Bruins’ Zboril Can Take Advantage of Injuries to Earn a Roster Spot

When Boston Bruins general manager (GM) Don Sweeney entered his first NHL Entry Draft as GM, he had three consecutive first-round picks at No.’s 13, 14, and 15 in 2015. His very first pick was defenseman Jakub Zboril, before taking Jake DeBrusk 14th and Zach Senyshyn 15th.

Of the three picks, DeBrusk has made the most impact at the NHL level, twice being a 20-goal scorer, and now is an important part of the Bruins’ top-six forwards. Senyshyn never made an impact in Boston before requesting a trade last season and it was granted when Sweeney dealt him to the Ottawa Senators for Josh Brown. DeBrusk had also requested a trade last season, but rescinded it in July after not being moved at the trade deadline in March.

Zboril’s development has not gone as fast as the Bruins would have liked, but he has started to show some promise in the last two seasons. In the 56-game shortened 2020-21 season, he made the roster on the third pairing with veteran Kevan Miller and played in 42 games before an injury cut his season short. Last season, he did not make the roster out of camp, but he did, however, get called up in November and played well. In fact, he was playing so good, that the case could be made that he was earning a full-time spot, but that came to a halt on Dec. 2.

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

In a game against the Nashville Predators, he suffered a torn ACL knee injury, which he ended up needing season-ending surgery. It was an unfortunate injury as both Hampus Lindholm and Matt Grzelcyk suffered injuries late in the season and in the playoffs, Zboril would have been someone to slide into the lineup for the Black and Gold.

Related: Bruins’ Zboril Extension Signals Roster Turnover on Defense Is Coming

Following the season, Sweeney signed Zboril to a two-year, $2.275 million contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $1.137 million. It’s a good team-friendly contract and now he has a chance to work himself into the lineup right away this upcoming season.

McAvoy & Grzelcyk’s Surgeries Open Door for Zboril

It’s not the hand that first-year Bruins coach Jim Montgomery wanted to hear, but he will be without the services of two of his top-four defensemen for the first two months of the season. Charlie McAvoy and Grzelcyk both had off-season surgeries and it leaves two big gaps in the lineup.

Roope Hintz, Mats Zuccarello, Alexander Radulov, Jim Montgomery
New Bruins coach Jim Montgomery, with the Dallas Stars, will have flexibility on defense with Jakub Zboril. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Zboril is a left-shot, something that the Bruins have an abundance of. Lindholm, Derek Forbort, and Mike Reilly is the expected left-side to begin the season, with youngster Jack Ahcan trying to make a name for himself in training camp. The right side of the defense is another story with a lack of depth. Barring an injury, Brandon Carlo and Connor Clifton enter the season as the logical top-two with the third spot open. That’s where Zboril comes in.

Moving to his off-side is something that Zboril has done and will be comfortable doing as it’s something not all players are comfortable doing. Last season, he averaged 15:44 a night in his 10 games before his injury with three assists and playing with confidence. The 25-year-old killed penalties and has been used in a pinch on the power play the last two seasons when he’s been in the lineup and admitted after the 2021-22 season that he had a different mindset before his injury.

“I think I did a pretty good job this year. I showed up with lots of confidence in my game, then I got injured. It was a slap in the face. Hopefully I’m just going to pick up where I left.”

Jakub Zboril (from ‘Confident Jakub Zboril should have a spot on Bruins defense but must stay healthy,’ Boston Globe, July 27, 2022)

Montgomery hinted at Zboril getting some minutes early in the season on the right side and possibly even “get significant minutes” on his off-side until McAvoy and Grzelcyk are both back in the lineup (from ‘Here’s what Bruins coach Jim Montgomery is thinking for lines and defensive pairings heading into training camp,’ Boston Globe, Aug. 27, 2022). When the Bruins do finally get healthy on defense, then it’s going to be up to Montgomery and Sweeney to figure out the log jam on the left side.

Related: Bruins’ 5 Best Contracts for 2022-23

When decisions have to be made about whether or not to trade players and who, Zboril would be tough to take out of the lineup as he offers Montgomery so much flexibility being comfortable on both sides. If there was ever a season for Zboril, who played with confidence the last two seasons with a much-improved offensive game, to have an opportunity to make an impact, it’s going to be 2022-23. If he stays healthy, he could have the breakout season that the Bruins have been waiting for.

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