Stempniak Stealing Bruins Roster Spot

The Bruins invited both Lee Stempniak and Daniel Winnik to training camp earlier this month with the hope that one or both would emerge as an NHL option. One could make the argument that both of these players have earned a spot in Boston. Winnik seems to be the ideal extra forward, able to play depth minutes while also sitting up top for a prolonged period without the worry of hurting his development.

Stempniak, however, looks like he can be more than that. In fact, for a team that lost a lot in the way of veteran hands this past summer, Stempniak appears to be a perfect fit as a veteran depth scorer. He’s got the skill needed, he’s got the speed to play in today’s game, and he’s a veteran that has been here before and can help be a part of the leadership group on this young Boston team.

Stempniak’s Case for a Roster Spot

Stempniak has gotten a long look in preseason, suiting up in four games including Wednesday night’s overtime defeat at the hands of the Red Wings. So far in the exhibition season, he’s lit the lamp twice and has added four assists for six points. Two of his points (1-1-2) have come via the powerplay, indicating that Stempniak could provide value in a number of different areas for Boston.

Lee Stempniak, Bruins
Bruins F Lee Stempniak (#20) takes a shot against the Tampa Bay Lightning (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

He’s not playing a major role, averaging just under eleven minutes a night through four games, but he is producing in a depth role. Last year wasn’t good for the veteran, scoring just nine points in 37 games and eventually getting sent to the AHL for his first minor league stint since 2005-06.

Although the box scores weren’t great, the possession numbers were. Stempniak posted a 55.1% Corsi For while playing 12:28 per night for the Canes. His shooting percentage took a huge dip, falling to 7.7%, which helps to explain the fall from 16 goals in 2016-17 to just three a season ago.

Throughout his career, Stempniak has been a strong possession player and someone capable of posting 25-35 points. He’s not a sexy name, and his numbers won’t blow anyone out of the water, but he provides a ton of value. Outside of dealing with bad percentages and a very low PDO of just 95.5 last season, Stempniak has delivered strong top-nine worthy seasons in the NHL.

With both Rick and Riley Nash out of the picture, along with Tim Schaller, the Bruins could use at least one veteran body to replace them. Stempniak, in my humble opinion, is a much better fit for those roles than both Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom, who both signed with the club on July 1st.

Stempniak’s Fit in the Lineup

If he makes the team and earns a contract, it is because the Bruins believe that he can provide offense and help in a few different areas on and off the ice. Chief among them, as mentioned above, is leadership. It can be a very overrated quality, but it is still a vastly important one. Stempniak has been around the league for over a decade and has been apart of numerous locker rooms and situations. He can provide unique perspectives and is someone young guys can lean on. Boston already has a very strong leadership core, but adding to it is never a bad thing.

Lee Stempniak Hurricanes
Lee Stempniak, Carolina Hurricanes, Mar. 1, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On the ice, Stempniak fits in well on the right wing. The Bruins obviously will have David Pastrnak manning the top-line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, but it is actually quite wide open after that. Ryan Donato could earn the second line right wing spot while David Backes, Chris Wagner, Noel Acciari and Peter Cehlarik will all be battling for time on the wing. I think Stempniak is a better bet and fit than Acciari, Wagner and Cehlarik at this time. Backes, meanwhile, is a strong option to end up at center this season as well.

Is it out of the realm of possibility that Stempniak signs and provides scoring depth on the third line as a right winger? He could line up with Backes as his center and Danton Heinen on the left wing, forming a responsible trio with two veterans and two players capable of producing offense at a solid clip. Like Stempniak himself, this isn’t a sexy line whatsoever, but it is one that could be very effective for the Bruins and that could provide both offense and responsible two-way play. You really can’t ask for more from a line outside of your top-six.

If I’m GM Don Sweeney, I get a one-year contract with Stempniak done as soon as possible. You don’t want another team stealing him right before the season, and he’s outperformed a number of players that also remain in camp currently. It’s these small, astute signings that often pan out to be the best moves of the summer. After losing a few bigger named veterans, inking Stempniak to a value deal could benefit the Bruins in a big way this coming season.

He’s earned a spot on this roster, and I think it would be foolish for the Bruins to let him get away a second time.