The Boston Bruins are heading into the 2022-23 season with high expectations but also many obstacles due to significant injury problems. With players like Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk set to miss the beginning of the season, they will need the entirety of their roster to play their best hockey. Yet, there are three specific players with the most to prove this season. Here’s a look at why.
This season feels like a true make-or-break campaign for Jack Studnicka. The 23-year-old forward has been deemed as one of the Bruins’ top prospects for multiple years now, but he has yet to cement himself a permanent role on their NHL roster. This past season was particularly unimpressive for the Windsor native as well, as he had just three assists and a minus-5 rating in 15 games. Heading into 2022-23, he needs to prove that he can produce at the NHL level or his days of being an untouchable prospect will come to an end.
Although Studnicka continued to struggle at the NHL level last season, there is reason for optimism when looking at how well he performed with the Providence Bruins in 2021-22. In 41 games with the American Hockey League (AHL) squad, he scored 10 goals and recorded 35 points. That was the best pace of production we have seen from the center at the AHL level, so he is heading in the right direction. It’s now a matter of translating it over to the NHL this upcoming season.
With the Bruins having some injury problems to start the year, Studnicka will be in the running to push for a spot on their NHL roster. Yet, they also have strong center depth with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Charlie Coyle taking up their top three lines, so he may need to move to right wing or be their fourth-line center. Either way, he will need to make some sort of impact at the NHL level this season, or he may end up being the next former top prospect the Bruins trade at the deadline.
With Marchand set to miss the beginning of the regular season, Trent Frederic will likely end up playing third-line minutes to start the year. This is something that is a little bit concerning, as, from an offensive standpoint, the St. Louis native resembles more of a fourth-liner. That isn’t what the Bruins expected from the 24-year-old when they selected him with the 29th overall pick of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Due to Nick Foligno struggling during his first year as a Bruin, Frederic ended up being promoted to the team’s third line last season, which resulted in him setting new career-highs with eight goals, 10 assists, and 18 points in 60 games. This was certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s also essential to expect more from him offensively. Yet, it’s also important to note that eight of those points came over a nine-game stretch in March, so he was very quiet offensively for much of the season.
Alas, this is certainly a big year for Frederic. If he can record, say, a 35-point season, it would provide the Bruins with a massive boost. However, if he continues to produce at such a slow rate, he should no longer receive third-line minutes and stick with the team as a fourth-liner.
It’s a shame that Jakub Zboril’s 2021-22 season was cut short due to a torn ACL. The 2015 first-round pick was certainly impressive before suffering this season-ending injury, as he looked extremely confident while moving the puck and was far more reliable in the Bruins’ defensive end. He had taken Connor Clifton’s job on the bottom pair because of it, but then, it all came to a sudden end after just 10 games played.
Zboril will now be heading into this campaign with the expectation of keeping this trend going. Although fans will forever and rightfully criticize Don Sweeney’s poor decisions in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Zboril has the opportunity to help quiet his critics a bit if he puts together a strong year. I’d like to predict that he will end up finally having a breakout year for the Bruins in 2022-23.
With players like McAvoy and Grzelcyk missing the beginning of the season, Zboril will also receive more playing time. Furthermore, when looking at the Bruins’ healthy defensemen, he will likely be utilized on one of their power-play units due to his solid passing ability. Therefore, we could see more offense from the Czech defenseman this campaign, and that would be extremely beneficial for the team.
Nevertheless, it will be intriguing to see how these three players perform in 2022-23. There’s no question that they each have a lot to prove this season. If they can each take that next step in their development, the Bruins should be in very good shape. Out of the trio, Studnicka is under the most pressure, however, as the clock is truly ticking on his time in Boston.