When the Boston Bruins fired former coach Bruce Cassidy on June 6, general manager (GM) Don Sweeney began an extensive search for his replacement. After nearly a month of interviews with different candidates, he settled on Jim Montgomery.
One knock on Cassidy during his time in Boston was the way he did not always connect with and relate to the younger players and even some veterans. Take Jake DeBrusk for instance. The last two seasons, Cassidy called out the 14th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft multiple times and even made him a healthy scratch in both the regular season and playoffs. It got to the point where DeBrusk, through his agent, requested a trade. Sweeney did not end up trading him and DeBrusk took off in the final third of the 2021-22 season and finished the season with 25 goals, a lot coming after being moved up to the first line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
When the Bruins announced the hiring of Montgomery on July 1, it was reported that DeBrusk had rescinded his trade request and wants to remain in Boston. It remains to be seen if that happens, but if he does, Montgomery could be the guy to get DeBrusk and other younger Bruins back on track, but it will be critical that he connects with veterans who struggled last season as well.
Montgomery’s Development and Success With Younger Players
Montgomery has had multiple stops as a head coach in multiple leagues during his tenure. He spent three seasons with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL, winning the championship in two of those seasons. His next stop was at the University of Denver where he won one national championship in his five seasons with the Pioneers.
He was hired by the Dallas Stars in the summer of 2018-19 and took them to the playoffs in his first season at the helm, only to lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in seven games in the second round after they took down the Nashville Predators in the first round. Montgomery was fired during the 2019-20 season, but in his year and a half in Texas, he oversaw the development of Stars’ young players Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz.
Montgomery spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach with Craig Berube with the Blues and was credited with the development last season of young forward Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas. Thomas finished the season second on the team in points with 77 and Kyrou finished two points behind him. Both players were a key part of the success in St. Louis.
In some of Montgomery’s other stops with Dubuque and Denver, he coached Anaheim Ducks young star Troy Terry and new Columbus Blue Jackets forward and superstar Johnny Gaudreau. Those two players have turned out to be two of the more must-watch forwards in the NHL. In hiring Montgomery, Sweeney and team president Cam Neely are hoping that he turn around the careers of some of the Black and Gold’s younger players.
Bruins’ Younger Forwards Can Have Fresh Start With New Approach
It’s safe to say that DeBrusk was not the only young player who caught the ire of Cassidy. Trent Frederic found himself in the dog house towards the end of last season. Like DeBrusk, he found himself on the ninth floor of the TD Garden for a game as a healthy scratch after taking an ill-advised penalty in a game against the Blues, which led to a power play goal.
If there’s one thing that the Bruins have been looking for from DeBrusk and Frederic has been consistency. Both were first-round picks, with Frederic getting selected 29th overall in the 2016 Draft. At the time of the selection, it was considered somewhat of a reach for Sweeney as he was projected to be a second or third-round pick. He made the opening night roster in the 2020-21 season as a fourth-line forward. He spent the season drawing the frustration of opponents and even challenged some of the big fighters in the league to drop the gloves.
His 2021-22 season was different as he carved himself out a third-line role following Cassidy’s reshuffling of the lines on Jan. 1 with Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith. It appeared at several points during last season that Frederic was finding his game in the NHL. He showed flashes as being a producing, hard-working middle-six forward, but then would go back to the frustrating times that he had in 2020-21. He’s not going to light up the scoresheet, but he could improve his game under Montgomery just from the fact the message is being delivered by a different voice.
Aside from DeBrusk and Frederic, there are other younger players that could benefit from Montgomery. Jack Studnicka has been built up as the center in waiting for when the day comes, which could be this season, when Bergeron is no longer up the middle for the Bruins. His development has been getting better and better each season he has been with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL), but when it has come to his play in Boston, it has been up and down, to say the least. Cassidy used Studnicka on the wing to begin the 2020-21 season, but the 53rd overall pick in the second round of the 2017 Draft, struggled and his time in the NHL has proven he’s a much better player playing his natural position at center.
Bruins’ Veteran Forwards Can Also Have Fresh Start With New Approach
Some of the older players could benefit from a new voice if they are still around at the beginning of training camp. Craig Smith, Coyle, and even Tomas Nosek or Nick Foligno could have a better season under Montgomery and what is most likely a new system. Coyle struggled last season as the No. 2 center at the beginning of the season, but played much better as the third-line center.
Nosek and Foligno struggled last season as bottom-six forwards and when they were together on the fourth line late in the season, there were games where they rarely saw the ice. Both players are veterans that have had success in the NHL in some of their previous stops, but if they are going to be part of the Bruins this upcoming season, Montgomery connecting with them and get more out of them in 2022-23 is going to be. At his introductory press conference on July 11, he revealed what he thinks his biggest strength is.
“I think my biggest strength is being able to connect with people,” Montgomery said. “And whether that’s younger players, older players, or that middle core group of your 24 through 28 years olds who are incredibly vital, I think the most important thing is I will communicate how important everyone’s role is to the team success. I will always come back to how that person’s individual success can help the team’s success.”
The Bruins are hoping that he can connect with both the younger players and veterans, but it is clear that the goal of Sweeney and Neely would be to connect with the younger players and help them develop not only for the upcoming season, but also for the future.
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.