Here's the second of our five-part “Breaking Down the Bruins” series where we look at where the B’s sit at the end of this season and where they’re headed as they aim toward again vying for a Stanley Cup. Today, we focus on what’s currently working on the Black and Gold’s NHL roster.
- PART 1 - A look at the roster improvement plan
- PART 3 - A look at the salary cap picture
- PART 4 - Next wave of youthful talent on its way
BOSTON – Certainly there are improvements to be made after this season’s run to the second round of the playoffs. Often, that next step to becoming a legit Stanley Cup threat can be the most arduous one of them all. Still, there’s also an extremely good base to the roster in Boston that’s built on speed, skill, two-way play and a group that didn’t show many areas of weakness in the regular season.
The Bruins turned into a top-heavy offense in the playoffs and their defense really struggled to move the puck against the Tampa Bay fore-check in the second round. Overall team depth is something the B’s must continue to build, but they have a solid foundation they're working from right now.
“We went into the summer with the plan of being younger and faster and building around our core or adding to our core with a younger group. I felt we did that this year,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We allowed these players the opportunity to be Boston Bruins, and I think some of them, certainly, met expectations, and some went beyond that with our younger group.
“I think it made us a better team, harder to play against. Some of the identity pieces that we wanted to be, we wanted to get back to being a dominant home team. I felt we did that during the year. Obviously, playing well on the road [was another goal]. Then, the bar was set that, most teams, if you can get to 100 points, you’re going to be in the playoffs. Clearly, that’s a goal we had a mind to get to, and we exceeded that. So those are the positives during the season.”
It all starts with the best line in hockey that put on a show in the postseason after dominating from beginning to end in the regular season. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak each scored 30 or more goals in the regular season with both Marchand and Pastrnak eclipsing the 80-point mark and they were a standard-setting trio at both ends of the ice pretty much all season.
That continued into the playoffs where that trio pumped in offense and points against the Maple Leafs and the Bruins won every game in which they scored, including Pastrnak’s three goals and six points in a Game 2 win at home. In all, they finished with 16 goals and 53 points in 12 playoff games and certainly held up their end of the bargain while the rest of the Bruins forwards struggled to provide the secondary scoring punch.
While a lack of secondary scoring was a big issue in the second round, it wasn’t as much the case in the first round vs. Toronto where Jake DeBrusk stepped up and scored five goals in that series. The rookie winger certainly showed something with the scoring touch and really showed something in the Game 7 win when he scored the game-winning goal while attacking the net with his intriguing combination of speed and power from the left wing.
DeBrusk was one of a number of Bruins rookies who performed well and that was probably the biggest positive from this season's edition of the Black and Gold. Danton Heinen showed that he’s a top-nine winger in the NHL and, with a little added strength and speed, could really be an effective player based on his smarts, hands, compete level and underrated shot.
Matt Grzelcyk had his good and bad moments in the playoffs, but he also showed that he belonged in the NHL as a puck-moving defenseman who relies on his skating and smarts. Grzelcyk didn’t show a ton of his offensive game while playing a third-pairing role, but there certainly appears to be some potential as he earns more responsibility.
Ryan Donato showed real scoring touch in his late-season audition with the Black and Gold and certainly has to be considered for a top-nine winger spot on next season's NHL roster.
The real wild card here is Anders Bjork, who showed speed and offensive skill before a huge hit by the Leafs' Matt Martin at mid-ice essentially stopped his momentum and eventually forced the 21-year-old into season-ending shoulder surgery.
Last but not least there was Charlie McAvoy, 20, who had his share of adversity in his first full NHL season but was again playing at a high level at the end of the playoffs while topping 26 minutes of ice time in the Game 5 vs. Tampa Bay when Boston was eliminated. McAvoy led all rookies in ice time, was arguably the best rookie defenseman in the league and continues to show all the makings of a workhorse No. 1 D-man for years to come.
It was the mixture of those young players along with established Cup winners Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Adam McQuaid, and young, established veterans David Pastrnak, Kevan Miller and Torey Krug that brought the right alchemy to the B’s roster this season. The mix of young and old melded into something special and that’s a quality the Bruins want to retain moving forward.
“From adding younger players or continuing to add younger players, the players themselves generally dictate whether or not they’re ready. We will have other players that will want to knock on the door. Whether or not they’re able to is no different than Jake [DeBrusk] this year,” said Don Sweeney. “We told him the opportunity to make our hockey club would be there, but it wasn’t given to him. Ryan Donato, won’t be given to him. Anders Bjork, coming back healthy, won’t be given to him. They’ll determine where they play in Bruce’s lineup, and if they don’t, where they’ll play in Jay’s lineup [Jay Leach is coach of the AHL Providence Bruins].
“That’s always been – it’s performance. That’s just the business, but we’re committed to them. They’ve all heard. The younger players in Providence and even a Jack Studnicka [the 2017 second-round pick], they’ve all heard that if they’re good enough, they get an opportunity to play and develop. Then, it’s a matter of whether we can blend things together as we felt we needed to add for a playoff push. You know you probably can’t win just with completing a lineup riddle with younger guys that have never been through a Game 7 or [other] situations. We’re cognizant of it and we’ll explore every avenue, whether that’s a trade or whatever it may be.”
None of this even mentions a Bruins goaltending duo of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin that finished top-five in the NHL in goals against this season and could be back as a tandem next season if the B’s opt to bring back free agent Khudobin. Or the leadership qualities of 41-year-old Chara, Bergeron, who turns 33 in July, and David Backes, 34, as veterans who have helped create an environment welcoming to rookies and older players alike and how that has allowed the Bruins to tap into the massive potential on their NHL roster.
It’s not all sunshine and roses for the Black and Gold, of course. Their 5-on-5 scoring dried up in the playoffs and they could stand to get both bigger and faster up front when it comes to battling bigger defensemen like the tall trees of Tampa Bay. They also badly need a left-side defenseman with Chara at 41 and Krug (broken ankle) knocked out of each of the past two postseasons with injuries.
Still, Sweeney and the Bruins have a solid foundation in place that makes them one of the best teams in the NHL and they should be there for the foreseeable future as they go about turning potential into results.