Haggerty's Bruins midseason grades: A strong marking period
Haggerty's midseason grades
While the NHL All-Star break will come at the end of the month, the Bruins hit the midway mark of their regular season this week. They’re riding a 15-game point streak and have been playing their best hockey of the season for an extended stretch, so now certainly feels like an opportune time to hand out some midseason grades to the Black and Gold. Clearly, it’s not going to be a tough day in the principal’s office for the B’s, so, on to the grades:
Brad Marchand (A+)
The Bruins agitator is on pace for a career-high 41 goals and 93 points, has battled through some concussion issues earlier in the season while clearly being targeted by other teams and has been able to stay out of penalty/suspension trouble. There’s a reason Marchand was selected as the B's only All-Star representative. It’s because he’s one of the NHL’s best players operating at an extremely high level. The one thing the Bruins must make sure is that they’re doing everything they can to protect him from the NHL’s predators. That means perhaps even going overboard if another decides they’re going to come after him.
David Pastrnak (B+)
Pastrnak, 21, is on pace to match last season’s offensive totals and he’s been a key part of arguably the best line in the NHL. The 33 goals and 75 points he’s on pace for are strong numbers, but he’s also gone through a few spells where the goals have been a little tough to come by. Pastrnak is improving defensively and in the puck management areas, but those are still places where Pasta has room to grow. All that being said, the Bruins top power-play unit is built around his hammer one-timer from the face-off circle. His speed and explosiveness make him the closest thing the B’s have to a game-breaker. So, he’s an invaluable asset who's only going to get better and better.
Patrice Bergeron (A-)
Bergeron, 32, started the season with an injury and some questions about which direction his game was headed, but he's answered those resoundingly with a pair of hat tricks this month. Bergeron is on pace for 37 goals, 74 points and a plus-41 rating, which would be one of his best offensive seasons to go along with his defense and face-off work. Bergeron is something special, but we already knew that, didn’t we? It also appears that the belief - by this humble hockey writer, as much as anyone - that we were seeing a player showing signs of decline at the beginning of the season was a wee bit premature. He’s still in his prime, baby.
Danton Heinen (A)
The 22-year-old winger has been a wonderful surprise while developing into a bona fide NHL player with some really high-end talent. Heinen is on pace for 20 goals and 60 points as a member of the third line. His ability to play the 200-foot game with smarts, tenacity and plenty of skill has been a huge lift for the Bruins. The B's needed a couple of rookie wingers to step up and that’s exactly what Heinen has done while playing smart, productive hockey in all situations.
Charlie McAvoy (A+)
The 20-year-old leads all rookies in ice time by a wide margin, is a strong Calder Trophy candidate and has been part of the reason behind the Bruins turning into an absolute force this season. McAvoy is on pace for nine goals and 46 points, and he’s just scratching the surface of how good he’s going to be for the Black and Gold. The only question now is whether McAvoy hits any kind of rookie wall in the second half now that he’s played more games than he did for Boston University all of last season.
Jake DeBrusk (B+)
DeBrusk, 21, has been another of the excellent Bruins rookies. He’s not as explosive as McAvoy or as multi-skilled as Heinen, but DeBrusk is clearly a good, productive top-nine NHL forward. He does a lot of the little things well in board battles and net-front presence, he’s on pace for 20 goals and has shown that he will rise to the occasion in big moments. He’s also a very nice kid and good dressing room guy, so DeBrusk has added something both on and off the ice. Of those three 2015 first-round picks, DeBrusk might end up becoming the best player of them all.
Torey Krug (C)
The puck-moving defenseman hasn’t been terrible and he hasn’t been great either, but Krug has had some tough moments. He got off to a bad start after coming back early from a fractured jaw and has had some really tough individual games this season. Krug is the only regular aside from Tim Schaller and Sean Kuraly who's a minus player this season. That’s tough to do when the team has been so overwhelmingly dominant for the better part of the past two months. Krug is on pace for 12 goals and 46 points so the offense is there and he’s only a minus-2 at this point, so things do appear to be getting better.
David Krejci (B-)
Krejci has missed 18 games with injuries and wasn’t all that effective earlier in the season while going in and out of the lineup. But the playmaking Czech center has been red-hot the past month and has done a good job centering a couple of younger guys in DeBrusk and Ryan Spooner. When Bergeron, Krejci and David Backes are all healthy, the Bruins have really overwhelmed teams with their depth and ability to roll with all four lines. Keeping Krejci healthy will be a priority, albeit one they can’t control, in the second half.
Riley Nash (B)
He's really settled into a role as a third-line center between Danton Heinen and David Backes and is pacing to post something close to 10 goals and 40 points. Ultimately, you’d perhaps want a little bit more consistent offense from Nash, but he is reliable defensively while allowing Heinen and Backes to sometimes linger in the play offensively. Nash has some skill, to be sure, but he is what he is offensively at this point in his career. All things considered, he's giving the Bruins very good bang for the buck.
David Backes (A)
The numbers are right about where the Bruins expected them to be and the guy came back a month early after having 10 inches of his colon removed in diverticulitis surgery. Backes, 33, talks the talk, walks the walk and has been a very good addition as a leader to the Bruins core group on and off the ice. He is playing much closer to the guy that the B’s thought they were signing when they brought him in as a free agent a couple of summers ago and has really helped turn this Bruins group into a deep, multi-faceted attack since getting healthy. Now, it’s just a matter of making certain that Backes also stays in the lineup after having some bumps and bruises the past couple of years.
Ryan Spooner (B+)
Spooner battled through injuries and waiting for his turn while Anders Bjork was in the lineup, but has been excellent skating with Krejci since he regained full health. Spooner has six goals in his past eight games and is on pace for a career-high 18 goals while fully utilizing his speed and skill through an assertive approach to the game. Spooner is engaging and winning more one-on-one battles than ever before and seems to be finally playing with the urgency that was sometimes missing earlier in his career. Spooner and Krejci are a pretty dynamic pair with their skills matched together, but the question with them is they’ll be able to still be effective together when the games really grind down.
Zdeno Chara (A)
The offensive numbers will no longer be at the top of the charts because the Bruins have their 40-year-old captain in more of a shutdown role, but he has excelled at that while still averaging a team-best 23:24 of ice time. He’s a durable and fierce penalty-killing machine, is a big factor behind a defense and PK that are at the top of the league and he’s been a very strong partner to McAvoy in their first season together. There may be a few more bumps for Chara once the schedule picks up in the second half, but he’s been a marvel to watch as the oldest player in the league.
Tim Schaller (B)
Schaller is playing 13 plus minutes a night as a fourth-line fixture, even played center in place of Krejci for a couple of games when asked to and is on pace for nine goals and 20 points in a solid secondary offense kind of role. Even better, Schaller is one of those players who will drop the gloves and stand up for his teammates and he knows and embraces his role as an energetic, physical, fourth-line kind of player. Schaller has been very good at sticking to his role and really embracing it this season.
Kevan Miller (A)
Miller is now in the perfect role for his abilities and strengths. He’s playing about 18 minutes a night as a bottom-pairing defenseman with Matt Grzelcyk, he’s killing penalties and he’s playing the physical, tough stay-at-home role to a T while throwing big hits, standing up for his teammates and still kicking in the occasional offensive play when it presents itself. Miller’s solid play now only underscores how miscast he was when forced into playing 20 plus minutes a night as a top-four guy earlier in his career with the Bruins. He’s in the perfect spot now and he’s really doing everything the Bruins asked him to do. He's also staying healthy for the most part.
Sean Kuraly (B-)
Kuraly has been solid as a fourth-line center. He’s big and strong, will get in quickly on the fore-check when he has his good skating legs and isn’t going to hurt the Bruins with high-risk mistakes when the puck is on his stick. He’s pacing for six goals and 15 points on the season and still has arguably the best goal-scoring celebration in the league. In a league where strong, smart, high-effort players can last a long time if they’re willing to do all those things, Kuraly is showing that he’s willing to do what it takes. A little more offense would be something to work on for him, but it feels like there are always going to be limitations in that area.
Noel Acciari (A-)
He broke his finger blocking a shot on opening night and immediately began blocking shots again upon returning to the lineup. Acciari is hard-nosed, hits like a bulldozer and is also on pace to score 13 goals as a player with a little bit of finish on the fourth line. It’s true that he’s always going to struggle to stay healthy given how damn hard he approaches the game, but he is very effective for the Black and Gold when in the lineup.
Matt Grzelcyk (A)
There were questions about whether Grzelcyk could play in the NHL headed into the season, but those have been strongly answered. At 5-foot-9, 174 pounds, he'll still be tested and needs do it for more than a couple month stretch, but his skating and efficiency have been off the charts in a bottom pairing with Miller. Grzelcyk doesn’t get caught in his own zone much, can turn and quickly get the puck out of danger and stands at a plus-13 in 26 games. The way he’s played opens up a ton of possibilities with their entire back end and gives the Bruins the kind of depth they’ve never had before.
Brandon Carlo (C-)
If there’s one player that seems to have regressed a bit among their young guys, it’s Carlo. He has just five assists in 44 games, along with a plus-9 rating, and is playing a solid 19 minutes per night as a top-four partner with Krug. He appears to have lost some confidence in terms of moving the puck and creating some offense, but also is forced into more of a defensive, stay-at-home posture when playing with the high-risk Krug. If that’s the case he could stand to add a little more snarl and nasty to his game. Still, it feels as if Carlo is the most mistake-prone of Boston’s defensemen and, as a young player, still struggles with keeping his confidence up when things aren’t going well. The Bruins are showing patience, as they should given the talent and upside there.
Frank Vatrano (D)
Vatrano is pretty much in no-man’s land now. He’s watched other prospects pass him on the depth chart and he’d need waivers to go to the AHL and actually play a little bit. So, now he sits as a healthy scratch and has just two goals in 20 games while watching other youngsters DeBrusk and Heinen flourish with their opportunities. A change of scenery might be the best thing for Vatrano, but the truth is that he’s a pretty one-dimensional player with goal-scoring as the big skill he’s bringing to the table. If he’s not scoring and producing with his shot and release, then he’s not bringing much to the table.
Adam McQuaid (A)
The veteran defenseman gets this grade because he suffered a broken leg blocking a couple of shots that caused him to miss months. He then he was a good teammate waiting for his chance to break back into the lineup when healthy. McQuaid could have complained or pulled some kind of veteran nonsense when he wasn’t immediately installed into the lineup when healthy, but instead, he didn’t want to interfere with the good things going on. McQuaid is the ultimate great teammate and leader by his actions and sure enough, his snarl and penalty killing helped win a game as soon as he did return.
Paul Postma (C-)
Postma was brought in as veteran depth but has become a forgotten man with the rise of Matt Grzelcyk among others. Postma still stands as an extra D-man if they need him, but really didn’t show much in the 12 games that he did play this season. Perhaps Postma will come into play if the Bruins get smacked with another wave of back-end injuries as they did in the playoffs last season, but it sure looks like he’s going to be a healthy scratch for the foreseeable future. It feels like a signing that just hasn’t worked out for the Black and Gold.
Matt Beleskey (F)
A good guy, but it's been a disastrous first half to this season. Beleskey was a minus-8 with no points in 14 games and was eventually waived and sent to the minor leagues with two additional years still on his contract at almost $4 million per season. Beleskey looks slow and unable to keep up with the pace dictated by Bruce Cassidy’s style of play. He wasn’t able to throw hits, produce offense and be a factor as he was in his first season in Boston. It’s still mystifying to try and determine what exactly happened to Beleskey’s game over the past two years, but it sure looks like he’s played his last game in Boston. This has turned out to be disastrous signing for the Bruins.
Tuukka Rask (B+)
Rask was horrendous the first month of the season, but he managed to turn things around after getting benched for four games in November. He was the NHL’s No. 1 Star for December with the 9-0-1 record and the .955 save percentage. He now sits with a 2.20 goals-against average and .920 save percentage for the season. Rask has looked like he’s cooled off a bit coming off the five-day bye week, but he’s still playing much better behind a team that’s playing some great hockey. I’m still not a believer that the Bruins can win a Cup with Rask, but at least he’s putting together a strong season.
Anton Khudobin (A+)
What else can you give a backup goalie that’s won 10 games before the All-Star break, has a higher save percentage than Boston’s starter with a .924 mark and stepped up early in the season when things were teetering on the brink. Khudobin has been everything Boston needed him to be and is providing Rask with the kind of rest he’s going to need to be at his best going down the stretch. Khudobin just needs to make certain that he stays consistent in the second half and continues to give Boston the quality goaltending they’ve received from both goalies
Bruce Cassidy (A)
The Bruins new coach has shown the right touch with veteran situations (benching Rask, waiting to re-insert McQuaid into the lineup), he's clearly made it a comfortable environment for rookies to develop and flourish and he’s even helped reclaimed a seemingly lost cause in Spooner. Cassidy has maintained the strong zone defense and layers that the Bruins had under Claude Julien, but also added a real open-mindedness to taking offensive risks and creating in that end of the ice. If it wasn’t clear at the end of last season, Cassidy is the right guy for the job. He’ll go with his gut instincts in confounding ways on occasion, but he has everybody in the dressing room playing as a team. That’s a major accomplishment.
Don Sweeney (B+)
Clearly, not every move has worked. The Bruins had to waive Beleskey and Kenny Agostino and Paul Postma were busts this season, but this young, deep and fast team is exactly what Sweeney envisioned when taking over as general manager. It’s a credit to him for avoiding the temptation to trade any of his young players in the recent past and for finally making the coaching move last season that’s changed the direction of the franchise. Sweeney will still have to make some shrewd NHL moves to put this Bruins team over the top, but he has them in the mix again just a couple of years after taking over a salary cap-strapped mess. He deserves major credit for that, and for the talented rookies that are making Boston the envy of the league.
Cam Neely (A)
The Bruins have turned the corner to again being a competitor, they’ve been a great story in a winter season crowed by the title-worthy Patriots and Celtics and they’re in the midst of big renovations for player accommodations at TD Garden after upgrading their practice facility last season. The Bruins are headed in the right direction organizationally and that’s a credit to everyone including the very top of the Bruins organization. It’s clear that both Cassidy and Sweeney were the right people for the jobs, and Neely helped both of those things become set in motion. The team president deserves plenty of credit for that from Bruins fans.