Bruins Benefiting From Haula’s Drastic Improvement in 2021-22

Prior to Monday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings, Erik Haula was riding a six-game point streak after a great showing on a particularly great road trip for the Boston Bruins. He had eight points in those six games, bringing his season totals to eight goals and 25 points in 54 games. 

After a rough start to the season that saw Haula playing on the fourth line for a stretch, he has found his footing on the second line with Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak. Since the three of them linked up at the start of 2022, there has been a noticeable improvement in the production throughout the forward lineup. 

Related: Bruins Successful Road Trip Proves This Team is Among NHL’s Best

As the trade deadline draws nearer, Haula has made a case for himself to hold onto the second line center position throughout the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs.

Rough Start to 2021-22 Season

The Bruins signed Haula to a two-year deal during free agency this past summer. The deal carries a cap hit of $2.375 million. He was drafted by the Minnesota Wild, but found his footing in the league when he was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 Expansion Draft. During their historic run in the 2017-18 season, he had 55 points in 76 games.

Erik Haula #56, Vegas Golden Knights
Erik Haula #56, Former Vegas Golden Knight (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Since his trade from Vegas to the Carolina Hurricanes prior to the start of the 2019-20 season, Haula has struggled to find his footing. He has played for four teams since the 2019-20 season: the Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and now the Bruins. Between injuries, COVID pauses, and so much movement in teams, it has been hard for him to find consistency. 

When he first started playing in Boston this season, things weren’t looking much better for him here. He had an assist and was a plus-1 in the season opener against the Dallas Stars on Oct. 16, but then didn’t register a point again until he scored his first goal of the season against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 13, the 12th game of the season. He went 10 games without registering a single point.

Haula was most certainly not the only Bruin that had a slow start to the season. In general, the first half of the season was marked with inconsistencies in the schedule and lack of exciting play throughout the lineup. For a guy like him who was brand new to the team and the system, it was not an easy time to adjust and there was certainly a spotlight on him as the new guy.

Turning It Around in 2022

Slowly but surely, Haula began to turn it around as the season has progressed. As mentioned above, his 10-game scoreless streak came to an end in mid-November and he finished out the 2021 calendar year with one goal and five total points in 25 games.

Like many of his teammates, Haula came to life with the start of 2022. It coincided with the formation of the new, dominant second line of him, Hall, and Pastrnak. The team went on a memorable hot streak in January. In that one month alone, he had 11 points, including four goals, in 15 games, more than doubling his points from the first part of the season. 

Erik Haula Boston Bruins
Erik Haula, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While he slowed down a little bit in the first half of February, this recent road trip saw Haula emerge as one of the top forwards on the team. During a string of games that had so many guys on the team playing some of the best hockey they’ve played all season, he still managed to stand out amongst them. 

It’s not just the points that are coming. Haula has always been good in the faceoff circle. While playing behind Patrice Bergeron tends to overshadow anyone else’s faceoff win percentage, Haula is at 51.3 percent, right around his career average of 51.6 percent, and more than what he had while in Vegas. He’s been great in the faceoff circle, giving the Bruins another weapon there. 

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It can also not be underestimated how important the chemistry he has developed with Hall and Pastrnak has been to the team as a whole. Taking the pressure off of the first line has really invigorated this team on the ice. With the three of them being so effective, it has opened the door for a guy like Craig Smith, who similarly struggled at the start of the season, to get minutes on the top line with Bergeron and Marchand. 

It’s easy when things aren’t going the way you want or expect to start to doubt the decision-making. At the start of this season, the Haula signing was not looking great. But, he just needed some time to settle and to generate some chemistry with his linemates. Now, his addition is proving to be the best one out of a flurry of signings general manager Don Sweeney made this past offseason.

Going into the Trade Deadline on a Hot Streak

Since the start of the season, most have generally thought that the Bruins should pursue a definitive center for the second line after longtime player, David Krejci, left the NHL to play back in his home country of the Czech Republic. While there have been rumors that there may be some sort of return of him to the Bruins, the likelihood of that is honestly pretty doubtful as much as myself and plenty of Bruins fans would love for it to be true.

The departure of Krejci certainly left a hole on this team, and there hasn’t been anyone to concretely replace him, nor are things looking particularly great in the long term with a depleted prospects pipeline. Charlie Coyle originally started in the spot, and despite having a great bounce-back season from his struggles in 2020-21, he wasn’t the right fit. Now, Haula is in the second-line center spot and is obviously finding great success there. After the last road trip, the narrative has changed from a definite, “yes, the Bruins definitely need a second line center” to an uncertain, “I think they still need a second line center? Maybe?” 

Erik Haula, Boston Bruins
Erik Haula, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The second line has something good going right now, no one can deny that. Sure, Hall and Pastrnak could probably play with another center, but given how much the Bruins have struggled with generating offense from their depth forwards in past years, do they really want to mess with what they have at the moment? Another center wouldn’t hurt, but given where this team is at, they shouldn’t be spending a lot to try and get one for the second line when they have a pretty decent group producing for them right now. 

Related: Bruins Should Sell High on DeBrusk Ahead of Trade Deadline

As the trade deadline approaches, the focus should be on a defenseman and another depth forward. Haula has shown that he can step up to the plate for the second-line center position for now. Given that the Bruins have been very hit or miss in recent years with their trade deadline acquisitions, trying to find a major piece that won’t mess with the current chemistry may be too big of a risk or too great of a cost.

Looking beyond this season and the second-line center role, the next step is developing someone to fulfill the role in their own pipeline instead of overpaying for one at the deadline who may not even be the better option given how drastically Haula has improved these past few months. For now, he has earned the second-line center role and should continue in it unless his play reverts back to what it was at the start of the season.

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