Every year, there are certain players that become huge momentum swingers for a team. Think of Taylor Hall for the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18. He pretty much put that team on his back and dragged them into the playoffs that season and deservedly won the Hart Trophy at the 2018 NHL Awards. It can also go the opposite way. A player drastically underperforms or is injured, and in their absence, the team is not the same.
When looking at the current Boston Bruins roster, there are several that stick out as being potential impact players in 2021-22. Obviously, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Charlie McAvoy are essential to this team. But they are expected to be huge determinants of how the season goes for this team. Instead, this article focuses on players who could be a more “unexpected” source of impact on the season.
22-year-old Jack Studnicka’s name has been thrown around a lot in recent weeks, especially when the Bruins revealed that Charlie Coyle had offseason knee surgery and was limited to open up training camp last week. Luckily, he was a full participant in Monday’s practice.
With the departure of David Krejci this offseason and Coyle’s questionable health at the moment, Studnicka suddenly moves up to number two on the depth chart at center after only 22 games of NHL experience. We’ve obviously seen young players come in and immediately take on large roles in their organizations, especially in recent seasons. But there are always questions about whether or not they are fit for that role. Last season, he did not appear ready for a full-time NHL gig yet.
Given that Coyle is back to being a full participant in practice, he will presumingly start the season as the second-line center. But that leaves Studnicka to slot in at number three and potentially challenge for the second line if he plays well enough this season.
Center depth is a huge question with this team right now. Outside of Bergeron, there is no one that feels completely fit to step into Krejci’s shoes. Given Studnicka is a bit of an unknown factor, he could really have a huge impact on this season. If he is truly ready to step into a full-time NHL role, then things look a little brighter for the Bruins this season. But if he isn’t, the team has a huge hole down the middle that may need to address at the trade deadline.
Dimitri Filipovic from EP Rinkside recently shared the below graph on Twitter that analyzes defensemen zone exits during the 2021 playoffs. If you take a look at it, you’ll see Mike Reilly in the “Best Pucker Movers” quadrant.
When the Bruins acquired Reilly from the Ottawa Senators at the 2021 Trade Deadline, he was lauded as a great puck-mover, and Bruins fans got to see that first hand in his small sample size of games at the end of last season and in the playoffs. He came into a blue line that struggled to generate offense outside of McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk and immediately had an impact. His play helped generate offense and kept plays alive that would have otherwise been dead.
As he heads into his first full season as a Bruin and in the first year of a new three-year contract, the pressure is on for Reilly. Previously, he has carried a bit of a reputation of putting together great stretches of play and then disappearing for a large stretch. Boston is his fourth team in nine seasons. While he has shown flashes of being an important impact player, he hasn’t been able to be consistent.
He had a great 15 games with the Bruins last season, registering eight assists, and if he can play like that for a whole season, it could be a real game-changer for this team. It would allow McAvoy and Grzelcyk to play together since they won’t need to be on different pairings to generate offense. As we saw last season, the two of them together is really something special, and a second pairing of Reilly and Brandon Carlo could be incredibly impactful this season behind Grzelcyk and McAvoy.
As the data shows and the eye test backs up, Reilly is an incredible puck-mover. The question that could have a major impact on the Bruins’ 2021-22 season is whether or not he can be that impactful player for a full 82-game season.
Since he was mentioned as an example above, it’s only fitting to mention Hall again. In Krejci’s absence, he’ll be a big player to watch on the second line.
Hall’s time with the Bruins last season was the perfect situation for him. He has struggled under the pressure of being “The Guy” in the past, and in Boston, he was able to let the top line hold that moniker and play with a terrific center that let him focus on just being the best hockey player that he can be. This season, he’ll still have the first line ahead of him, but the team will need to rely on him a bit more on the second line.
It’s been said over and over again, but the Bruins have had their challenges with consistency on offense. Hall proved to be a piece of the solution last season. If he can continue to be that player even in the absence of Krejci, he will be an essential piece to this team. If he doesn’t, then who knows where goals are going to come from outside of Pastrnak, Marchand, and Bergeron.
The Bruins clearly have hope in him, as they signed him to a four-year deal with an AAV of $6 million. Whatever version of Hall takes the ice this month will have a tremendous impact on the team’s 2021-22 season.
Linger Questions as 2021-22 Season Approaches
The start of the 2021-22 season is right around the corner, and like every team, questions still linger around the Bruins. The biggest, of course, is the question of Tuukka Rask. He’s still recovering from hip surgery, but what happens when he’s healthy? He’s made it very clear that he still wants to play in Boston, but what does the team do if Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman play out of their minds?
There is also the question of center depth. Is Coyle ready to step into Krejci’s role? I’m rooting for him, but the jury is still out. If he’s not the solution, then who on this roster would be, and would Sweeney be able to find someone in a trade?
I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. Currently, I’m pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting at Boston University. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.