When looking at the 2017-18 Boston Bruins, one thing is abundantly clear; the team has more depth than any Bruins team has had in recent years. Arguably one of the deepest teams in the entire league, the Bruins are showing that they can roll four lines with confidence while also feeling comfortable in the fact that they have NHL talent on the outside of the roster looking in.
Players like Adam McQuaid, Anders Bjork, Matt Beleskey and even Frank Vatrano (the latter two sitting a notch below the former). The team is in an enviable situation with the amount of NHL talent they have as well as high-end prospects still on the way, but that also promises to lead to questions that will arise as early as next season.
One player on the Bruins who has proven to be exceptional in his role has been Riley Nash. Prior to signing a two-year deal with the team ahead of the 2016-17 season, Nash proved he could be a solid bottom-six player on a bad Carolina Hurricanes team for years. His production and tendencies as a key two-way player earned him his contract and he’s given the team no reason to regret it a year and a half later. While he’s a player that every team would love to have, his spot on the team is uncertain past this season as he is set to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Currently centering the Bruins’ third-line alongside David Backes and Danton Heinen (two natural centers in their own right), Nash has proven to be more than just a fourth-line player who can kill penalties. Playing up and down the lineup this season, Nash is capable of providing secondary scoring and adding energy to a game while playing a respectable 200-foot game. He’s not just an every day fourth-liner, but he’s also not capable of producing offense at the rate needed for a top-six forward. The third-line is a good spot for him, but it could prove to be difficult to fit him into the long-term plans on that line with the abundance of players who are close to making the jump to the NHL level.
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson And Ryan Donato Pushing For Playing Time
One of the stories of the 2017-18 NHL season has been the emergence of rookies at a breakneck pace. The Bruins, more than any other team, have benefited from this phenomenon as they’ve gotten production from rookies all over the lineup on offense and on defense with Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen figuring to be in the Calder Trophy conversation. On top of the prospects already shining in Boston this season, the team also has Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in Providence and Ryan Donato at Harvard who figure to be ready for an NHL job sooner than later.
While Donato could find himself back at Harvard next season after his Olympic opportunity and shot at an NCAA title this year, or in the AHL for a season of fine-tuning and adjusting to the professional style of play, Forsbacka Karlsson seems to be more than ready to make the jump to the NHL. With Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci remaining staples down the middle of the ice for the Bruins and the team having so much depth on the wing, it seems like Forsbacka Karlsson is primed to inherit the team’s third-line center spot as early as next season. If Donato signs and makes a good enough impression that the team has no choice but to start him at the NHL, that only complicates the situation even further.
One solution to Nash’s spot in the lineup seemingly disappearing next season would be to play him on the fourth-line.
Bruins’ Fourth Line The Best Its Been in Years
An issue with breaking up the Bruins’ current fourth line of Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari would be the fact that this iteration of the team’s fourth-line is the best its been in years. While there have been various combinations of players who have gotten the job done, there’s no denying the fact that this unit just seems right. A nice combination of physicality, speed and leadership with a nice scoring touch to boot, the Bruins have gotten more production from this fourth line than they could have ever hoped for when they put them together.
Still, knowing that Nash is such a valuable player on the team at five-on-five and on the penalty kill, the Bruins would be smart to try and keep him at all costs, even if it means tinkering with the team’s fourth line. While Schaller has proven to be an excellent addition to the team in his two seasons with the team, Nash is likely the better of the two and could provide more for the Bruins in the end. This doesn’t mean that Nash should be totally dropped from the team in favor of Nash next season, but Nash should be the priority in the lineup if both re-sign with the team.
It’s going to be an interesting decision for general manager Don Sweeney to make, and there are likely people on both sides of the fence who can make an argument for retaining Nash and letting him walk in free agency. Both sides can provide good points to justify their opinion, but the only opinions that will matter in the end will be those of Sweeney and Nash. If the cost is right and the team can figure out a way to utilize him efficiently without hurting the development or opportunity of future prospects, the team should re-sign him without hesitation.