Bruins’ Zboril Could Be Surprise Contributor in 2022-23

It finally looks like the pieces are all coming together for Jakub Zboril. The 25-year-old defenseman has not had the easiest journey since going 13th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Level Draft, one of the most infamous drafts in Boston Bruins history.

Zboril impressed in his 2014-15 season with the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), earning himself that first-round selection. But in the following seasons, he struggled to develop into an NHL defenseman at the same pace as many of the other 2015 first-round selections (including teammate Thomas Chabot who was selected by the Ottawa Senators at pick 18).

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This year though, he is turning heads at training camp. Bruins’ head coach Jim Montgomery recently told the media that he thinks Zboril has been one of the five best players at camp. The defenseman has traditionally played on the left side, but has been making the transition to the right given the weakness on that side with Charlie McAvoy out to start the season.

Zboril has been expected to make the roster this season, especially given how weak the blue line depth is with injuries, but now expectations are starting to grow for him. While he may not be a franchise-defining player, he should become a reliable contributor in 2022-23.

Zboril’s Path to the NHL

Going into the 2020-21 season, Zboril had played the least amount of NHL games out of all the first-round selections in the 2015 NHL Draft. He appeared in only two games for Boston during the 2018-19 season and none during the 2019-20 season.

Jakub Zboril Boston Bruins
Jakub Zboril, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite good performances for the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, there simply weren’t any spots on the Bruins’ blue line, as they had tremendous depth with veterans like Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, and Kevan Miller. In addition, Zboril was quickly surpassed in the depth chart by fellow young guys, Brandon Carlo, who was taken in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, and Charlie McAvoy, who was selected at 14th overall in 2016.

With a crowded depth chart, there simply wasn’t much of an opportunity for him to prove himself in the NHL until the 2020-21 season. He played in 42 out of 56 games that season and had nine assists as he eased into NHL hockey. While there were definitely some rough spots in that first season, the potential was there for him to turn into a decent third-pairing defenseman.

Unfortunately, his 2021-22 season was cut short after only 10 games, as he suffered a season-ending ACL tear in December. Prior to the injury though, Zboril had been playing some of the best hockey of his NHL career. The hope going into this season was that he would recapture that, but now, it seems like he’ll even exceed the level he was playing at last season.

2022-23 Can Be the Year for Zboril

Given the current injury situation on the Bruins, it was predicted that Zboril would be given a real shot at a full-time NHL role this season. His performance so far at training camp is demonstrating that he should be ready to maintain that spot even after McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk return.

Of course, a great training camp and preseason don’t mean much if it doesn’t carry over to the regular season when it begins on Oct. 12. But everything seems to be trending in the right direction for Zboril. While he’s developed slower than anyone would like, he has gotten better each season of his professional career. He hasn’t given any reason yet to believe that his positive trajectory won’t continue in 2022-23.

This can be and should be his season to truly cement his place on the roster. The defensive depth chart is not what it was four years ago and someone needs to step up on the blue line to start the season. He can easily be that person. He also has 54 games of NHL experience under his belt right now and that is roughly about how many games it takes for some guys to get comfortable in the league.

Jakub Zboril Boston Bruins
Jakub Zboril, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Barring any injury, Zboril will be on the opening night roster for the Bruins. Be on the lookout for him to score his first NHL goal this season. Given how well he’s played, it should come sooner rather than later.

Redemption for 2015 Draft Class

The Bruins 2015 Draft has (rightfully) been much maligned over the years. The team had three first-round picks in arguably one of the most talented NHL Draft classes of all time. The team passed on many incredibly talented players, which has added an extra layer of scrutiny to their three selections, Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Zach Senyshyn, who was traded this past season.

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If DeBrusk can continue to be a major goal scorer for Boston and if Zboril can truly become a consistent contributor this year, it would certainly ease some of the pain of that draft. With how much scrutiny general manager Don Sweeney has received in the last few months for his drafting abilities (or lack thereof), he should be pushing for Zboril to get every opportunity this season.

Preseason is halfway through, but Bruins management, coaching, and media really seem to be impressed with Zboril’s performance so far. It’ll be exciting to watch what he can do when the regular season gets underway on Oct. 12.