Following a 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars, the true strength of the Boston Bruins has become abundantly clear. Neither of their top two forward lines could register even a point, yet the Bruins role players filled in nicely scoring two goals en route to victory.
The incredible depth and options that the Bruins have at both forward and defense give them flexibility and insurance in case of injuries. We saw this multiple times throughout their 2018-19 season which saw injuries to numerous players, including first-line center Patrice Bergeron. These smaller role players may be the key to the Bruins Eastern Conference title defense moving forward.
Some of the Bruins’ top forwards are beginning to age and don’t quite have the step that they used to, this is where Kuhlman has filled in nicely. Kuhlman has shown us that if he can do anything on a hockey rink it’s skate. He helped revive a slow and tired team late in the Stanley Cup Final after the Bruins as a unit looked to be in trouble following a Game 5 loss.
He continued his impact Thursday night in against the Stars. Multiple offensive opportunities included Kuhlman blowing by the Dallas defense, some for breakaways. The Bruins will look to the speedy forward and others for an energy boost throughout the season. Kuhlman brings a new element to a team that is loaded with good scorers and defensive forwards. While he does not necessarily put up the points that the Bruins top forwards do, or play stellar defense, it is the unique scoring chances that he creates that will keep him in the lineup and benefit the organization as a whole this season.
On defense, Connor Clifton has also brought incredible speed and energy which has earned him a long-term spot on the roster. The defender has a similar game to veteran Charlie McAvoy in that he can control a game with his skating ability. He has performed well and has the potential to move up the Bruins pairings if he continues to succeed and develop. The defenseman will enter what he hopes to be his first full year in the NHL and will look to continue his success in order to stay with the big club.
Clifton has been a great asset in breakouts for the Bruins and could be valuable in doing so on the powerplay if McAvoy were to go down. His incredible poise, stepping into important games late in the season last year and into the playoffs has given his coaches a reason to trust him and he continued to show his skillset on opening night. Clifton had Dallas in disarray on his shifts using his speed and physicality to force the Stars defense into sitting back on their heels at times.
The physical element has been a staple in Bruins hockey and still continues to be even with a faster, more skilled team. Clifton has been a huge part of this, playing aggressive hockey in the offensive zone while bruising opposing players behind the net on defense. This combination of speed and physicality makes Clifton a unique piece that could be essential for the Bruins throughout a long 82 game season.
Matt Grzelcyk is another depth piece that has been solid for Boston and has gained the trust of head coach Bruce Cassidy. While he isn’t the same skater that Clifton or McAvoy is, he is small, very quick, and has used that to his advantage sliding past defenders along the boards and into the offensive zone.
Gryzlecyk has been a solid secondary scorer and point player on the powerplay allowing the Bruins to put pressure on penalty killers even with their second unit on the ice. This role expanded throughout the season last year and into the playoffs adding to what is already a talented group of offensive style defensemen for Boston.
Sitting behind both Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy has allowed players like Grzelcyk and fellow depth defenseman Clifton to learn and develop while playing valuable minutes in both the regular and postseason.
Secondary scoring has been a strength for the Bruins going back many years, but even more specifically last season in their run to the Stanley Cup Final. Kuraly scored goals in key situations when the offense seemed slow and the powerplay began to struggle.
Specifically, against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kuraly added key tallies when called upon. This includes an important goal in Game 7 in which Kuraly ripped a top-shelf shot past goaltender Frederik Andersen that put the Bruins up two, gave them a cushion and paved the road to victory. The Bruins top lines fed off the high energy style of hockey that Kuraly brought to the table every time he stepped on the ice in both the regular season and postseason.
His ability to perform in the clutch adds to his already crucial role on the Bruins fourth line. But the way Kuraly has developed year to year has many thinking that he could move higher on the Bruins depth chart and eventually be a top-six forward while continuing to play effective hockey on the penalty kill.
While it will be important for the Bruins top lines to lead the way offensively, they have players behind them that can give them a rest and play above-average hockey. It’s best not to rely on them, but the club’s secondary scorers are very capable as they’ve shown in the past and have the potential to develop into even greater talents. The Bruins’ ability to rotate their lines and still control the game has been a massive advantage and will continue to be this season due to their incredible depth and unique role players.