It was obvious going into this offseason that the Boston Bruins were going to have to make a free agent signing on defense. The injury-riddled blue line struggled last season. While Mike Reilly was a good acquisition at the 2021 Trade Deadline, they still lacked a bit of a punch. The Seattle Kraken selecting Jeremy Lauzon in the Expansion Draft only made it more imminent that a defenseman needed to be signed in free agency.
Enter Derek Forbort, the Bruins’ first signing on the first day of free agency. He’s a left-shot defenseman, something they desperately need. He’s also 6-foot-4 and we all know how much this team loves their giant defensemen. He checks off a lot of boxes, but that doesn’t always translate to a perfect fit on ice. Digging deeper though, there is a lot to be excited about for when he steps onto the ice for the first time in the spoked B.
Road to the NHL
Forbort was born March 4, 1992, in Duluth, Minnesota — the state of hockey. Given his home state and the fact that he is named after famous Bruin, Derek Sanderson, it was inevitable that he would start playing hockey.
Similar to Nick Foligno, one of the other free agent signings this offseason, Forbort spent time in his juniors career playing for the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP). In the 2009-10 season, he played for the USNTDP Juniors team and had 14 points in 26 games. Additionally, he was a plus-12, setting up the trend of being a positive player for most of his hockey career. He also played 65 games that season for the U18 national team, and had 28 total points — five goals and 23 assists.
After playing 91 games in the 2009-10 season and earning a name for himself as a shutdown defenseman, Forbort was selected in the first round of the 2010 Entry Level Draft at pick 15 by the Los Angeles King. Scouts praised him for his big frame, great skating abilities, and quick puck movements. There were questions about how physical his game could be and how high of an offensive ceiling he might have.
After his draft, Forbort played for the University of North Dakota in the NCAA. While there, the team was a two-time NCAA Champion in 2011 and 2012. In the 2011-12 season, he was also named to the All-Academic and All-Tournament team. He never exceeded more than 20 points in his three college seasons, his most points coming in 42 games in the 2012-13 season. He had four goals and 13 assists for 17 total points.
At the end of his junior year at North Dakota, Forbort signed his first professional contract and joined the Manchester Monarchs in the American Hockey League (AHL) for six regular-season games and four playoff games. He registered only one assist in that time, but was a plus-5 in the regular-season games.
Forbort spent the majority of the next three seasons playing for Los Angeles’ AHL affiliate. It was the Monarchs in 2013-14 and 2014-15, but switched to the Ontario Reign in 2015-16. Similar to his time in college hockey, he didn’t put up a ton of points, fulfilling more of a shutdown role. He was a plus-19 in 2013-14 and a plus-23 in 2014-15. So, while he didn’t have a ton of points, he excelled in defending his own zone and ensuring that while he was on the ice, the puck more often found itself in the back of opponents’ nets.
He made his NHL debut in the 2015-16 season, playing 14 games with the Kings and 40 with the Reign. It was not an easy transition and he had some struggles adjusting to the NHL game. He had only two points, one goal and one assist and was a minus-1.
Finding His Footing
Forbort played in Los Angeles for five seasons, beginning with his 14 games in the 2015-16 season. He got plenty of opportunities with the team there and spent large portions of time playing on the top line with Drew Doughty. From the 2016-17 season through 2018-19, he averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time a night. That dipped in 2019-20 as he battled a back injury that saw him limited to only 20 games that season. Prior to his back injury, he had only missed five games between 2016-2019.
The best season of his career so far came in 2017-18. In 78 games, he had 18 points and was a plus-18. Additionally, he had 156 blocks and 142 hits. It was the second-most hits he registered in a season, trailing 180 from the prior season. For a guy who came into the NHL lacking a physical presence, he definitely found it.
Things didn’t last with him in Los Angeles. He was flipped at the 2020 Trade Deadline to the Calgary Flames for a conditional fourth-round pick. It seemed liked a good fit at the time. The Flames were in desperate need of some depth on the blue line while the Kings were trending downward and looking to continue stockpiling picks.
Last offseason, Forbort signed a one-year deal worth $1 million with the Winnipeg Jets. It was a rebuilding season for him after missing most of 2019-20 with his back injury and dealing with the COVID-19 shutdown. After being a minus player in the previous two seasons, he finished a plus-1 on the season and got back up to 80 hits and 115 blocks after only registering 35 and 30 in 2019-20. He had 12 points in 56 games, which would have put him on pace right around his career high of 18 in a full 82-game season. More importantly, after missing so much time, he played a full season and averaged 20 minutes of ice time again.
What Does He Bring to the Bruins
The big word that has been associated with Forbort for most of his career is “solid.” He is a solid defenseman who is good in his own end and reliable. After struggling in 2019-20, he had a solid 2020-21 season with Winnipeg, which is why the Bruins signed him to a three-year, $9 million deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $3 million. It’s a decent jump from his $1 million last season.
He is only 29 and showed last season that he is healthy again, which is why it makes sense that the Bruins signed him to a much bigger/longer deal than what he signed in October 2020. The contract also makes sense in terms of the team’s depth chart on defense. Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are the two highest-paid defensemen — as they should be — and then it’s Matt Grzelcyk with an AAV of $3.69 million, then Forbort and Reilly both have three-year, $9 million deals. The pay matches with the depth chart, which is always a good sign.
After seasons of the Bruins’ defense being one of the most reliable areas of this team, last season it was a little more inconsistent. Injuries played a big factor and there were a lot of young players getting thrown into roles that were maybe a little bigger than they were ready for. There were plenty of bright spots, too, of course. Watching McAvoy’s ascension to elite defenseman status the past few seasons has been a joy to watch as a fan and the pairing of him and Grzelcyk was a revelation in the second half of the season.
Still, Forbort’s solid playing style will bring some stability to the blue line. He also brings six years of NHL experience, matching Reilly for the most within this young defensive core. His 331 total NHL games is the most of all defensemen currently on the roster.
Forbort isn’t going to fix the Bruins’ issues with generating offense from the blue line, one of their struggles last season. Hopefully, a healthy Grzelcyk, full season of Reilly, and continued growth of McAvoy will take care of that. What he does bring is good defensive skills in his own end. His reliability will make it easier for whoever he is paired with to jump in and join the rush.
Similar to Haula and Foligno, the Forbort addition is another solid signing that addresses the Bruins’ issues with depth from last season. It won’t be a complete gamechanger, but it was the right move to make for this team to try and capitalize on their closing Stanley Cup window.