Bruins Likely to Lose Clifton, Lauzon, or Ritchie to Kraken

On Sunday, the Boston Bruins’ protection list for the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft was made public. There were few surprises on the list as the Bruins remained quiet over a weekend that saw several eye-popping trades and moves made due to Wednesday’s quickly approaching draft.

The Bruins’ final protection list matches exactly what I predicted it would be last week. They went with the seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender option over the eight skaters and a goaltender option. The protection list is below.

Forwards (7): Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle, Craig Smith, Jake DeBrusk, and Trent Frederic

Defensemen (3): Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk

Goaltender (1): Dan Vladar

The Bruins definitely benefited from having names like David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Taylor Hall hitting unrestricted free agency this summer, as those are names they don’t have to account for on their protection list. Same with having rookie goaltending standout Jeremy Swayman, still on his ELC and ineligible to be selected by the Kraken.  

The most notable names left exposed are Jeremy Lauzon, Nick Ritchie, and Connor Clifton. While the Bruins were able to protect their big names, they could still be losing some serviceable talent, particularly in these three players.

Jeremy Lauzon

What He Did in Boston

The 24-year-old left-shot defenseman came to the Bruins via the 2015 NHL Entry Level Draft, where he was selected in the second round at pick number 52. After developing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and the American Hockey League (AHL), Lauzon made his NHL debut in the 2018-19 season. He played 16 NHL games that season and then 19 in the 2019-20 season.

Related: Bruins’ Rookie Spotlight: Jeremy Lauzon

This past season, Lauzon found a more permanent spot in Boston. He played 41 games, missing a stretch in March due to a hand injury, and had one goal and eight points. He was also a plus-8 and had 40 penalty minutes.

This was a tough season to be making the jump fully into the NHL. The Bruins needed him to play a large role in the wake of the departure of Zdeno Chara. He was thrown onto the top line with McAvoy to start the season and it quickly became a trial by fire. 

Jeremy Lauzon Boston Bruins
Jeremy Lauzon, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When healthy, he played well and showed flashes of great promise, particularly one the penalty kill.  But, as the injury bug hit, more pressure was placed on his shoulders and as mentioned above, he even missed a large stretch in the middle of the season with a broken hand, which was then broken again in the playoffs. The larger role he was thrust into put more of a spotlight on his rookie mistakes.

Still, Lauzon came into this season with only 35 games of experience, was thrust into a position that he probably wasn’t quite ready for, and still managed to play decently well. In a season with its fair share of disappointments, he was a surprising bright spot when looking back.

Why He’s Exposed

As decent as his season was, Lauzon didn’t impress enough to take a spot from one of the top three defensemen on this team. McAvoy is elite and Carlo has become essential to the lineup. The only one who had the potential to be vulnerable and lose his spot was Grzelcyk, but his play this season spoke for itself. Yes, he had injury issues, but the duo of him and McAvoy was a gamechanger for a team that struggled to generate offense from the blue line all season.

Grzelcyk makes up for his mistakes in his own zone with his offensive prowess. Outside of McAvoy, there isn’t another defenseman currently on the roster who creates the same offense. He had 20 points in only 37 games this season. For a team that desperately needs help scoring points, they can’t afford to lose him.

Lauzon is a talented defenseman who showed this season that he is ready to play in the NHL. He brings value to the team, but not more than what the three protected defensemen bring. He’s also not irreplaceable, unlike McAvoy and Carlo, and can’t yet generate the same offense as Grzelcyk.

Nick Ritchie

What He Did in Boston

The 2014 tenth overall draft pick arrived in Boston via trade in February 2020. As we know now, this was not an auspicious time to be making a change with what was lurking around the corner. After a 2020 postseason performance that saw only one goal in eight games, there weren’t a ton of high hopes for Ritchie coming into the season. 

Nick Ritchie Boston Bruins
Nick Ritchie, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But he pretty quickly turned that around. Ritchie jumped out to a great start in the 2020-21 season and was one of the most surprising and successful players on the roster through the first half of the season. He provided a much-needed net-front presence on the power play and settled into the left wing spot on the third line for most of the season. 

Ritchie finished the season with 15 goals and 26 points in 56 games. He surpassed his previous career-high in goals, 14, which he scored in 77 games back in the 2016-17 season. Unfortunately, his stellar regular season didn’t transition over to the postseason. He was largely a non-factor and had only four points in 11 games. He finished the playoffs on a struggling fourth line.

Why He’s Exposed

This season, the Ritchie trade proved to be much more beneficial than initial thoughts were. He meshed well with the team and played particularly well in January to start the season when the Bruins were without Pastrnak. But he slowed down after the hot start and it ultimately makes sense why he was left off the protection list. 

The first five forwards are no-brainers to protect in Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, Smith, and Coyle. The final two spots had to go to two of Ritchie, Frederic, or DeBrusk.  

One of those two spots had to go to DeBrusk as the Bruins can’t lose a guy of his pedigree, even after a rough year, for nothing. Then for the final spot, Frederic plays a similar style to Ritchie and is a few years younger. I don’t believe we have seen his full capabilities yet in the NHL and he’s signed to a cheap, team-friendly deal already. Ritchie is a restricted free agent, who after a career year in goals, may be looking for more of a cap hit then the Bruins may be willing to give him. If he’s selected, that’s one less thing the team has to deal with this offseason.

Like Lauzon, Ritchie is a talented player and for a team that struggles to generate offense, his goal-scoring abilities, especially on the power play, will be missed if he is the one selected. But, also like Lauzon, losing his talent is something this team can take without too much of a hit.

Connor Clifton

What He Did in Boston

Cliffy hockey arrived in Boston for the first time in the 2018-19 season. He was a fifth-round draft pick by the then Phoenix Coyotes in 2013, though he never played for the team. After a collegiate career with the Quinnipiac University Bobcats, he signed an AHL deal with the Providence Bruins in 2017. He worked his way up through the system and found himself brought up to Boston during a run of injuries to the blue line in November 2018. 

Connor Clifton Boston Bruins
Connor Clifton, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Clifton has been in and out of the lineup in Boston. He’s played back down in Providence, been a healthy scratch on nights, and had some injury issues. He has played 94 career NHL games, all for Boston, and has 19 points. 

This past season, he played in 44 of 56 games.  In the opposite of Ritchie, he had a slow start to the season and spent some time as a healthy scratch before injuries caught up to the Bruins and he was brought in. He was a difference-maker in the first round of the 2021 playoffs with his high energy and aggressive style of play. He led the team in hits this year with 108.

Why He’s Exposed

While he hasn’t been a consistent starter in the past few seasons, Clifton has been impactful when given an opportunity. In the past two seasons, when he’s on the ice at even strength, the Bruins outscored opponents 44 – 34, which was the 24th-best rate among 171 defensemen with 1,000 or more minutes on the ice (Porter, Matt, “Here are the pros and cons of Seattle Possibly choosing Connor Clifton or Jake DeBrusk in the NHL expansion draft.” Boston Globe, July 14.) This is ahead of names such as Aaron Ekblad and Roman Josi.

But similar to Lauzon, while he has played well in Boston, he hasn’t been consistent enough to take Grzelcyk’s spot. He’s the oldest of this group, but like Lauzon, there still seems like there is room for him to grow in the NHL. The Bruins would be losing a high-energy guy, who, while he doesn’t generate a lot of offense, is great in transition. In the games he played this season, Clifton was given more opportunities to show his skills while being in the team’s own zone and showed more potential in that area.

So Who is Leaving?

Given the recent signing of Providence’s head coach, Jay Leach, as an assistant in Seattle, Lauzon or Clifton will most likely be the guy to go. They spent time developing and playing under him in the AHL, giving the organization a familiarity with the two that they don’t have with Ritchie, who was acquired by the Bruins in a trade and never played in Providence. 

Most likely, Lauzon will be the guy Seattle selects and hopefully, it kicks the Bruins into action to either sign a free-agent defenseman or trade for one. The lack of depth on the blue line was a huge issue this year, and as good as he may have been this season, he wasn’t the complete solution the team needed. They need to bring in at least two blueliners, especially if they do, in fact, lose him or Clifton.

The Bruins are fairly lucky. If they still had Krejci and Hall under contract, their protection list could have been a little more complicated. They’ll still lose a talented player, and Seattle is sure to be a force to be reckoned with this upcoming season, but Wednesday should be fairly simple for them. Then, management can focus on the most important free agency period and Entry Draft of GM Don Sweeney’s career so far. 

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