with Providence last season, finishing second among defensemen in goals (four), assists (15) and points, and was a plus-12 rating. Like Clifton, his NHL debut came in Dallas, where he skated just under 11 minutes.
Since returning to the minors following his second game, the Czech native has 11 points, bringing his total to 15 in 37 games played. Along with his five teammates listed above, the 22-year-old has taken a large step in proving to the Black & Gold’s brass that the future is bright.
A native of Saugus, MA, Matt graduated from Springfield College (‘13) with a B.A. in Communications/Sports Journalism. Previously, Matt contributed as the Boston Bruins/NHL Correspondent for TheNosebleeds.com before joining the Daily Item (of Lynn) in 2011 as a Sports Correspondent.