Bruins’ 2021-22 Player Grades: Centers

As the Boston Bruins enter the 2021-22 offseason, the one position that has the most concern surrounding it for next season is the center position. Does Patrice Bergeron return or retire? How do the Bruins go about getting center depth even if the captain returns? It’s clear the general manager (GM) Don Sweeney can’t run it back the same way as it ended, with or without Bergeron.

Continuing our series on player grades for the Bruins, it’s time to hand out some grades for the centers.

Patrice Bergeron

As usual, Bergeron set the standard for NHL centers once again this season. The front runner to win a record fifth Selke Trophy, Bergeron had 25 goals and 40 assists in 73 games. He was one of the top penalty killers and played the bumper position on the power play flawlessly. 

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He won 61.9-percent (%) of his faceoffs in the regular season and had three goals and seven points in the First Round against the Carolina Hurricanes. A lot of how the Bruins construct the 2022-23 roster will depend on Bergeron’s decision. Regardless of what he decides, he has earned the right to make his decision when he’s ready.

Grade: A+

Erik Haula

Who knew when Haula signed as a free agent last summer that he would have as big of a role with the Bruins as he turned out to have this season? After starting the season as the third-line center, he was moved up to the second-line when coach Bruce Cassidy reshuffled around the lines and he was put between Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak.

Related: Bruins’ 2021-22 Player Grades: Left Wings

Boston never addressed the No. 2 center spot when David Krejci left after last season to continue his career in his home country of the Czech Republic and Haula filled the spot in the second half of the season. He finished with 18 goals and 26 assists in the regular season, but like most of his teammates, the postseason was a struggle with one goal, three points, and a plus/minus of minus-4. You need more from your second-line center than that in the playoffs.

Asking Haula to fill the role as the No. 2 or even No. 1 center next season is a tough ask. He was brought in as a bottom-six center and the Bruins should plan to have him as the third-line center. A lot can change this offseason, but Haula turned out to be the best of the three veteran forwards brought in last offseason.

Grade: B-

Charlie Coyle

It was a season of change for Coyle. He began the season as the second-line center, but after Jan. 1, he was dropped to the third-line spot and seemed to play better with less pressure on his shoulders with Trent Frederic and Craig Smith. They were arguably the Bruins’ best line in some games.

Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins
Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Coyle played in all 82 games and averaged a career-high 17:42 of time on ice a night. Late in the season, he found himself on the ice late in games with the Bruins holding onto a lead as an extra center on the ice if Bergeron was tossed from the faceoff dot. He finished with 16 goals and 28 assists, but found a home on the third line. The contract extension he signed in November of 2019 (which has four years remaining) for six years and $31 million carries a $5.25 million cap hit and says that he’s a top-six forward, but he best suits the Black and Gold as the third-line center. That makes it even more important that Boston adds at least one top-six center this summer.

Grade: B-

Tomas Nosek

One of three veteran bottom-six forwards brought in along with Haula and Nick Foligno, Nosek mainly centered the fourth line, but found himself as a middle-six wing at different times, but the results were the same no matter where he played. 

Tomas Nosek Boston Bruins
Tomas Nosek, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Nosek finished the season with three goals and 17 points and he was brought in to reshape the bottom six, but the Bruins could have used a little more production. He won 53.9% of his faceoffs and was a good penalty killer, but a little more 5-on-5 from Nosek was needed in all areas.

Grade: D

Jack Studnicka

It was only 15 games this season for Studnicka, so he’s going to get an incomplete as that’s not enough to grade him, but time is becoming of the essence if he’s going to make an impact in Boston or not during his career. Once thought of as the center-in-waiting for when Bergeron is gone, it’s just not lining up that way for the 53rd overall pick in the second round of the 2017 Entry Draft. Playing on the wing is not the answer either as he disappears too many times when he’s on the wing compared to being a center. This is the summer when the front office needs to decide whether or not he’s part of the future. If not, it might be time to package him in a deal.

This offseason, this position is one that needs the most attention by the Bruins front office. They are not blessed with internal depth and finding it through a trade or free agency is going to be tough. Parting ways with some of their top prospects will most likely be the route they have to go to get it through a trade and they will have to be the very top prospects to get what they need.

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe