By Carrie Salls | Find me on Twitter @nittgrl73
The 2018-2019 season began with the question of who should be the Bruins’ third-line center. The first five months of the season was used to experiment with a number of options. Even when Boston traded fan-favorite Ryan Donato to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for East Weymouth-native Charlie Coyle not long before the trade deadline in February, many had their doubts about whether a permanent solution had been found.
Although Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has taken a look at Coyle in preseason as a potential fit for the second-line right wing position, Coyle has shown in game action that he is still a force at center and can continue to be a key piece of a dominant bottom six.
Assuming Coyle does start the season the way he ended the last campaign, at 3C, that means the Bruins will likely have one of the best lineups down the middle in the National Hockey League. Along with Coyle, veterans Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and fourth-line stalwart Sean Kuraly have proven their worth to the team time and time again.
Cassidy touched on the importance of depth at center in a recent press conference. The coach sounded like he would love to see Coyle fill the third-line pivot role, with Karson Kuhlman or another player slotting in on Krejci’s right wing on the second line instead of Coyle.
With veterans Bergeron and Krejci leading the way, Coyle winning over the fans and coaching staff and Kuraly showing that he is the quintessential fourth-line center that can bring a spark of energy and eat up hard minutes while providing offense in clutch moments, the Bruins seem to be entering the 2019-2020 season with a solid core at center.
However, Bergeron and Krejci are aging, and Bergeron is entering yet another season bothered with nagging injury issues. Krejci was also injured early in the first period of Monday night’s preseason tilt against the Flyers, although initial reports following the game indicated that Krejci’s lower body injury was not considered serious.
In addition to this already stellar lineup, the Bruins added more depth during the offseason with the signings of free agents Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm, and David Backes can also comfortably take shifts at center if needed.
Looking past the next few seasons, Boston appears well-positioned to continue to be strong up the middle when Bergeron and Krejci retire. The team’s prospect stable boasts a few players in various stages of development, including Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka and 2019 first-round draft pick John Beecher, who look to have the size, speed and skill that is needed to succeed at the position in today’s NHL.
Although a number of current Boston and Providence Bruins face free agency after the 2019-2020 season, Bergeron, Krejci and Kuraly, Frederic and Studnicka are not among them. Even if the team is unable to keep Coyle in the Spoked-B beyond this season, having three of those four key components of the offense still under contract is good news for the team.