(Photo Credit: NHL.com)
One of the burning questions within the Boston Bruins’ forward core is what to do at the third line center position. Riley Nash, who held the third-line center role consistently last season, has since moved on to Columbus as an unrestricted free-agent –– now it is time to replace him. The competition for the position is steep.
Well known as the fourth-line buzzsaw at the center position, Sean Kuraly earned himself a three-year contract extension with an average annual value of $1.275 million. Will he able to handle the promotion, or is he better suited in an energy role on the fourth-line.
His left-wing, Tim Schaller, has moved onto Vancouver in free agency, and Noel Acciari is still in the mix for fourth-line minutes next season. Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom were brought in via free agency to reinforce bottom-six depth. I wonder if a bit of a different vibe in the bottom-six provides confidence in the idea of giving Kuraly a promotion and reshaping the fourth line next season and possibly beyond.
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Colby Cave is the dark horse on this list. It is reasonable to expect that Cave will re-sign with the Bruins at some point over the summer as he is currently a restricted free-agent. Although he has only seen three games of regular season action in his tenure as a Bruin. Last season as a Providence Bruin, Cave potted 11 goals and added 22 assists, good for 33 points in 72 games.
What makes his case for the vacancy at third-line center is his two-way game and his smarts on the ice. He plays the game methodically, focusing on making smart decisions rather than being a big-time scorer –– a decent offensive skillset is definitely present, but other intangibles shine in his game the most.
Cave is only 23-years-old and no matter if he plays in Providence, or Boston, his presence will be felt. Replacing Riley Nash on the third line would be especially weird for Cave, because he looks like his twin. Look it up.
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One of the new additions that could be in the mix is Chris Wagner. Although I don’t see this happening, the possibility is certainly there. To me, Chris Wagner is exactly what you want in a fourth-liner –– a player who has wheels, forechecks hard, and hits like a freight train. Lose Tim Schaller, add Chris Wagner to a fill a fourth-line void. But, if they value a freight train in the middle of say Danton Heinen and David Backes, he is the guy to fill the void.
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Nordstrom has an interesting case in the bottom-six as one of the newer Bruins. A left-handed forward who can play left-wing and center provides versatility, along with his penalty killing ability and decent skating –– he won’t put up a lot of points, but will find other ways to contribute.
When it all comes down to it, I see Nordstrom playing a fourth-line role or a 13th forward role. He will wear number 20 with the Bruins, just like Riley Nash and the third-line center job could be his, but he certainly has a lot of competition for that ice-time.
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One of a few prospects vying for the third-line center position is former Wisconsin Badger and 2016 Bruins late first-round pick Trent Frederic. For a 20-year-old, he plays a very composed game reminiscent of someone who has been around a while. His three-zone ability, hockey IQ, and finishing ability allow him to thrive wherever he plays.
After wearing an “A” on his sweater as a sophomore at Wisconsin and putting up 32 points in 36 games, he played 13 regular season games with the Providence Bruins on an ATO. Eight points were amassed over those 13 games, plus one point in three playoff games.
I remember watching Wisconsin take on Ohio State in a regular season game last season. Midway through the game, the play-by-play broadcaster with Fox Sports Wisconsin, who is clearly familiar with Frederic’s game due to the fact that his place of work is based in Wisconsin, said that he believed Trent Frederic was already NHL ready at the time, if not in the 2018-2019 season. From what I’ve seen, I agree. This doesn’t mean some AHL time would be a step down for him, look what it did for Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen –– just to name a couple. He is definitely going to make the Bruins’ coaching staff think for quite a while on who gets the third-line center job.
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From Boston University to Providence, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson has carried quite the hype with his name. With 58 games of AHL experience under his belt in which he put up 32 points, JFK has his eyes set on an NHL gig sooner rather than later. His case to be an NHLer is backed by his three-zone game, smooth skating, and playmaking capabilities.
Talent in all three zones and point producing capability is what Riley Nash brought to the third line, JFK could be the next in line to hold that role and pick up where Riley Nash left off. If he doesn’t crack the lineup, he is still young at 21-years-old, so some more AHL time won’t hurt him.
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It’s either Oshawa or Boston for the 19-year-old Jack Studnicka, per the NHL/CHL player agreement. The NHL/CHL Player Agreement would prohibit him from going to the AHL because he is under the age of 20. The reason he saw 5 games of AHL action following the conclusion of his third season in Oshawa was because he was on an ATO, not an official contract.
Take the first four letters of his last name and that gives you a first impression of him –– he’s a stud. Jack is a truly dynamic, intelligent centerman with high upside as a scorer in the NHL who will create havoc for opposing defenders. He was 27th in the OHL scoring this past season with 22 goals, 50 assists, and 72 points in 66 games.
If Studnicka does in fact go back to Oshawa to play for the Generals, he will be a key contributor. Allowing him to gain confidence in his game and grow as a player wouldn’t be the worst thing, as there are plenty of other options for the third-line center vacancy if he doesn’t earn it out of camp.
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The Bruins’ coaching staff will have a lot to contemplate down the road when it comes time to formulate the opening night roster –– with the third-line center position being at the forefront.