Entering the 2022 trade deadline, Boston Bruins general manager (GM) Don Sweeney was looking to address three areas of concern for his team. A left-shot defenseman, a second-line center, and a top-six wing. The Bruins GM addressed the left-shot dilemma by acquiring Hampus Lindholm from the Anaheim Ducks for a big return. Sweeney made the deal worth it by getting Lindholm locked up with an eight-year contract extension with an annual cap hit of $6.5 million.
Sweeney did not address his team’s need for a forward, either a center or wing. He signed Jake DeBrusk to a two-year contract extension five hours before the 3 o’clock trade deadline on March 21. The thought was that signing him to the extension takes his $4.41 million qualifying offer off the table for either the Bruins or another team that acquired him in a trade. In the end, no trade was able to be worked out and DeBrusk stayed with the Black and Gold past the deadline.
With DeBrusk in the fold for the remainder of the 2021-22 season and playoffs, it appears that the Bruins lines that have been playing well lately are what they will roll into the playoffs with. Is it good enough to be a serious contender for the Stanley Cup? That remains to be seen, but one key going forward for coach Bruce Cassidy will be the play of his third line.
Bruins Third Line Playing Big Role in Recent Success
Ahead of a six-game road trip on Feb. 24, Cassidy moved around his lines and ended up putting DeBrusk on the first line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. DeBrusk was placed on the right wing, his off-wing, but the 25-year-old has responded well with the two veterans. During the shuffling of the lines, Craig Smith was moved from the first line to the third line with Trent Frederic and Charlie Coyle. Since being put together, the trio has been one of, if not the best Bruins line in the last 14 games.
Since being put together, Smith has scored eight goals and has added six assists. Coyle has two goals and 11 assists and Frederic has two goals and six assists. Smith has a whopping plus/minus of plus-11, Frederic has a plus-7 and Coyle is a plus-3, which is low due to being a key penalty killer for Boston and playing in late-game situations where the Bruins have given up some late goals. They played a key role in Monday night’s 3-2 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens when they set up Connor Clifton for the game-tying goal with just 2:59 left in the third period.
What has become a welcoming sight for the Bruins is the development of Frederic, who signed a very team-friendly two-year contract last summer with a $1.05 million annual cap hit. When Sweeney selected him 29th overall in the first round of the 2016 Entry Draft, it had a lot of people scratching their heads. The former University of Wisconsin player had trouble developing his game and has been more of an enforcer, not backing down from some of the tougher players in the league, including Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals. Frederic’s development was not only slow in Boston, but also in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Providence Bruins.
As this season has gone along, Frederic’s development has been coming along to the point where it appears he’s starting to put his game together in all facets and figuring out how to be an impact as a middle-six forward. Smith has found his scoring touch as he has more than half of his 14 goals in the last 14 games and Coyle has been a strong presence in the middle and has recorded nearly half of his 23 assists on the season since the trio was put together.
There have been opportunities in the last 14 games to move the line around to fill in open holes in the top-six, but Cassidy has not done so. Tomas Nosek and Jack Studnicka have split time on the first line with Bergeron out with an injury, although Cassidy could have easily slid Coyle up there. Keeping the line together is the right move in breaking up a good thing that the Bruins have going there.
Third Line Will Be Key Down the Stretch
The Bruins are 26-9-3 since Jan. 1 and are on the heels of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division. They are two points behind the Maple Leafs for second and one behind the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning for third. All three teams will be jockeying for playoff positioning over the final month of the regular season.
At the trade deadline, Sweeney did not address the need for a forward, instead just addressing the left-shot defense need. The Bruins are not blessed with forward depth should an injury occur at center or on the wing. If that occurs, they will be looking at younger players such as Studnicka, Oskar Steen, or maybe even Jesper Froden to fill holes. Who knows, maybe at the end of the regular season, Fabian Lysell, the Black and Gold’s first-round pick at No. 21 in last July’s Draft could make an appearance if needed once his season is complete with the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League (WHL). Time will tell what the future holds for him in either the NHL or AHL this season should he sign an entry-level contract.
Boston’s top-six has been good since Jan. 1, but the emergence of the third-line is going to be key for the rest of the season and in the playoffs. If healthy, it gives the Bruins three solid lines of production and depth that have been missing over the last couple of seasons.
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.