By: Jacob Abenante | Follow me on Twitter @Jacobabenante
It seems the weeks are starting to fly by in this offseason, and before we know it, the 2021 NHL season will be upon us. The thought of the season beginning to inch closer is both exciting and nerve-racking due to all the possibilities of how our Boston Bruins will look to start the season. When looking at the back end of this Bruins line up, many questions will arise about how it will look. Our number one defenseman on the right side will be Charlie McAvoy, but who will be next to him? Today we will take a more in-depth look at who I feel will be the best fit on the left side to fill this other open top-two role.
The case for Jeremy Lauzon to be on the left side of Charlie McAvoy when the season kicks off is one that can be seen as strong. Lauzon played just nineteen games in the 2019-2020 season scoring only two points but was a solid plus-five rating per hockeydb.com. Even in this short time playing with the club Lauzon proved to me that he is physically and mentally NHL ready. I expect Jeremy to be an impact defenseman this season and quite possibly help bring back some of the physicality to the Bruins back end that has been missing over the past few seasons. Physicality is not the only positive Lauzon would bring to our top defense pair. He is a very underrated skater who I think, when he gets comfortable, will contribute offensively. In junior hockey playing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL in 2015-2016, Lauzon was an over a point a game player, so he does have that ability in him.
So why does he fit well with Charlie McAvoy? Well, he works because he can skate, and he can play physical, two things McAvoy himself does at an elite level. This combination should open the ice up more for McAvoy to create from the back end. While Lauzon is less dynamic than a player like Matt Grzelcyk, what he lacks in creativity at this point, he makes up in physical maturity. Coming in at six-foot-one inch, 204 pounds, Lauzon will not be pushed around easily even at the NHL level. If coach Cassidy uses this pairing this season, I think we will see it prove effective on both ends of the ice, especially in the defensive zone.
The case for Jakub Zboril to be on the top pairing with Charlie McAvoy is a much different one than the other options. This is because we do not honestly know what we have in Zboril, but one thing I do know is if he can step in and make an impact this year, it may quiet the critics (myself included) of Don Sweeney’s 2015 draft. Jakub was drafted thirteenth overall in 2015 and had high expectations coming out of junior but has fallen short of these to date. I don’t feel this is entirely his fault due to the lack of opportunity he has received with the backlog of talent in the Bruins system on defense. The 2021 season will be a different story for Zboril; he just signed a one-way, two-year deal at a $725,000 AAV per Puckpedia.com. The new contract means Zboril will be given every opportunity from the Bruins brass to make the big club out of camp. If he can not do so, he will be subject to waivers if he’s sent back down to Providence.
I do not see the Bruins wanting to give away their top pick in the 2015 draft for nothing in the waivers system. Therefore, they must foresee Zboril as a part of the Boston Bruins this season. So why not next to Charlie McAvoy? There would be both positives and negatives to a McAvoy, Zboril pairing to start the season. Without a doubt, McAvoy would be held back offensively to start, for will have to shelter Zboril to prevent critical mistakes. On the other hand, I do feel Zboril would benefit greatly from playing alongside McAvoy. If Zboril can earn this pairing out of camp, he will play his game and get used to the NHL pace, knowing McAvoy will be covering for him.
My clear-cut choice to get the first crack at top-line minutes beside Charlie McAvoy is Matt Grzelcyk. Grzelcyk proved to me he has what it takes to be much more than I initially thought he did last season, with many flashes of both offensive and defensive upside. I can still vividly remember the rocket of a slapshot he scored against the Devils last year that shocked both fans and head coach Bruce Cassidy alike. It’s not just a strong shot and offensive upside that makes me feel Grzelcyk is the best choice to be McAvoy’s running mate. It’s also his strong d zone coverage and near-elite skating ability.
Grzelcyk is a silky-smooth skater who will easily be able to keep up with McAvoy’s pace of play and get back and cover quickly if one of McAvoy’s rushes are to break down. This skating ability Grzelcyk possesses something McAvoy has not had in a partner since entering the NHL ranks. In many ways, I feel Chara has held McAvoy’s development back regarding offensive upside, but that will no longer be the case this season. Even if Chara does sign back, I don’t see him as a viable option next to McAvoy any longer. Grzelcyk also does have the familiar factor with McAvoy, for even though they have been mostly separate in the NHL, in college at BU, Dan Quinn rolled them out as his top pair often. Whether we are to look at familiarity or how their skill sets match up, I feel Matt Grzelcyk is the best option for the Bruins open top-two role.