By: JD Young | Follow Me On Twitter @JD9899
Heading into the 2021 season, the Bruins have many holes to fill following the departure of some key contributors. This opens the door for a few players on the roster to earn some important minutes. Let’s break down who I think are the four most likely to benefit from this opportunity.
This one comes as a no-brainer following the departure of Torey Krug. The 26-year-old Charlestown native is finally getting a shot to anchor the Bruins defense. Grzelcyk has been holding it down on the Bruins third line for the past two years, and this is finally his opportunity to emerge. Grzelcyk is in line to consume most of Krug’s minutes, which would pair him up with Charlie McAvoy on the first line. This adds a whole new element of responsibility for Grzelcyk. I can see him stepping up and overtaking Krug’s pivotal role in the power play. Whether they choose to go with McAvoy or Grzelcyk for that deadly first PP line, both of them will be quarterbacking the power play moving forward.
The trends are only pointing up for Matt Grzelcyk. The BU Alum has only been improving since he joined the Bruins full-time a few years back. Basic stats show he is growing exponentially, with upticks in Assists from 15 to 17 and +/- going from +9 to +15 in the last two seasons (stats courtesy of Hockey Reference). If you’re into advanced metrics, those aren’t too bad either. Grzelcyk’s Corsi and Fenwick % have been above 50% (stats courtesy of Hockey Reference) in all three of his full-time seasons with the Bruins (Anything above 50% for a player shows they have value on an NHL roster). All signs point to a new budding star for the Black and Gold.
This may be Bjork’s final chance to prove he belongs in the Bruins rotation for the foreseeable future. Following two straight seasons that ended in shoulder injuries, the consensus from some was that Bjork did not have the frame or durability to be a reliable NHL winger. That narrative began to change last season, though. Bjork was able to log a full season, get his body physically stronger, and become a reliable bottom-six forward for the Bruins.
With Pasternak and Marchand recovering from surgery to begin the season, the door is wide open for Bjork to enter top-six status in the rotation. He has a great rapport with Bergeron and Krejci and is a speedy offensive weapon. Bjork is also developing into a deadly five-on-five threat, which the Bruins desperately need. The first two months of next season may be the most important stretch of Bjork’s career. If he can prove himself as a worthy contributor in the absence of the Bs top-two wingers, he may earn himself an important spot on the team going forward.
I won’t go too in-depth on why Trent Frederic belongs in the Bruins rotation since Tim Richardson already wrote a great article about that topic.
I will say that the same window of opportunity Bjork has applied to Frederic. The lack of winger depth in the Bruins rotation means that the 22-year-old Wisconsin product has a legitimate chance to play important minutes for the Bruins. He’s a scrappy forward who isn’t afraid to get physical with other players, which is a perfect fit for the fourth line. I believe Trent Frederic could use his grittiness to make a positive impact not only on the ice but in the locker room also. One of the team’s biggest highlights of last season was when Frederic destroyed Brandon Tanev in the first game of his NHL career.
While I think Frederic will mostly split time between the NHL and AHL this season, a player like Frederic would be a great addition towards improving team culture in the Bruins clubhouse. He has been a star in the AHL for the last two seasons, and I think it’s finally time we give Trent Frederic a chance in the big leagues.
Zboril is easily the biggest wildcard chosen out of the four. His opportunity to get playing time more-or-less hinges on Zdeno Chara’s future with the team. While Urho Vaakanainen has a much higher ceiling and is a more enticing option for the future, he still needs more time to develop into an NHL-ready Defenseman. While Zboril had not fulfilled the expectations the Bruins had for him when they took him 13th in 2015, this could be a golden opportunity to flip the script.
Zboril has been a serviceable defenseman on the Providence Bruins for three full seasons now, and this past season it looked like he took the next step. Zboril ended the season with a +/- of +20, notching him in the top 15 among AHL players (stat courtesy of TheAHL.com). In a globe article, Providence Bruins coach Jay Leach was quoted saying: “The last 12 games or 15 games, [he] became probably our best defenseman overall.” regarding the young defenseman. That is an intriguing sign that Zboril is ready to take the next step in his career. Now is the perfect time to capitalize on that opportunity.