Bruins midseason report card: Grading the roster
The Bruins haven’t hit the All-Star break quite yet. That will be a little later this month. But they have hit the midway mark of the regular season. The Bruins sit in a good place, more than a handful of points ahead of everybody else in the Atlantic Division and they are guaranteed a playoff spot already this year.
But it’s not all roses and sunshine for the Black and Gold. They are very reliant on their top players for offense, and they're way too reliant on the power play to generate goals. When pushed, their lineup depth isn’t very remarkable — and they get pushed around by the bigger, stronger teams in the leaguer at a noticeable level these days.
They also have the NHL’s leading goal-scorer in David Pastrnak, an All-Star goalie in Tuukka Rask and a couple of other forwards in Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron who could have easily been All-Star players as well. It should make for an interesting report card, so here it goes:
David Pastrnak: A+
He’s on a pace for 59 goals and 116 points and leads the NHL in goals scored (31) and power play goals (15).
The 23-year-old only needs to stay healthy to have the most productive season for a Bruins forward in a long, long time. Sure, he slowed down a little bit in December, but nobody expected him to score 12 goals a month for the entire season, right?
A 60-goal season is still very much a possibility for Pasta and lately he’s been the only source of consistent offense for the B’s.
Brad Marchand: A-
Marchand is still on pace for 38 goals and over 100 points again this season, but he’s trailed way off lately with just two goals in his last 18 games while being a minus player as well.
The Bruins could use another hot streak from the 31-year-old right about now, but the slowdown of late also underscores just how red-hot each member of the Perfection Line was to begin the season. Marchand has done everything the Bruins want him to — from production to leadership to attitude and swagger on the ice.
Patrice Bergeron: A
Bergeron is on pace for 37 goals and 77 points despite missing time with a lower body injury and was red-hot after coming back from the issue just as the Bruins went through their prolonged slump.
He has slowed down offensively over the last handful of games along with the rest of the top line and they could always use a little more even-strength production out of each member of that line. But Bergeron has been every bit as good as he’s ever been and any problems on the Bruins team are not because of their top forwards.
Torey Krug: A-
Krug has missed a few games here and there with injury, but he started the year healthy for the first time in years and is pacing for 11 goals and 59 points this season with an even plus/minus rating and over 20 minutes of ice time per game.
If healthy, Krug will put up the same kind of elite offensive numbers as he’s done over the last three seasons and he’s done it while playing in a contract year where there is zero certainty about what’s going to happen with him next season. It’s becoming clear the Black and Gold don’t have anybody else organizationally that could step in if Krug were to go elsewhere.
David Krejci: B
Krejci hasn’t been as good as he was last season and he’s been banged up a little bit more this season, but he’s still been the most consistent offensive forward force beyond the big three while projecting for 17 goals and 58 points this season.
He hasn’t clicked as well chemistry-wise with Jake DeBrusk as he has in the past, and the right side on his line continues to very much be in flux, but Krejci showed last season he can perform even while all that is going on. He could be a little better than he’s been, and he could stand to shoot the puck a little bit more with just 45 shots on net in 36 games this season.
Jake DeBrusk: C
It hasn’t been all bad. He’s on pace for 22 goals and 41 points, so he’s already better than most of the other young veteran wingers based on that alone. But there are too many nights where he plays casually without competing hard on shifts, using his speed to put pressure on opponents or even finishing off checks when he has the chance while challenging for the puck.
He’s been benched a couple of times already and the next step would be getting taken off David Krejci’s line. It may happen if DeBrusk doesn’t find a way to step up and be a better all-around player.
Zdeno Chara: B+
Chara is 42 years old, so you can’t really judge him by what he might have been capable of 10 years ago. But he still tops 21 minutes of ice time per game, is second on the Bruins in plus/minus and is trending toward double-digit goals for just the second time in his last six seasons.
He’s a legit weapon on the penalty kill and still sets the tone in terms of work ethic, leadership and professionalism in all phases of what it means to be a Boston Bruin. There’s no way to overlook any of that, even if he doesn’t always have the skating legs to keep up with the league’s fastest and most elusive players.
The one area this humble hockey writer would like to see more of is Chara really stepping up and stepping in when teams are taking runs at other Bruins players. He’s the biggest, baddest Bruin on the block these days.
Charlie Coyle: B-
Coyle has been okay. He’s on pace for 13 goals and 38 points this season, which is on par for his numbers with the Minnesota Wild, so it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise or disappointment.
He’s also a minus-1 right now and that really isn’t all that spectacular — even though in fairness to him, he’s been bounced around between third line center and second line right wing. The Bruins probably need to make a final decision on where he’s going to be, but they could also use more out of Coyle particularly when he’s centering a third line where they should enjoy match-up advantages most nights.
He showed in the playoffs that he can step up for the Bruins.
Charlie McAvoy: C-
It’s a tough grade for McAvoy. He’s averaging 23:08 of ice time per game to lead the Bruins, he’s blocking shots and he’s a plus-9 while matched up against the other team’s best players. So he’s doing the most important parts of the defenseman position and he’s doing it pretty well.
But he doesn’t have a goal through the first three-plus months of the season and really isn’t kick-starting the offense in a way you would expect from a player with his kind of skills. He has just one power play point and still isn’t shooting the puck as much as one would like from a player with his kind of point shot. The sense is there’s another level that McAvoy can attain that he’s not getting to right now.
Danton Heinen: D
Sorry. Some may point to his two-way game and his ability to do the little things that most people don’t notice. I am more of the opinion that if you don’t notice a guy like Heinen, it’s because he’s not doing enough to be noticed.
He’s on pace for 12 goals and 29 points, which would be a really good season for a fourth liner. But for a top-9 guy like Heinen who's getting power play time, he should be producing more than he is for a Bruins group that needs more secondary scoring. He’s also just a plus-2 for the season and, like DeBrusk, has been benched a few times lately while not playing hard enough.
At some point in time, the Bruins are going to run out of patience waiting for Heinen to break through with his game.
Brandon Carlo: A+
Carlo continues to get better and better as a shutdown defenseman snuffing out opponent’s chances in the offensive zone, and playing to his 6-foot-5 size and 210-pound strength around the net. Then he’s added on top of it more of an offensive component while on pace for career-highs with eight goals and 25 points, and an ability to move the puck with greater efficiency along with providing the brawn in the defensive zone.
With his ability to continue growing his game at 23 years old, it’s exciting to think what he’ll be when he’s a finished product. He’s important to the future of the B’s as the heir to Zdeno Chara as a big, strong shutdown D-man.
Anders Bjork: B
The 23-year-old Bjork has finally carved out a spot on the NHL roster and now it’s a matter of growing his offensive game and seeing how good he can be up front. As a third line winger with little power play time, Bjork is on pace for 13 goals and 23 points but has distinguished himself with his raw skating speed and his willingness to use that speed aggressively during his shifts in-game.
Just the fact that Bjork is healthy and productive for the Bruins is a big deal this season after shoulder surgeries in each of the last two years. It feels like Bjork is touching the edge of how good he can be.
Matt Grzelcyk: B+
The bottom-pairing defenseman is on pace for four goals and 21 points and has once again been a strong puck-moving D-man on the bottom pair for the Bruins. He was excellent stepping up when Torey Krug was injured earlier this season and has been a little more noticeable when he’s received power play time this year.
But he doesn’t seem like he’s ever really going to be an elite offensive D-man at 26 years old now and is instead currently in his perfect spot at the NHL level. Both the four goals and 21 points would be career-highs for Grzelcyk if he gets there at the end of this season.
Connor Clifton: C
Clifton has been one of the leading body checkers on the Bruins roster and he’s popped in a couple of goals in the first half of the season. But two points in 30 games feels like Clifton has underachieved offensively a bit given the potential he’s shown stepping up and making plays in the recent past, and the young D-man needs to step up more often in defense of his teammates given his role on the team.
He’s shown flashes of the “Cliffy Hockey” game that he’s shown the potential to play in the past, but he needs to do that much more consistently if he wants to remain in his role at the NHL level.
Sean Kuraly: C
Kuraly has been better lately, but he also isn’t playing with the same energy, grit or tenacity that he consistently showed last season while centering a fourth line that was offensively viable and defensively responsible. He’s had some truly bad games mixed in there as well and is a minus-1 halfway through the season.
Questions have been asked about why the fourth line hasn’t been as impactful this season and some of it is about the absence of Noel Acciari. But another big factor is that Kuraly isn’t as good this season as he was last year.
Joakim Nordstrom: B
He’s on pace for nine goals this season and double-digit points, he blocks shots and kills penalties and he plays with as much energy and toughness as he can muster. Nordstrom never will be the problem for the Bruins as he gives everything that he’s got and he plays without fear or concern for his body.
If more Bruins players played as hard as Nordstrom consistently does, then the B’s would be in a better place. That being said, he’s also modest when it comes to his overall talent and finishing ability offensively, and that’s part of his factored grade as well.
Chris Wagner: C-
Wagner had 12 goals and 19 points and was a positive plus/minus player last season and made a massive impact as a hard-hitting fourth line hustle player. This season, he’s on pace for half the offensive numbers and has one of the worst plus/minus marks on the team.
Certainly, he still brings the physicality and toughness, but he’s not having anywhere close to as good as the season he enjoyed last year. Perhaps all of Boston’s fourth liners are missing the presence of Acciari this season, because they’re all having down years to this point.
Par Lindholm: C+
Lindholm is versatile, he kills penalties and he doesn’t do a ton to hurt the Bruins when he’s out on the ice. In that way he makes a decent reserve forward and he’s kicked in a couple of goals in 26 games played while still remaining a positive plus/minus player, but Lindholm really doesn’t bring much to the table that makes a big difference as a positive factor either.
The Bruins could do better than Lindholm as there are plenty of responsible, versatile two-way forwards who can actually be a two-way threat to score every once in a while as well.
Brett Ritchie: F
Initially it felt like Ritchie would be a guy who could help the Bruins. But he hasn’t played to his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame often enough this season and it feels like instinctually he’s not a good fit for the rest of the Bruins roster.
He’s on pace for five goals, 13 points and a minus-13 this season and much of that production came much earlier in the year before infection issues kept him out of the lineup for a while. Now his role should be throwing his body around, getting to the front of the net and defending his teammates when the moment calls for it, and could be a help to the Black and Gold when he’s actually in there.
But he’s been a failure to this point as a free agent signing, and he will be until he does the aforementioned things on the job description.
David Backes: D
There’s a bit of an extenuating circumstance with Backes because there are concussion issues at play that clearly have affected the way he plays. But part of the reason the Bruins are in a predicament of constantly needing a top-6 winger is because the 35-year-old Backes is no longer capable of being that guy anymore.
He’s on pace for four goals, 11 points and a minus-7 rating and hasn’t brought the energy or the physical thump during the times he’s been in the lineup recently. Backes needs to be better if he wants to play more consistently. Simple as that.
Steve Kampfer: A
Kampfer only has a couple of points in eight games where he’s averaged just 13 minutes of ice time, but he’s the ultimate seventh D-man capable of stepping in and providing physical, engaged play while moving the puck when he does get into the lineup.
There isn’t a lot of glory in Kampfer’s role to be sure, but he provides the Bruins with the ultimate insurance where he can sit for long periods and then be effective when called upon once injuries hit Boston’s back end. That’s not easy to do.
Tuukka Rask: A-
Rask has a 15-4-6 record and his .923 save percentage would be the highest his save percentage has been in years if he can hold it up through the second half of the season.
Sure, Rask has had a couple of tough nights including one atrocious performance in Montreal a couple of months back, but he’s consistently been very good for the Black and Gold.
Rask and Jaroslav Halak have to be consistently excellent every night for the Bruins to win, and way more often than not Rask has been that through the first half this season.
Jaroslav Halak: A
Halak has had a couple clunkers against Edmonton and Nashville lately, but the B’s backup netminder has been mostly excellent while boasting a better goals against average (2.25 GAA) and save percentage (.928) than Rask to this point in the season.
Halak and Rask are a big part of Boston’s success over the last couple of years and it’s no stretch to call them the best goaltending duo in the NHL. It’s interesting that Boston’s backup (three) has more shutouts this season than their starter (two) between the pipes.
Bruce Cassidy: B
The Bruins head coach as always is doing more with less while leading the B’s through injuries and some less-than-great seasons from young veteran players like Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen.
But there are trouble signs with the Bruins' losses to last-place teams like the Devils, Red Wings, Kings and Blackhawks, and there is clearly an issue with the shootout/overtime that needs to be fixed by the Bruins coaching staff.
There is clearly room for improvement there, and perhaps practicing it a little bit more would be a good start.
Don Sweeney: D
The Bruins brought in Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm in the offseason and both have been “meh” players. The Bruins signed Charlie Coyle and Chris Wagner to midseason extensions and both players have been having “meh” seasons as well.
They tried to start the season with Karson Kuhlman as a top-6 winger and that’s a clear reflection that they have a massive hole on their roster where they need another top-6 player capable of scoring goals.
The signing of David Backes to a bad contract and the failed first round of the 2015 NHL Draft continue to be a problem for this team — and that’s a problem of the GM’s making.