By: Zach Carlone | Follow me on Twitter! @zcarlone21
During the offseason, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney signed a handful of players to help the team have a successful run towards a championship this upcoming season. One of the players Sweeney brought to Boston was former Nashville Predators forward Erik Haula. The 30-year-old signed a two-year, $4.75 million contract with the black and gold on July 28th. On the outside looking in, he wasn’t a flashy name in the group of NHL free agents, but he has the potential to be an exceptional player within the Bruins forward group. Haula is a versatile forward, and he should help the Bruins bottom-six offensive production that went dry for portions of last season.
Last season, Haula only managed nine goals and 21 points in 51 games with the Predators. Nashville’s offense over the past few seasons has been weak, so Haula’s poor production shouldn’t be avenged with a close eye. Instead, it gave teams the chance to take a flier on a forward who is still in the middle of his career. The Bruins were lucky enough to cash in on Haula at a reasonably low price, and the short-term commitment should be a relief as well. It’s a potential low-risk, high-reward signing for the Bruins.
Former Bruins winger Nick Ritchie was thought to be the answer in the Bruins bottom-six for their production woes, but he wasn’t. Ritchie spent a lot of time on the power play as the net-front presence but often just created a log jam on the wings, mainly forcing Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk to play on his off-side for the majority of last season. The Bruins moved on from Ritchie in the offseason and brought in both Haula and former Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno, both of whom should be critical cogs for the Bruins third line, along with a handful of other players.
Haula’s style of play should also ignite the Bruins bottom-six. With Charlie Coyle expected to rise from the third-line center spot he held last season, Haula is expected to start the season at the third-line center position. His wingers are yet to be determined, but he has spent a lot of time playing with DeBrusk and Foligno in training camp and the preseason. Coyle’s playing style, combined with lackluster production from DeBrusk and Ritchie last season, didn’t help the Bruins secondary scoring situation. With the addition of a skilled and slick player in Haula, DeBrusk should be able to bounce back with more versatility down the middle.
If Coyle can’t produce on the second line with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, I would fully expect Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy to consider placing Haula in Coyle’s place. Haula’s play style on the third line is going to elevate the play of those around him, but his slick playmaking ability may be an ignition towards finding a connection with a talented player like Taylor Hall. Of the handful of players Sweeney signed in the offseason, nobody surely replaces former Bruin David Krejci, but Haula plays most similarly to no. 46 as anybody else on this Bruins roster.
Haula has been extremely impressive during the preseason, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t perform well during the regular season. His playmaking ability is a step higher than Coyle’s, giving DeBrusk an opportunity to pot more than the five goals he scored last season. If Foligno plays on the right side, his defensive-minded style of play could give Haula and DeBrusk more insurance and freedom to play and roam as they please in the offensive zone. The decisions are left to be made by Cassidy, but if the third line shapes up to be a combination of these three players, the Bruins are bound to receive better production from the bottom six.
Cassidy has multiple options in his back pocket to utilize Haula’s talents fully. He will definitely spark the lackluster production from the team’s bottom-six last season, and he could be used with Taylor Hall in different situations to help the forward produce if Coyle isn’t productive playing with him. Haula is a great player to have on a contending team, and I’m expecting him to occupy a spot on the team’s second power-play unit as well. He can play on the wing or down the middle, giving the Bruins even more options if and when injuries on the team arise. The addition of the 6’0″ forward is going to help the Bruins more than fans initially think, and it will be proven soon enough.