By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
Within the past decade or so, the Boston Bruins have been known throughout the National Hockey League as an organization with great depth at the center position, headlined mainly by Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
However, the depth of the Bruins down the middle goes way further than just Bergeron and Krejci. Especially heading into the 2018-19 regular season, the depth is even greater with the likes of Ryan Donato, Sean Kuraly, and Chris Wagner who are most likely getting NHL time once the season officially begins on Oct. 3.
Even outside of the NHL, the Boston Bruins have an insane amount of players who are listed under the center position. All prospects in the system will be found from eliteprospects.com. Additionally, some players are listed as a center but play the majority of the time on the wing. For those players, Frozen Pool will determine their line usage and if they should be considered a true center on the Boston Bruins roster.
Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly
According to the line combinations courtesy of Frozen Pool, as previously mentioned, those are the top centers on the Bruins as of last season. Of course, Riley Nash was once a part of that group, but he signed a three-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets this past offseason.
We all know how amazing Patrice Bergeron is and how important he really is to the Bruins organization entirely. He captures what it means to be a hockey player with great sportsmanship and class on and off the ice. His 963 career NHL games are 37 shy of 1,000, which would make him the fifth man in Bruins history to hit the games played milestone. Not to mention his four Frank J. Selke Trophies — tying him with Bob Gainey for most in NHL history — Patrice Bergeron is one of the best two-way forwards in the league, and it is well deserved.
Bergeron has always had great chemistry with wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, and last season was another example of that. The line was used the most in Boston, 13.54% of the time. The trio scored 228 points during the season and another 53 in the playoffs.
David Krejci is one of the best second-line centers in the NHL and on a team worse than the Bruins, he could very well be a top-line center. A consistent 50-point scorer and a brilliant playmaker, Krejci’s only downfall at this point of his 769-game career is his injuries. Krejci has only played in two 82-game seasons since he started his career in 2006-2007, most recently in the 2016-17 campaign.
Last season, Krejci found his groove with Jake DeBrusk on his left side and Ryan Spooner on his right side, playing with those two for 5.85% of the entire season — the fourth-most commonly used line on the B’s. However, Spooner was traded to the New York Rangers near last season’s trade deadline in exchange for Rick Nash, who became the right winger for Krejci. But Nash has not signed an extension with Boston, leaving his future very much in doubt.
A solid No. 2 center with great passing, David Krejci could very well finish his career in Boston.
Danton Heinen had one of the best rookie performances on the Bruins last year, scoring 47 points in 77 games for Boston, the fifth-highest point total of all players. He managed to rebound from a poor first eight NHL games back in the 2016-2017 season to be one of the top point-producing players on the team.
Heinen often centered the third line with David Backes and Riley Nash alongside him. That line was used the third-most on the team, behind only the first and fourth lines. Even though he is listed on most websites as a center/left wing, he proved last year that he deserves the third-line center position. On occasion, Danton did play some minutes on the left side of the fourth line, but again, he showed enough versatility to produce on the third line.
With one year remaining on his entry-level contract, Heinen could be looking to have an even better campaign to secure a larger contract at the end of this upcoming season.
Sean Kuraly is in my opinion the last of the potential guaranteed centers on the 2018-19 Bruins roster. Coming off a 14-point season, playing the majority of his time on the fourth line, Kuraly did what he needed to earn a three-year deal that he signed back in March of 2018.
His name really first became known by Bruins fans when he scored two goals — including the game-winning goal in double-overtime — against the Ottawa Senators in Game 5 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. It was never certain that the Dublin, Ohio native would get NHL time in the 2017-2018 season, which he expressed that in an interview with the Columbus Dispatch.
“It starts all over again,” he said. “Did I help myself by scoring two goals in the playoffs and playing my role? Absolutely. But it really does start over. We have so many good, young players going to camp.”
Clearly, he would get the spot, playing in 75 games last year and accumulating 6-8-14 totals as well as 143 hits — third on the Bruins roster from last season.
POSSIBLE NHL CENTERS
Ryan Donato, Trent Frederic
Ryan Donato will play next year for the Boston Bruins, and the chances of him not playing are quite slim. But Donato falls into this category because he may not play at the center position for the 2018-19 season. Instead, he will most likely play on the wing alongside one of the guaranteed centers of the Bruins (see above).
In his rookie campaign last season, Donato won over the hearts of Boston fans by scoring nine points in only 12 games. The Boston native scored five goals, including his first career NHL goal in his first game, finishing a give-and-go play with Torey Krug.
With the impressive end of the season by Donato, he has made it clear that he deserves a shot in the National Hockey League after time in the NCAA with Boston University. Whether Ryan gets third-line center time with Boston or plays on the wing of another center, he will get ice time for the majority of the season for Boston.
In my previous article, I talked about the future of Bruins prospect Trent Frederic. I mentioned in the piece that Frederic will most likely get first- or second-line ice minutes with the Providence Bruins in the AHL, but he is in this category because I see him joining the roster in replace of either Krejci or Bergeron should injuries take place.
Coming off of an eight-point, 13-game season with Providence last season, Frederic is ready for an important role with the Baby Bruins this season, but if needed, I believe that he could add another element to the NHL roster if an injury does occur. Both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci played only 64 games last year, meaning the chance for another injury that sidelines either is fairly likely. If so, the former Wisconsin Badger should get that opportunity.
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Colby Cave, Cameron Hughes
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson is one of the most highly praised prospects in Boston, and there may be a good reason for that. Drafted in the second round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, JFK now has one full AHL season under his belt, playing 58 games in the 2017-2018 campaign. During the time with Providence, Forsbacka-Karlsson scored 15 goals and added 17 assists for 32 points.
Heading into the upcoming season, Forsbacka-Karlsson will be in a battle with Trent Frederic for the top-line center role, and it could end up leading to frequent lineup changes as the season progresses. Curtis Joe of EliteProspects.com said the following about JFK before the 2015 NHL Draft.
“A player who has worked hard at his all-around game, but needs to gain more consistency. That being said, he can be an offensively effective center; possesses a high level of hockey intelligence and plays with intensity. A smooth, yet not dynamic skater. An excellent passer; can turn a “nothing doing” play into a scoring chance.”
Colby Cave can be considered a veteran of the Providence Bruins as he looks to lead the team into his fourth straight year. Cave joined the Bruins organization back in 2014-15 after a 5-year career with the Swift Current Broncos in the Western Hockey League where he posted 95-107-202 numbers in 287 career games.
Since he joined the P-Bruins, Cave has tallied 37 goals and 60 assists for 97 career points in the 224 games thus far. Fellow Black N’ Gold Hockey writer Jen Stasio mentioned the possibility of Cave becoming the next captain of the Providence Bruins in an article published back in July. The idea shows his leadership is valued and will be a great depth player in the Bruins organization.
Cameron Hughes may not be the most well-known Bruins prospect, and he may not have the highest potential, but he does provide some solid depth for the Providence Bruins, and it is a good possibility that he becomes the fourth-line man in the middle for the AHL Bruins.
The Edmonton, Alberta, Canada native began his career with the Spruce Grove Saints in the Alberta Junior Hockey League but found himself playing with the University of Wisconsin, where he earned the captain’s ‘C’. Hughes has played previously with fellow Bruins prospect Trent Frederic. After the 37 games in the 2017-2018 season, he transitioned to Providence where he tallied three assists in 14 games with the club.
The Rest Of The Prospects
Jack Studnicka, Oskar Steen, Cedric Pare, Curtis Hall, Jakub Lauko
Jack Studnicka is one of the top prospects for the Boston Bruins. In fact, Corey Pronman from The Athletic ranked Studnicka as the third-best Bruin prospect, behind only Ryan Donato and Urho Vaakanainen. Here is an excerpt from the article talking about Studnicka.
“He is a very smart center who drove play anytime he was on the ice. Studnicka has the vision and tough to QB a power play well, while also having the work ethic to be one of his team’s better defensive forwards. The biggest thing for Studnicka is improving his strength and skating, but when I watched him in the summer, he looked noticeably quicker than during the summer.”
This past summer, Studnicka played for Canada in the World Junior Summer Showcase and he impressed the coaching staff and his teammates after his 5-point performance in the exhibition tournament.
“He’s a hard worker. He grabs the puck and takes it to the net, makes plays in the O-zone,” said teammate Calen Addison. “That’s what they really like about guys is when they’re relentless, and they know they don’t quit working, and that’s the type of player he is.”
Oskar Steen was drafted back in the sixth round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Steen is a smaller forward, but that doesn’t mean he won’t become anything later on in his professional hockey career. The 5-foot-9 Swedish center has been playing with Färjestad BK in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and looks to remain there for the upcoming 2018-2019 campaign. Steen recently scored four points in seven games at the 2018 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, New York.
Cédric Paré of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is another player drafted in the second-to-last round of the NHL Draft, but Pare may have the best chance on getting that entry-level contract out of all the sixth-round selections. After two full seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs, Pare was traded to the Rimouski Oceanic.
Bruins Assistant General Manager Scott Bradley said the following about the Quebec, Canada native back in June of 2017.