By: Lucas Pearson | Follow Me On Twitter @LucasPearson_
The Bruins have arguably the deepest defensive core in the entire league, and that can never be a bad thing. It’s going to be very intriguing to see how each defenseman comes back from all the time off and will be very telling on who gets the nod when playoffs begin. I just recently gave my opinion on the Bruins forward group, and here are my thoughts on the defense.
1st Pairing: Matt Grzelcyk – Charlie McAvoy
Starting out with a bit of a surprise, I really think the Bruins should keep the former Boston University pairing together. I talked a bit about it in my last article about how important speed is going to be in the upcoming playoffs, and here is exhibit A. Taking nothing away from the future first-ballot Hall of Famer that is Zdeno Chara, but he doesn’t have the legs he used to and I’m not sure how the time off will affect his game. Matt Grzelcyk should get a bulk of shifts with Charlie McAvoy.
He’s undersized, not very physical, and doesn’t put up crazy offensive numbers, but Matt Grzelyck may be the most underrated defensemen in the league. His importance to the Bruins is wildly understated, he just does everything right. The mobile defenseman always makes a good first pass and is excellent at the transition game.
The Charlestown native is an analytical darling. Among NHL defensemen with 40+ games, Gryz ranks third in even-strength goals per 60 minutes. He has a very solid 52.8 Corsi and 54.6 Fenwick. And did all of Grzelyck’s success halt in the playoffs? Nope. In last year’s playoff run, the 26-year-old totaled four goals and eight points. Despite being put in tough positions and starting in the Bruins’ end 53.4% of the time, Grzelyck still managed to post a 54.4 Corsi. It’s going to suck seeing him in Seattle…
Boston media was all over Charlie McAvoy at the beginning of the season. Pekka Rinne (yes the goalie) scored a goal before Chucky Mac did, but he was still playing good hockey. He’s constantly paired against his opponent’s top lines and has proven time and time again that he can take any task he’s assigned. McAvoy came to Boston as a teenager and averaged 26 MINUTES a game in the playoffs without a lick of NHL experience. He’s done a remarkable job against the likes of Steven Stamkos, Auston Matthews, and Nikita Kucherov in the playoffs and deserves to eat up as many minutes as Bruce Cassidy gives him.
2nd Pairing: Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Yin and Yang. The pairing just works. On the left, you have one of the most dynamic offensive defensemen in the league. On the right, you have a 6’5 defensive specialist who’s grown into an incredibly reliable player on the back end for the Bruins.
When I think of playoff Torey Krug I think of two things. The first being his 2013 run where he was plucked out of Providence and lit it up for the Bruins. Watching him against the Rangers was special. He displayed a crazy amount of poise and skill, scoring FOUR goals in five games. The subtle things are what stood out. Getting into open space, a little footwork before scoring are just a few examples. The second thing is this.
Brandon Carlo is a defenseman every team wishes they had. He reminds me of Niklas Hjalmarsson. He’s not a player that will light up the scoresheet (although his offensive output has been far more impressive as of late) but he’s so hard to beat one on one, he blocks everything that comes his way and is the type of guy you need to win a cup (see Hjalmarsson’s three Stanley Cups). The 2015 2nd rounder has become a great skater, and he’s finally using his size against opponents. And the craziest thing is he’s still just 23.
3rd Pairing: Zdeno Chara – Jeremy Lauzon
I need to retcon a bit on having Grzelcyk on the first pairing. Maybe it’s a 30%-70% split, maybe it’s a 50%-50% split, but there are still circumstances where Chara needs to be with McAvoy because they are so effective in so many situations. In last year’s postseason, he had six times the amount of giveaways as takeaways and had a tough 46 Corsi, but he led the entire playoffs with a plus-11 rating and you can’t argue with the captain of a team that was a game (or a penalty call) away from winning the cup. He’s the ultimate competitor, not many people can break their jaw and play the next game.
I had to deliberate a lot with the sixth man at the backend. Bruce Cassidy could go for experience and play John Moore (who I thought played very solid in the Cup), he could elect for someone to play on their strong side like Connor Clifton, or go with the “hot” hand (if you could call it that after all the time off) with Jeremy Lauzon, who I think should get the nod.
Lauzon doesn’t have any playoff experience, but like we’ve seen with some of the aforementioned players, that may not be an issue. The French-Canadian has a whole lot of grit to his game, he already has two fights under his belt, one against the tough bastard that is Matthew Tkachuk, which is something you love to see from a young player. His style of play should mesh perfectly with the pace of typical playoff hockey.
Having John Moore, Connor Clifton, and even Steven Kampfer are huge luxuries to have and will all be big assets if Lauzon (or any others) look out of place. And of course, Tuukka Rask will be the starter, don’t need anyone to say otherwise.