In 2015, his first year at the helm, Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney waded into the waters on day one of free agency and made quite the splash, inking Matt Beleskey to a five-year, $19 million contract. Year two was kicked off with another July 1 signing, this time bringing David Backes into the fold on an even pricier five-year, $30 million deal.
Year three? A bit more understated.
The blockbuster garners all the headlines come summertime — this is true of both movies and NHL free agency. But every now and then a lower-budget project, with time, becomes the talk of the town. In Kenny Agostino the Boston Bruins hope to have found their “Blair Witch Project.”
His play and upside caught the eye of Sweeney and Boston’s scouts, earning him a shot to compete in camp alongside the Bruins’ highly-touted prospects:
He’s been prolific in the AHL over the last couple of years. Even in a small sample size at the NHL, he’s done well. So, we’re going to give him an opportunity. I think the internal competition piece I spoke of [at forward positions] will be interesting come training camp.
Don Sweeney (Joe Haggerty, CSNNE) July 1, 2017
As a result, a crowded-house just became even more congested. However, a little competition never hurt anyone. In fact, it will show the Boston brass not only who is ready for the rigors of the NHL but also who can play their best when the heat is on.
Give Him a Chance
Kenny Agostino has scored and succeeded at every level in which he’s played.
Over four seasons as a Yale Bulldog, he recorded 132 points in 134 games. He finished in the top three in team scoring each of his final three seasons, leading the way his junior year. In addition to his personal accolades, he was a member of the 2012-13 team (alongside Bruins prospect Rob O’Gara) which won the national championship, the first NCAA title in any sport in the school’s history.
At the AHL level, Agostino has registered 183 points over 197 games between Calgary and St. Louis’ minor league affiliates. His 2016-17 campaign was a smashing success, as his 83 points led the league en route to AHL MVP honors. He averaged a point-per-game in the playoffs as well, scoring 10 in 10 for the Chicago Wolves.
Furthermore, the New Jersey native added three points in seven appearances with the Blues. It’s small sample size for sure. However, the 17 shots on goal he registered over that stretch show that he’s confident in his strengths and capable of playing to them; the jump to the NHL did nothing to diminish that mindset.
Nothing will be handed to any of Boston’s roster hopefuls; Don Sweeney has made that abundantly clear time and again. But with nothing left to prove at the AHL level, Agostino has his sights set on becoming an NHL-regular. In the Bruins, he found an organization with a need and uncertainty at his position.
An extended look in camp and preseason represents his best chance to date for locking down a role in an NHL middle six. Expect to see him receive ample time alongside David Krejci and David Pastrnak. Both tremendous playmakers, the Czech vets could help to bring out the best in Agostino.
Nothing to Lose
This signing is the definition of “low-risk, high-reward.” After all, it was just last season that the seldom-used Jonathan Marchessault blossomed from AHL scoring machine into a 30-goal scorer at the NHL level. Marchessault was also a 25 years old earning less than $900,000 during his breakout campaign.
For some Bruins fans, Agostino being Boston’s biggest signing on July 1 (with all due respect to Paul Postma) was like waking up on Christmas morning, opening your present with heightened-expectations and finding a sweater knitted by your grandmother. A turtleneck, that may or may not have a reindeer on it.
For others, the turtleneck represented an addition to their winter wardrobe. It’s something they didn’t own on December 24, and as a matter of fact, Boston winters are mighty-cold. Sweaters are useful. Not all presents can be video games, new skates and bicycles; your parents do have a budget, you know…
Boston has nothing to lose from the signing. If he succeeds, the Bruins secured complimentary scoring for less than $900,000. Sweeney’s best free agent signings to date are Dominic Moore and Riley Nash, and neither of them topped $1 million per year. Agostino is currenly less-accomplished at the NHL level than those two, but his signing is indicative of the same philosophy.
If he plays well, but not well enough to beat out Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen and company, it means Boston’s prospects have come to fruition. The Bruins will have provided themselves with cheap insurance, and the organization’s focal point (young talent) met or exceeded expectations; that’s a win.
Should he fail to pan-out, the team is no worse for wear. After all, his signing isn’t likely to be Boston’s only attempt to fill the position. Furthermore, Agostino can be waived at any point. If he clears waivers, he can get right to helping Providence while honing his game with an increased role.
However, should he be claimed by another team, Boston will have at least rid itself of his full cap hit. The worst case scenario here is that the smallest of gambles doesn’t pay off, and the Bruins can wash their hands clean of the signing altogether.
Final Grade: B+
It’s hard to give an “A” for the signing of a player with just 17 career NHL games. However, I’m bullish on Kenny Agostino’s game, and an even bigger fan of the deal itself. He’s a speedy, hungry player who has scored and succeeded at every level to this point. He’s also relatively low-mileage for a 25 year old.
The Bruins are committing nearly $10 million per year to the two players previously acquired on free agency’s first day. To date, neither has had the profound impact that the Boston Brass had hoped for.
With the Agostino signing Sweeney has stuck to his guns, making good on his promise to not throw money around. With a plethora of prospects competing for spots come September, this signing merely increases the level of competition without muddling the picture.
At worst, the B’s will be able to walk away from a failed gamble consequence-free.
At best, they may have just stumbled upon the surprise blockbuster of the year.