By: Ryan Duffy | Follow me on Twitter @Rduffy26
With the Bruins making plenty of acquisitions during the free-agent frenzy on July 28th, the bottom six forwards for the Bruins have been rearranged with size and skill by adding players like Tomas Nosek, Nick Foligno, and Erik Haula. Not only did the Bruins make new additions to their forward group, but they also, unfortunately, lost a key piece down the middle with the departure of David Krejci returning to the Czech Republic, joining HC Olomouc.
With Krejci leaving the Bruins, Don Sweeney stated in his media interview after free agent frenzy that Charlie Coyle was the “obvious choice” for the second-line center to replace Krejci. This would slot Coyle between both wingers Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, but will Coyle be the long-term solution for the second-line center?
Coyle struggled offensively during the 2020-21 campaign as he notched a mediocre six goals and ten assists in 51 games for the Bruins. Last season was statistically the worst season of Coyle’s career with a .313 points-per-game (PPG), which was even worse than his rookie campaign with .378 PPG. Coyle has played as the third-line center ever since he arrived in Boston, but last year he struggled to find any chemistry with Jake DeBrusk or Nick Ritchie.
Ritchie may have been the only bright spot on the third line since he nearly reached a career-high in points with 26 in 56 games. DeBrusk mightily struggled offensively with just 14 points in 41 games and occasionally served as a healthy scratch during the regular season. With Ritchie moving on from Boston and Coyle moving up on the second line, it’ll be interesting to see if DeBrusk’s production will change playing alongside Haula and Foligno.
Based on Coyle’s numbers last year, it comes as a bit of concern for the Bruins to replace the consistent point producer that Krejci was with Coyle. It’s also disappointing to lose Krejci because he seemed to be rejuvenated ever since Hall arrived in Boston at the trade deadline last season. Hall’s point production immediately improved when he was slotted with Krejci and Smith as he recorded eight goals and six assists in 16 regular-season games. Perhaps an even more startling stat was Hall’s shooting percentage drastically rose 14.4% to 16.7% in the regular season games he played as a Bruin. Evidently, Hall’s transition to Boston was nearly flawless playing with Krejci.
Krejci and Coyle are stylistically different players. Krejci is a dynamic playmaker with underrated vision, and Coyle is a strong power forward with great puck protection. Despite being different from Krejci, Coyle being bumped up to the second line could become beneficial for both Coyle’s offensive output and the Bruins. Coyle playing with a consistent shooter in Smith and a high-profile winger like Hall could bring out an offensive side of Coyle we didn’t see last year.
When Marcus Johansson was paired with Coyle during the Stanley Cup run in 2019, Coyle’s offensive production quickly became noticeable as he scored at clutch times and was tied for fifth with Krejci on the team in points scoring 16 points in the 2019 postseason. Both Johansson and Hall are players who play with speed and pace to their game which seems to mesh well with Coyle’s style, so don’t be surprised if we see similar chemistry between Coyle and Hall playing on the second line this coming season. Let’s not discount that Smith seems to rise to the occasion in whatever role he is put into on the Bruins. Although he’s not as flashy as Hall, he goes to the dirty areas, causes havoc for the opposing team’s defense, and is never afraid to shoot from anywhere.
If Coyle does not end up fitting on the second line after a month or so into the season, Cassidy and the coaching staff will likely try a couple of options within the system before looking to make a trade for a second-line center. Their options include newly acquired forwards like Haula and Foligno. Foligno is an interesting asset for the Bruins because of his versatility since he has played left wing, center, and right-wing throughout his career. Haula could offer a bit more speed and scoring touch to the top six if he ends up moving to the second-line center. Haula has been relatively inconsistent in recent years, though.
Haula had a career year with Vegas in their inaugural season in 2018 as he notched 29 goals in 76 games. He would later spend time in Carolina, Florida, and Nashville, where he totaled 45 points in 99 games between the three clubs. There is also a chance we may see Jack Studnika at one point, but it’s highly unlikely he stays put as a top-six forward. Studnika has shown potential to become a second-line center in the NHL, but he is still not ready to make the leap yet and may spend some time playing a bottom-six role for the Bruins and playing in Providence.
The issue with making a trade for a second-line center is that the Bruins are against the salary cap with just over a million dollars to spend. It would be tough for the Bruins to find a fit for a second-line center within the cap that significantly improves their top-six forward group. There have been rumors throughout the summer that the Bruins have been linked to Arizona’s Christian Dvorak. Dvorak would make sense due to his affordable cap hit at $4.45 million, but the Bruins would have to part with a piece like DeBrusk for compensation in the event of trade for Dvorak.
Ultimately, the answer can either be found within the Bruins’ current roster, or they will have to seek elsewhere to find a good fit for a top-six center. The Bruins management will have to evaluate the second line as the 2021-22 season goes on before making any considerations to make a trade to improve its forward roster. The Bruins are going all-in to contend for the Stanley Cup, and the journey is just around the corner.