Following his 2021-22 season that ended in December with a knee injury that required surgery, the Boston Bruins announced that they were re-signing defenseman Jakub Zboril to a two-year contract, for $2.275 million. The average annual value (AAV) is $1.137 million, which is a good number for the Bruins considering their lack of cap space. Prior to his injury against the Nashville Predators, the 13th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft was making the case for a full-time spot in the lineup last season.
General manager (GM) Don Sweeney was banking on the young left-shot blue liner having a bounce-back season and with Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk recovering from offseason surgeries, he had an opportunity to seize a role to begin the season. Zboril made the roster out of training camp and preseason, but it has not been the best season for him.
Zboril’s Strong Training Camp & Preseason
From the first preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers until the last one against the New Jersey Devils, when given the opportunity by first-year coach Jim Montgomery, Zboril was impressive. There were nights when he was hands down the best player on the ice and noticeable.
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During his time with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL), he got better in each season that he played. He’s never going to light up the scoresheet offensively, but he got better at moving the puck and in his defensive zone. He made the roster in the 56-game shortened 2020-21 season and in 42 games, he had nine assists, but former coach Bruce Cassidy used him in all situations and paired him with veteran Kevan Miller at the beginning of the season. Like last season, injuries cut short his season and playoffs, but the signs were there that he was going to get a full-time NHL spot.
Zboril’s 2022-23 Has Been Filled With Frustration
During the regular season, Zboril has not been the same player that played in the preseason. He offered Montgomery flexibility by being able to move to his off-side on the right and bounced back between the left and right side. After finding himself as a regular in the lineup early in the season, the 25-year-old has recently found himself on the outside looking in as a healthy scratch.
His troubles this season have been more in the defensive end than anywhere else. Like the other defensemen, he has taken advantage of the freedom given to the defense in Montgomery’s system. Down the other end, he has been making bad decisions in front of his net, turning pucks over, being knocked off the puck, and playing with no confidence. It has led to his healthy scratch recently and Montgomery spoke about what it will take Zboril to get back into the lineup (from ‘Bashful Patrice Bergeron grateful for standing ovation celebrating 1,000 points,’ Boston Globe, Nov. 25, 2022).
“More assertive play — that message has been consistent,” said Montgomery when asked what he wants to see from Zboril. “We want him to play assertive.”
Zboril did score his first NHL goal on Nov. 12 against the Buffalo Sabres and it turned out to be the game-winning goal. He took a pass from Tomas Nosek and then took advantage of a Nick Foligno screen in front of Buffalo goalie Craig Anderson in the third period to break a 1-1 tie and send the Black and Gold to a 3-1 victory. Positive results like that have been too few and far between this season.
“I feel good and bad,” Zboril said. “I don’t think I deserved it today, but I waited long enough for it and it feels really good to finally be rewarded. Being out there every single night and earning the trust of the coach is very important to me.”
Since that game, it has not been good for Zboril and he hasn’t been earning the trust of his coach. He was benched in the third period of the Bruins 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Nov. 23 and logged just 7:13 of time on the ice. His ice time is going down and with Derek Forbort returning, so might Zboril’s chances of getting into the lineup.
Bruins Need Zboril to Get Montgomery’s Message
What does the future hold for Zboril in Boston? That’s the question. Is he going to carve out a role or not? Cassidy gave him a shot two years ago, then last season before his injury. Montgomery has given him a shot as well, but he just has not performed the way the team would like.
With Forbort back in the lineup, Zboril will find himself on the outside looking in most likely until an injury occurs. Anton Stralman who was used in Zboril’s place recently was placed on waivers for the purpose to be sent to the AHL. Whether Stralman reports or not remains to be seen, but it’s likely his short career in Boston is over. This is where the Bruins need Zboril to hear Montgomery’s comments and respond the way that Taylor Hall did last season when Cassidy called him out too. Zboril is going to be needed going forward this season.
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.