Through the first 26 games of the 2021-22 season, the biggest issue the Boston Bruins had was secondary scoring. Aside from their top-line, the production was coming from few and far between. Since returning from their break at the beginning of the New Year, things have been different and secondary scoring is coming from everywhere, for now.
Boston is getting production from their bottom-six, defensemen, and even players on their second line like Taylor Hall, who was were struggling early in the season. With that said, there are some members of the Black and Gold that are on pace for career years this season.
In his eight seasons in the NHL, Lazar has bounced around with four teams. Acquired in the Taylor Hall trade with the Buffalo Sabres last season, Lazar arrived in Boston and centered the fourth line with Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly. He gave a boost to the line in the regular season, which became one of the Bruins’ more frustrating lines to play against, while he had two goals and four points in 17 games following the trade.
This season after a slow start, Lazar, a bottom-six center and wing, has been playing much better of late like the rest of his teammates. He has five goals and six assists in 28 games this season. He had a three-point night on Jan. 12 against the Montreal Canadiens with two goals and an assist. His two goals were strange as the first one hit off of his skate standing at the side of the net off a pass from Jake DeBrusk. In the third period, rookie defensemen Urho Vaakanainen appeared to score his first career goal, but Lazar was later credited with the goal by tipping the shot from the point. Two garbage goals that the Black and Gold will gladly take.
Lazar’s importance to coach Bruce Cassidy is not only the grinding work he does 5-on-5, but he is also a part of the penalty-killing units that have been challenged in recent games. Top penalty killers Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have been spending more time in the box than the Bruins would like, but efforts from players like Lazar are making up for their teammate’s absence.
Lazar’s career-high six goals in a season happened in his first two NHL seasons with the Ottawa Senators. His career-high for assists happened in 2015-16 when he had 14 with Ottawa, which also was his career-high for points with 20. Regardless of whether or not he surpasses his career highs, getting any production from the former 17th overall pick of the 2013 Entry Draft by the Senators is a welcomed sight.
Lazar is in the final year of his contract and could be working his way to a nice contract this upcoming offseason as a bottom-six forward.
Aside from defensemen Charlie McAvoy, the Bruins have lacked production from their defense in recent seasons. This season, Grzelcyk has been more involved in the offense, especially in the absence of McAvoy, who missed three games earlier this month with an injury.
In McAvoy’s absence against the Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals, Grzelcyk had one goal and six assists, which included a five-point game on Jan. 10 in a 7-3 victory over the Capitals. In 33 games this season, Grzelcyk has two goals and 12 assists. His career-high in goals was five last season, while his career-high in assists was 17 in 2019-20. Both of those are well within reach this season for new career highs, as is his career-high in points of 21, which was also reached in 2019-20.
Grzelcyk, who has spent time with McAvoy on the top pairing and time as the power-play quarterback, is in the second year of a four-year, $14.75 million contract with an annual average value (AAV) of $3.687. He is undersized by NHL standards at 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds, but the former Boston University standout has been a valuable piece of the defense this season, while producing at a career-high rate.
When free agency began last July, the biggest surprise signed by general manager Don Sweeney was Ullmark, a former Buffalo Sabres goalie. During his time in Western New York, injuries hampered Ullmark’s time with the Sabres, but his best season was in 2019-20 when he went 17-14-3 with a 2.69 goals-against average (GAA) and a .915 save percentage (SV%).
After signing a four-year, $20 million contract, Ullmark’s career in Boston had a rough beginning but has got better and better. He is 13-5-0 this season with a 2.51 GAA and a .918 SV%. Along with rookie Jeremy Swayman, the duo kept the Bruins within reach of the Eastern Conference playoff race while getting little support from their teammates at certain parts of the season.
Needing just four wins to tie his career-high, if he stays healthy, he should record at least 18 this season, even splitting time with Tuukka Rask, who recently re-signed a one-year deal. When Rask calls it a career, there is no doubt that a Ullmark/Swayman tandem is the future in Boston.
In his first season with the Bruins after signing a three-year, $9 million contract as a free agent in the offseason, Forbort struggled in the beginning like Ullmark, but since he has got his feet under him, he has been better.
Forbort already has passed his career-high for goals, which was two and he did that three times in his career, with four already in 2021-22. For a good chunk of the first 26 games, he was the Boston leader in goals by defensemen. The 15th overall pick by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2010 draft, Forbort has three assists and is still chasing his career-high of 17 in 2017-18 with the Kings. A left-shot, Forbort has been valuable on the penalty kill for Boston with Brandon Carlo, while also bouncing around with different partners 5-on-5.
Already reaching his career-high goals, the Bruins hope his production does not stop there, but reaching his high in assists is going to be tough to match, but if he stays healthy, anything is possible.
When Torey Krug left in free agency following the 2019-20 season that ended in the Toronto playoff bubble for the Bruins, McAvoy was looked upon as the new leader on the blueline for Boston and he has not disappointed. The 14th overall pick in 2016, the Boston University product has five goals and 18 assists in 32 games this season, while taking over duties as the defensemen on the top power-play unit.
McAvoy’s career-high for goals is seven, which he has done twice in 2017-18 and 2018-19. His high watermark for assists was 27, which he had in 2019-20. Both are well within reach for the Long Island, N.Y. native, who has already surpassed his career-high in power-play points already this season with 11.
After the start to the season that the Bruins had, it’s hard to believe that so many members of the Black and Gold are on pace for career seasons. With their recent play, however, it should come as a surprise. If the Bruins continue to get contributions from these players, then they could reach their goal of making the playoffs and trying to put together one more run with their core players.
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.