One of the more top-heavy groupings the Boston Bruins have is with their centers. It is a position that has had stability at the top of it for years and it also has a highly anticipated prospect waiting in the wings to take over. It also has two of the remaining five active players in the league from the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup championship team.
As the Bruins wait to begin the 2020-21 season like every other NHL team with a lot of unknowns, let’s take a look into Boston’s depth at the center position. This list is put together with players currently under contract for the upcoming season.
Bergeron might have the best position in the NHL. Centering play-maker Brad Marchand and his 59 assists from a year ago and David Pastrnak who was the co-winner of the Maurice Rocket Richard Award with Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals with 48 goals last season, Bergeron is on the ice for a lot of Boston goals.
As he enters his 17th season with the Bruins, he has played in 1,089 regular-season games with 352 goals and 517 assists. In 61 games in 2019-20, Bergeron had 31 goals and 25 assists at 34 years old. He has won four Selke Trophies and is one of the most respected players both on and off the ice. A two-time all-star and one of the two remaining members of the 2011 championship team, Bergeron is in line to be the Bruins’ next captain when Zdeno Chara is done.
With Marchand and Pastrnak both recovering from surgeries in September, Bergeron’s role as a leader will be more crucial than ever if either player is out to begin the season. With two years remaining on his current eight-year, $55 million contract, the pressure is on for the Bruins to win and win now.
Krejci might be coming off the most frustrating season out of his 14 with the Bruins, but he never said a word. With Jake DeBrusk on his left wing, the right side was an issue all season long. Coach Bruce Cassidy tried several different combinations out there, but nobody found a connection with DeBrusk and Krejci.
At the trade deadline, general manager Don Sweeney traded for Ondrej Kase from the Anaheim Ducks, but between the NHL season pause because of the coronavirus pandemic and the rocky restart over the summer, there wasn’t time to find any rhythm.
In the playoffs over the summer at the Toronto playoff bubble, the 34-year old Krejci was arguably the Bruins’ best player in the 13 games with four goals and eight assists while averaging 20:27 minutes a night. He also saw a drop in his point production from the previous season with just 13 goals and 30 assists in 2019-20, compared to 20 goals and 53 assists in 2018-19. With that said, he is still the Bruins second-best center and the second member of the 2011 championship team still active.
Following this season, Sweeney and the front office will have a decision to make as Krejci’s six-year, $43 million contract that carries a $7 million cap hit expires.
Acquired from the Minnesota Wild at the trade deadline in 2019, Coyle has settled into a key role as the third line center. He spent time last season as a fill-in on the second line right wing prior to the trade for Kase, but his best fit for Boston is centering the third line.
The eight-year veteran was very durable for the Bruins last season playing in all 70 games and averaging 16:54 minutes a night. He had 16 goals and 21 assists with a plus-9. He is valuable to Cassidy as he plays key power-play minutes and kills penalties. He led the team last season with a pair of shorthanded goals.
Coyle, who signed a six-year, $31.5 million contract extension on Nov. 27, 2019, could benefit greatly from Sweeney and his move to sign right wing Craig Smith to a free agent contract in October. When the Bruins are healthy, Smith, a five-time 20-goal scorer with the Nashville Predators in nine years, will be Coyle’s third line right wing, adding scoring production that he has not had in his first season and a half with the Black and Gold.
Kuraly might bounce around the bottom-six forward groupings, but his importance to the Bruins has grown since he joined them in 2017. Last season in 69 games, he had six goals and 17 assists to provide much-needed secondary scoring for the bottom-six. A left-handed shot that also sees time on the wing, the 6-foot-2, 213-pound physical center had 145 hits in 2019-20.
Adding secondary scoring, quality minutes, and a physical presence is not only what Kuraly brings to the table. The 27-year old kills penalties and is it was never more evident how important of a penalty killer he is than in the Bruins Eastern Conference Semifinal Series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Toronto playoff bubble last summer.
After the Bruins held the Lightning to no power-play goals in the first two games, Kuraly missed the final three games of the series with an injury and Boston allowed four man-advantage goals.
Kuraly is becoming one of the better bottom-six players in the league and the Bruins will need to continue to get production from him this season as he begins the final year of his three-year, $3.825 million contract he signed in July of 2018.
After signing a two-year, $850,000 contract with the Bruins in July of 2019, Lindholm saw spot time during last season. The 29-year old played in 41 regular-season games with three goals and three assists and then played in six playoff games without registering a point.
Lindholm is added depth for the Bruins as a fourth-line center at best and provides some penalty killing minutes. After playing for three teams in two seasons, Lindholm will be most likely split time as a healthy scratch and spot fourth-line center.
The Bruins’ top prospect and most untouchable heading into the season, Studnicka made his NHL debut last season with one assist in two regular-season games. He also played in five playoff games last summer without registering a point, but the 21-year old showed he belonged.
He had a breakout season in the American Hockey League with the Providence Bruins in 2019-20 with 23 goals and 26 assists in 60 games. The 53rd pick in the second round in 2017, he played right wing on the Bruins second-line in the playoffs in the absence of Kase with Krejci and DeBrusk in the playoffs, but his natural position is center.
Most likely splitting time this season between Providence and Boston, his time as a full-time NHL center is in the not too distant future.
Bruins Have Center Depth for 2020-21
Barring a major injury, the Bruins are set at center for the upcoming season. If there is any injury, Studnicka is ready to make the transition to a top-three center. They have plenty of experience with their top three centers and will get valuable minutes from their fourth-line center whether it’s Kuraly or Lindholm.
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.