By: Lucas Pearson | Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_
4th lines across the NHL have changed quite a bit over the recent history of the NHL. The 4th line used to always be full of grinders and guys willing to drop the gloves. They didn’t play as much, but would always be a highly physical group of players that would change the tone of the game immediately.
While some of that stays true today, a look around the league’s 4th lines would show that the 4th lines of old don’t rear their heads much in the NHL now. One big exception to that is the 4th line of the Bruins, the “WAK” line consisting of Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari, and Chris Wagner. While the trio hasn’t been together all season long, their recent stretch of play has raised a lot of eyebrows and getting them the greatest compliment they could ever receive, do we have a new Merlot Line?
The Bruins Merlot Line boasted three absolute fan-favorites that put together an instrumental part of the Bruins Stanley Cup runs a few years ago. Left-winger Daniel Paille was a skilled, speedy winger that was a tremendous fore-checker. Shawn Thorton was an incredible leader both on, and off the ice. He was never afraid to stick up for a teammate but also had a lot more talent than people gave him credit for. Gregory Campbell centered the two and might be the toughest player I’ve ever seen play. He didn’t drop the gloves quite as much as Thornton (as if anyone did) he was just incredibly hard-working and again, had more skill than many thought. Also, who can forget when he finished a shift after breaking his leg.
This trio combined for 29 goals in the 2010-2011 season (with Paille missing half the season) and continued to play a very important role throughout the Bruins Stanley Cup winning season.
I’ve seen a lot of striking similarities between both 4th lines. The current “4th line” now has honestly been by far from just a 4th line. While the tendency to fight has gone down considerably in the league, all three guys are willing to chuck em’ to give the team some energy but again, they aren’t just a typical energy line. Coach Bruce Cassidy often has them playing against team’s top lines and they continue to do nothing but impress.
One reason why the line has been really successful is one that you might not think to be all that important. All three members have played a lot of center in their careers, which is huge considering they start over 67% of the time in the Bruins’ zone. If one gets kicked out during a big defensive zone faceoff? Another member (well both actually) can come in and take it, rather than forcing a winger to do something unnatural to them.
All three are usually relied upon to kill a lot of penalties as the second unit and have done a good job at that as well. They’ve helped the Bruins have the 12th best penalty kill in the league at 80.7% and is only 1.7% behind the 5th place Vegas Golden Knights. That number is even better considering the poor start to the season where the Boston held a 77.8% in December. Much of that can be attributed to the increase in the quality of play these guys have had.
The line isn’t just good at keeping goals out of the B’s net, they have generated a lot of offense despite starting in the defensive zone over 67% of the time. The offensive leader of the bunch is Sean Kuraly, who’s having an impressive breakout season. His 17 points in 63 games put him on pace for 22 points, which is incredible from a 4th liner. Not far behind that is FA signing Chris Wagner, who is also having a break-out year, leading the line in goals with nine with another seven points on top of that. Noel Acciari certainly isn’t as offensively gifted as the other two, but still has a modest eight points in 55 games.
The Merlot Line proved that having a great 4th line is pivotal to a long playoff run. We even saw this as recent as last season where 4th liner for the Capitals, Devante Smith-Pelly, scored seven huge goals in the playoffs, three coming in the finals to lead Washington to it’s first ever Stanley Cup. Now we wait and see if the “WAK” line has what it takes to go down in Boston history with a Stanley Cup victory.