Boston Bruins’ defenseman Jakub Zboril will be re-evaluated in two weeks in regards to his lower-body injury. With this, he will be out for that amount of time at a minimum, but there’s a real chance it’ll be even longer. In response to this, I recently discussed a few bottom-pair defensemen the Bruins should consider targeting. Yet, when looking at their depth on the back end, they do have a few internal options to select from, too.
Although it’s never necessarily a bad thing to explore the trade market, these three players are acceptable choices to replace Zboril in the meantime. In terms of their overall NHL experience, they certainly vary, but there are reasons to play each of them. By the time the Bruins get their former first-round pick back, it won’t be shocking at all to see that each of these three got into some action during his absence.
At this time, Connor Clifton is the defenseman who will most likely replace Zboril on the right side of the bottom pair. Keep in mind, the position was originally his in the first place this season, but he ended up losing his spot due to inconsistent play. Although a teammate getting injured is never a good occurrence, it does open the door for the 26-year-old to cement himself back into the lineup.
With Kevan Miller retiring during the summer and the Bruins not signing another right-handed defenseman, Clifton was given a golden chance to become a mainstay in Boston’s top-six. However, after having just one assist and a minus-4 rating in his first 11 games, the Bruins made him a healthy scratch for a lengthy amount of time. Had Zboril not gotten injured, this likely would have remained the same even longer, as he was playing quite well.
Since Zboril’s injury, Clifton has played in two games and has done his job. He did not get on the scoresheet in either contest, but also possessed an even rating. For the time being, he should continue to get into action. However, if he struggles yet again, the two options below could be utilized in the lineup instead.
John Moore is back with the NHL club, as the 31-year-old defenseman was re-called from the Providence Bruins earlier this week. Right before the start of the regular season, the Bruins placed him on waivers, but due to his expensive contract, nobody elected to claim him. He did, however, suit up in one NHL contest this season back in October. In that game, he did not record a point, but sported a plus-1 rating.
Since signing his five-year, $13.75 million contract, Moore has dealt with a plethora of injury trouble and lost his spot with the team in the process. Keep in mind, he only played in 29 games over the two previous seasons, where he had three goals and five total points. He also was noticeable during the preseason, but it just wasn’t enough for him to make the cut. His $2.75 million cap hit was likely a major reason behind Boston’s decision, too.
However, if Moore is given the opportunity to get into some action while Zboril is out, he may end up surprising some people. I wouldn’t necessarily say that he’s too far behind Clifton’s skill level, so if the Bruins begin to go on a bit of skid, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to see him back in the lineup. The 2009 first-round pick has over 500 games of NHL experience after all.
Jack Ahcan has been off to a strong start with Providence this season. In 17 games, he has two goals and 10 points. He clearly has gotten the attention of the Bruins, too, as he did find himself in the lineup for last Saturday’s contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Although he didn’t record a point, he looked quite confident against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.
Clearly the Bruins are willing to explore the possibility of giving Ahcan another chance in their lineup, as he’s still on the NHL roster at this juncture. Although he was a healthy scratch for Wednesday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, that doesn’t automatically mean that we won’t see him again during Zboril’s absence. In a situation like this, it could be fun to get an extended look at the 24-year-old defenseman.
Ahcan showed during his collegiate days with St. Cloud University that he is capable of being an offensive threat from the point. In 144 total games with the school, he scored 21 goals and recorded 103 points. Although the NHL obviously possesses far more challenging competition, that’s still notable production. At a minimum, he has to be viewed as a primary call-up candidate moving forward due to how well he’s been playing with Providence.
One other defenseman worth addressing is Urho Vaakanainen. The 2017 first-round pick hasn’t necessarily been dominating the AHL, as he has just a goal and four points in 17 games. With players like Moore and Ahcan being ahead of him on the depth chart, one has to wonder when he will be in Boston again. He’s still only 22 years old and has time to grow, so maybe he could be recalled, but it certainly isn’t a slam dunk. Perhaps he could even be used as a sweetener in a trade later this season.
With Zboril’s injury potentially being a long-term one, don’t be surprised to see multiple players take turns in the lineup. For now, Clifton is understandably the primary replacement, but both Ahcan and Moore will at least be considered during this period, too. With the Bruins having a 12-8-2 record, they need to find the best player that will simply help them win games from here. They certainly aren’t a lock for the postseason, but here’s to hoping one of these three can help them get closer to being so.
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Michael DeRosa is a contributor who covers the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, & Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers. Since 2017, he’s written and edited for numerous websites. Besides his work for THW, you can also find him on NHL Trade Rumors.