As the 2021-22 regular season comes down the home stretch with 12 games remaining on the schedule, the push is on for playoff positioning for the Boston Bruins. With the season nearly over, that means it’s almost time to hand out the yearly NESN Seventh Player Award, which is given to the Bruin who goes above and beyond expectations for the season.
Since Jan. 1, the Bruins have had one of the NHL’s best records and put separation from themselves and the bottom teams in the Eastern Conference for one of the final playoff spots. Here are some players that are deserving of the award for helping Boston this season to the season they’re having.
Who would have thought that the 14th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft would still be on the Black and Gold’s roster, never mind being one of the favorites to win the Seventh Player Award? In November, it became public that he requested a trade through his agent to general manager (GM) Don Sweeney. After signing him to a two-year contract extension on the day of the trade deadline in order to make him more desirable to another team in a trade with his $4.41 million qualifying offer off the table. It never happened and now the 25-year-old is playing some of the best hockey of his career.
After spending half the season as a bottom-six forward, he was moved up to the first line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and he has been a different player. Ahead of the trade deadline, it was easy to say that he was trying to raise his trade value and hope a team would take a chance on him. It never happened and now playing on his off-wing on the right side, he is becoming a valuable piece of the forward grouping.
DeBrusk has reached the 20-goal plateau for the second time in his career with 21 and he has 13 assists. He is playing in all situations for coach Bruce Cassidy, and his overall game has seen a significate improvement. Without his success on the first line since Feb. 24, the Bruins might not be in a position of fighting for one of the three Atlantic Division postseason spots. What does the future hold for him in Boston? That remains to be seen as it is not out of the question that he is still traded this upcoming offseason, but for now, the Bruins should take everything they are getting from him.
One of three bottom-six forwards signed by Sweeney last July along with Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek, Haula began the season as the third line center between DeBrusk and Foligno, but things turned around for not only Haula, but also the Bruins when he was moved up to the second line center position between Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak.
Both Hall and Pastrnak benefitted from being placed on the same line as each other, but Haula has also been good and has 13 goals and 23 assists, three shy of the career-high he had with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18. At the trade deadline, the Bruins were rumored to be in the market for a second-line center, but that was never a need addressed. Pastrnak has 31 goals since Jan. 1 and Hall has 11 and Haula has won 52.6(%)-percent of his faceoffs this season and has been very good of late.
When Haula was signed, it was thought of as a move to remake the bottom six, but little did Haula or Cassidy know that moving him up to the third line was going to be one of the key moves this season.
When Tuukka Rask returned in January, Swayman was the odd man out after being sent to the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Providence Bruins. Rask’s return from offseason hip surgery lasted just four games before the 35-year-old decided to retire. That opened the door for Swayman to battle Linus Ullmark for the starting job in Boston.
In 2020-21, the former University of Maine standout burst onto the scene, winning seven of his 10 starts, and this season, he has taken another leap in his development. He is 20-10-3 with a 2.28 goals-against average (GAA), a .918 save percentage (SV%), and he has three shutouts. In recent weeks, he has been given the tougher matchups by Cassidy and has responded in just about every one of them.
Yes, there are still fixes to be needed in his game, such as being better at playing the puck behind the net and coming up with some big saves when his team needs them, but who thought he would be a 20-game winner this season? . When the season started, there were rumors swirling about Rask’s return and when it happened, Swayman went to the minors without saying a word. He returned on Jan. 30 following Rask’s announcement and has won 12 of his 16 starts. So much for a sophomore slump in his second season.
There are certainly other candidates for the award. Charlie Coyle, who won the award two years ago, being moved to the third line has been a difference-maker for the Black and Gold since Jan. 1 as they have given them depth behind the first two lines. Coyle has played much better behind Bergeron and Haula, while he has been a better play-maker and scoring more with some weight lifted off of his shoulders.
Another candidate could very well be Trent Frederic, who has fit in nicely on the third line left wing. In his previous two-plus seasons, he was more of a fourth-line agitator and someone who would drop the gloves and stick up for a teammate. This season, he has found his offensive game with career highs in goals (five), assists (10), points (15), and plus/minus of plus-11. In fact, the case could be made that he has found his complete game in all three zones.
There is no shortage of candidates for this award that is voted on by the fans. The last five winners were Pastrnak (2016-17), Charlie McAvoy (2017-18), Chris Wagner (2018-19), Coyle (2019-20), and Nick Ritchie (2020-21). This season, it would not be a surprise to see just about anyone as a forward or goaltender win the award.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.