By: Ryan Ellis | Follow Me On Twitter @_RyEllis_
The decision to head on home to the Czech Republic by David Krejci has many Bruins fans worried. There is no denying Krejci’s impact on this team since lacing them up for the Black and Gold back in 2007. He cemented his legacy in Boston with years of consistency and production even when his supporting cast was lackluster at best. The hole left in the lineup and locker room is sizable, and there is merit to concerns about the production of Boston’s second line without an established pivot man. After all, it took how many years to provide Krejci with formidable wingers?
Despite the uncertainty up the middle, let’s take a deep breath and put down the white flags. The Bruins will almost certainly compete for a top spot in the division and posture themselves for yet another hopeful playoff push. Who will pick up the slack and be the facilitator for the second line? Well, I hate to break it to you, but Jack Eichel donning the spoked B is a pipe dream. Before we get too carried away in our mind’s version of “franchise mode,” let’s take a look at the realistic options that already call Boston (or Providence) home.
Hero or Scapegoat: Charlie Coyle
The pride of Weymouth signed a contract for 6 years, $5.25M AAV, that won’t expire until 2026. Oh, did I mention that he also has a no-movement clause? The odds are that Charlie is here for the remainder of his deal. Given his tenure, contract, and other in-house options, it would appear that he’ll be given the first whack as 2C for the B’s. The common theme amongst Bruins fans is that Coyle is not suited to skate with the top-6 on a nightly basis.
There is no denying the significant drop-off in skill from David Krejci to Charlie Coyle. However, the sample size of Coyle centering a line with skilled wingers such as Taylor Hall and Craig Smith isn’t large enough to quantify. This is why he’ll get the chance, whether you like it or not. Between being plagued by multiple lower-body injuries last season and the desire to prove the haters wrong, Coyle could be a prime candidate for the Bill Masterson Comeback Player of the Year Trophy.
Assuming Coyle returns at 100% after off-season knee surgery, the 29-year-old former 1st round draft pick could surprise a lot of folks given the opportunity. As a Mass native, Coyle knows exactly what it takes to get the Bruins faithful in your corner. I, for one, hope (and believe) he can block out the noise, go to work and get the job done.
The Young Stud: Jack Studnicka
There is something so satisfying about success stories involving homegrown talent. 22-year-old Jack Studnicka has been considered the #1 overall Bruins prospect for a while now. Despite a handful of his peers seeing more time with the big club, Studnicka is the only Bruins prospect that truly projects as a top-6 forward at the moment. A two-way forward with a high hockey IQ and playmaking ability, Studs could crack the roster as a center or winger going into the 21-22 season.
Could a 22-year-old surpass the competition and play his way into 2C contention? Of course, he can! Studnicka tends to be a pass-first center, and with talent like Hall and Smith at his sides, the transition to regular NHL minutes could result in a successful campaign. With reports of Studnicka bulking up over the summer, expect to see him moving up and down the lineup as the team finds its identity.
My gut tells me, if Studnicka is indeed ready, we’ll see him holding court on the third line and picking up the penalty-killing minutes left behind by Sean Kuraly’s departure. Tomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Studnicka has an opportunity to give Bruins fans hope for the future.
From the Outside, In: Erik Haula/Nick Foligno
The acquisitions of veterans Erik Haula and Nick Foligno bring the Bruins experience, toughness, and bottom/middle-6 upside that has been lacking over the years. When these signings were announced, David Krejci’s return seemed imminent, and the new additions were strictly brought in as wingers. Both have seen time at Center, including Haula’s contribution to Vegas’ shocking debut season. He centered the 2nd line in every playoff game during their 2017-18 season Cup run. The ability is there, but is the fit?
Foligno was brought along as a center before being moved to LW in his rookie season for an Ottawa Senators squad that was stacked up the middle. Years later, during his Columbus Blue Jackets tenure, Foligno was moved back to Center for much of his 2017-18 campaign. Could the Bruins look to either of the new veterans to stabilize their second line? Possibly, but not likely for a significant amount of time.
We’ll see all sorts of line combinations as the pre and regular season unfolds. There is plenty of time between now and puck drop at the Garden on October 16th vs. the Dallas Stars. The general consensus (or hope) is that Don Sweeney & Co. could still have a move or two up their sleeve. Keep your eyes peeled as to whether any transaction impacts the top-6 of this season’s Bruins group.