There has been a major shift in the way the Boston Bruins are handling their roster this offseason. For the first time in quite a few seasons, the Bruins defense will comprise young players, possibly all under 30.
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Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has made it clear that the plan is to let the younger players on their roster compete for spots, and the moves he has made recently back his statements up.
“As I’ve mentioned before, we have several players that are knocking on the door that we’d like them to see them continue to push, both in our forward group and our back end,” Sweeney said. “A little bit of a growth opportunity in — we still have to figure out how the season plays out, but we’re comfortable at some point in time we’re going to be up and running, and our guys will be ready to go. We felt all along that we were going to need some internal growth.”Don Sweeney – Oct. 17
Whether or not this approach will bode well for Boston this season is yet to be seen. They have had success developing young players in the past, but who knows what will happen when most of their back end is young and in the development phase of their career.
Grzelcyk’s Expanded Role
For the 2020-21 season, you can expect to see Matt Grzelcyk take on a much bigger role to match the salary increase that comes with his new four-year contract. He has some pretty big shoes to fill, though.
With Torey Krug gone and Zdeno Chara possibly out the door as well, Grzelcyk becomes a top contender for playing alongside Charlie McAvoy on the first defensive pairing. If he doesn’t end up paired with McAvoy, we will most likely see him with Brandon Carlo on the second pairing.
Jeremy Lauzon and John Moore are Grzelcyk’s biggest competition for those spots. Lauzon is another young player, even less experienced than Grzelcyk, with only 35 NHL games under his belt. Moore has more experience than Grzelcyk and Lauzon combined, but spent some time out last season to recover from shoulder surgery. Without Chara and Krug, Moore could be the oldest player on the blue line at 29 years old if Kevan Miller does not return.
Urho Vaakanainen and Jakub Zboril could also prove to be solid competition for a spot on the left side if Sweeney really does let all their younger players try for spots,
It All Comes Down to Points Scoring
While Grzelcyk may be able to carry the torch defensively, losing Krug will likely put a significant dent in Boston’s scoring ability. The competition for who will win spots on the left side will come down to who can step things up offensively.
We have yet to see Grzelcyk break out in an offensive capacity. The Bruins are likely hoping that this season will provide the opportunity he needs to up his scoring abilities. Grzelcyk will have to hit the ground running if he’s going to be as impactful as Boston needs him to be.
As for the other defensemen on the left side, Moore is the only other player with some solid NHL experience. Based on past seasons of play, we know that Moore will be consistent if he can stay healthy.
Lauzon, Vaakanainen, and Zboril may surprise us, though. With fewer than 50 NHL games played between the three of them, it’s anyone’s guess who will prove to be valuable this season.
It would be great to see Grzelcyk develop into a top point scorer for the Bruins, but let’s not forget the other half of the defensive lineup.
McAvoy stands to have another great season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him step up into an elevated role given his performance last year.
Carlo is another player to keep an eye on. He played with Krug on the second pairing last season, and it will be interesting to see if he gets more shots in now that Krug is gone.
Then there’s Connor Clifton. Clifton is in a similar boat with Vaakanainen and Zboril. We haven’t seen a lot of him yet, so it’s hard to say what his season will look like. However, with any young player, he may surprise us if given the opportunity.
The Competition is Heating Up
There is still no set start date for the 2020-21 season, which means we will likely see another shortened season even if we do find ourselves entering 2021 with a COVID-19 vaccine.
A shorter season would be a good thing for the Bruins, considering how young their defensive lineup is. About half of these players have not seen a full season of games yet, and the ability to break them in during a shorter season poses less risk for the Bruins.
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Going into training camp, I expect Grzelcyk will be paired with McAvoy. I believe he will be put there even if Chara does make a return. The Bruins are paying Grzelcyk to step up, and starting him there would reflect that expectation. Whether or not he stays in that spot will depend upon his ability to show goal-scoring potential through training camp.
Katherine Ripley is a lifelong hockey fan and native of New England. A former snowboard coach, she now spends her time designing websites and writing. Katherine covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers.