If there’s one thing that the Boston Bruins want to do in the 2022-23 season, it’s to inject some youth into the lineup. With the way the roster currently stands, that’s asking a lot for first-year coach Jim Montgomery who is inheriting a roster with a surplus of veterans on expiring contracts.
If the Bruins are going to go to a youth movement this season, they will most likely have to make some tough decisions with some of their older players. Here are some players that general manager (GM) Don Sweeney could move to open up a spot for some of the younger players in the Bruins system for the upcoming season, and not be too concerned with what Boston could get in return for these players.
When Sweeney went on his spending spree in the summer of 2021, Tomas Nosek was a player that was brought in to give the bottom-six a different look heading into 2021-22. He was signed to a two-year contract, that has an average annual value (AAV) of just $1.75 million, but after his first season wearing the Black and Gold, there’s not a lot to get excited about for the upcoming season. In 75 games last season, he had three goals and 17 points with a plus/minus of minus-9, primarily as a fourth-line center, although he did give former coach Bruce Cassidy some flexibility playing on the wing. Going into this season, he’s projected to be a fourth-line center, but is that is what best for the Bruins?
Moving Nosek for a draft pick would free up a spot for youngster Jack Studnicka. Seen as one of the center in waitings for when Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are gone, Studnicka’s path to the NHL has been blocked by veterans. The second-round pick in the 2016 Entry Draft has been stuck in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Providence Bruins. His development has been getting better and better with each season, but sooner or later it needs to translate to the NHL.
At this point, having Studnicka centering the fourth line is not a bad move to make. It gives him an opportunity to get his feet wet in the NHL on a nightly basis and prepares him for a bigger role down the line. Any experience he can get at this point is only going to help.
Out of all the contracts handed out by Sweeney in the summer of 2021, Nick Foligno and his two-year, $7.6 million contract might end up taking the cake as the worst one handed out. The Bruins are stuck with a $3.8 million AAV for a veteran who ended up playing sparingly on the fourth line in the second half of the season and the playoffs.
Bringing in Foligno was not a bad idea at the time, but as the season went along, it looked more and more like a mistake. In 64 games, he had two goals and 13 points with a minus-13. A great locker room guy, Foligno started the season on the third line with Erik Haula and Jake DeBrusk, but ended up slipping down to the fourth line as the season went along. Trying to get him going, Cassidy had him on the top power play unit at different times and he became a good penalty killer, but his 5-on-5 play left a lot to be desired as he played mostly right wing, his off wing.
Moving Foligno would open up a spot for youngster Oskar Steen, who in his few trips to Boston has shown that he could be ready for an NHL spot. The sample size over the last two seasons was just 23 games, but he scored the first two goals of his NHL career and provided a jolt to the bottom six. A speedy skater, his skill set has come along nicely with the P-Bruins, and the 165th pick of the 2016 Draft is someone who is at a key point in his career at 24 years old after re-signing for two years this offseason. Like Studnicka, Steen is someone who has been knocking on the NHL door and is ready to knock it down.
When he signed as a free agent in October of 2020, Craig Smith was the middle-six scoring depth on the right wing the Bruins had been looking for. Unfortunately for Smith and Boston, it has not worked out the way both sides would have liked. It’s not for lack of effort, however, as he had 13 goals in the 56-game shortened 2020-21 season on 132 shots, before scoring 16 last season on 187 shots. He is a shooting machine and not afraid to get the puck on net from anywhere on the ice, he just has not had a lot of puck luck with the Black and Gold.
There are plenty of teams that are contenders that would add Smith to their roster with a $3.1 million AAV on the final year of his contract. Moving him, however, makes a lot of sense if the Bruins and Montgomery believe that Fabian Lysell is ready to bypass Providence this season for Boston. The 21st overall pick in the 2021 Draft, Lysell had a tremendous season with the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with 22 goals and 40 assists in 53 games. He added four goals and 17 assists in the playoffs. At the 2022 World Junior Championships, he has been just as impressive on the big stage.
If the Bruins are serious about injecting youth into the 2022-23 roster, Nosek, Foligno, and Smith are trade candidates that would open roster spots for some of the younger players and would benefit the team if dealt. Trading players this time of year is hard, especially when teams know you’re desperate to make a move to clear roster spots. It can be done and has to be done if Boston is going to see youth on the roster 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.