When general manager (GM) Don Sweeney went on his free-agent spending spree in the summer of 2021 for the Boston Bruins, he went the route of signing multiple veterans. One veteran he signed was defenseman Derek Forbort to give his team another left-shot option.
In his first season with the Bruins, it was an up-and-down season for Forbort, to say the least. He struggled at the beginning of the season, but got better as the 82-game season went along, but then like most of his teammates, the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes was not a great lasting impression on the 2021-22 season. Through 29 games in the 2022-23 season, Forbort could be considered the leading candidate for bounce-back player of the year for the Black and Gold.
Forbort Never Found Consistency in 2021-22
Under former coach Bruce Cassidy, Forbort never found much consistency last season. He was a mainstay in the lineup, missing just six regular season games with four goals and 14 points. He has never been much of an offensive defenseman as his game has been more of a stay-at-home-defenseman and a key penalty-killer, which the Bruins saw firsthand.
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Along with Brandon Carlo, Forbort was a key penalty-killer on the top unit, mostly sacrificing his body to block shots. In one stretch in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in April last season, he blocked four shots on one power play, and he drew a stick tap from Sidney Crosby for his effort. He finished the season with 100 blocks and 133 hits in just over 18 minutes a night in time on ice. In seven games against the Hurricanes, he had a goal, but like most of the defensive unit, he struggled clearing pucks out of the zone, and had some untimely turnovers that left goalies Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman out on an island by themselves.
When the season ended, there were a lot of questions as to what might happen to some of the Bruins on defense who were locked up long-term. With an abundance of left shots, who was going to be the odd man out? Forbort’s name came up frequently in terms of what might happen. Nothing did and Boston is reaping the benefits of standing pat with the former Winnipeg Jets defenseman.
Forbort Thriving In 2022-23 Under Montgomery
Forbort looks like a totally different player this season. Just how different of a player has he been in 2022-23? He broke the middle finger in his right hand against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 1 which required surgery and he missed a month. During his absence, Boston went from the top-ranked penalty-killing unit that allowed just two goals, to being passed by the San Jose Sharks for the top spot. In the month he missed, the Black and Gold allowed 10 power play goals, which ranked in the bottom third of the league. When he returned, the penalty kill went back to the top spot in the league. When he’s in the lineup, the penalty kill averages a 93% success rate, as opposed to 76% without him in the lineup.
Montgomery’s new system that he has implemented has been another reason for Forbort’s bounce-back season. He has been more aggressive in pinching in from the blueline in the offensive zone, his exits from the defensive zone have been much better and he’s even finding success joining the offensive rush, which was evident against the New York Islanders on Dec. 13 in a 4-3 shootout win.
In the first period, he drove toward the front of the New York net, and Jake DeBrusk’s pass from the boards intended for Forbort was tipped into the net by an Islanders defenseman. Late in the second period of a 2-2 game and the Bruins killing a penalty, Pavel Zacha delivered a cross-ice offensive zone pass to the Bruins defenseman who sniped a wrist shot under the crossbar and over the shoulder of Semyon Varlamov for a 3-2 lead. It was his second goal of the season. DeBrusk, who was also on the rush, was impressed with the shot from his 6-foot-4, 208-pound teammate.
“I just dropped it to Zachs and tried to pick a stick, and maybe Zachs was gonna shoot. He made a great play and turned around and saw it was Forbs,” said DeBrusk. “I didn’t know where that puck was going. But he shelved it. It was a little baby sauce on that. It was a little finesse touch. I was really happy to see it go in. Obviously, it was a snipe. I was very impressed, to say the least. It was a happy thing to see.”
Earlier in the season, Forbort and Connor Clifton formed what was arguably the Bruins’ best defensive pairing before his injury. Since returning, the Bruins coaching staff has been shuffling the pairings around a bit, but regardless of who Forbort is paired with, the results have been the same, as evidenced by his plus/minus of plus-7. Before the season started, there were questions as to who the left-shot defenseman to be left out of the lineup when Matt Grzelcyk returned, and the two names that popped up the most were Forbort and Mike Reilly. As it turns out, Forbort played his way into the role he’s currently in, while Reilly finds himself buried in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Providence Bruins.
There are many members of the Bruins who are playing above their contract value and Forbort is at the top of that list. He is in the second year of a three-year, $9 million contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $3 million and he is playing above his pay rate. He is doing all of the little things for the Black and Gold, 5-on-5 and shorthanded. There are not many people who saw this version of Forbort playing out early this season after last season, but the Bruins will take it and hope that they get it for the entire season.