( Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images )

By: Mark Allred | Follow me on Twitter @BlackAndGold277

When a player of Patrice Bergeron’s caliber retires, filling the void is no easy task. Bergeron spent his entire career with the Boston Bruins, leaving a legacy that will be remembered for generations. Now, with his retirement, the question arises: who will step up to fill the gap? One emerging candidate is Pavel Zacha, a forward with potential and promise. But can he fit into the first-line center role for the Bruins in the 2023-24 regular season?

Bergeron’s contributions to the Bruins are immeasurable. His leadership, skill, and dedication have been instrumental in the team’s success over the years. His retirement leaves a significant hole in the team’s lineup, particularly in the crucial first-line center position. Not only will Bergeron’s presence be missed with his strong two-way game, but his work at the faceoff dot will undoubtedly need to be a hole that must be addressed moving forward. In 19 years, Patrice won 13,224 draws and lost 9,223 for 58.9% in 1294 career National Hockey League games.

Pavel Zacha: A Potential Successor?

Pavel Zacha, a talented forward, is one of the players being considered to fill this role. Since his NHL debut, Zacha has shown promise and potential. His playing style, while different from Bergeron’s, showcases his ability to adapt and excel in various game situations. However, stepping into Bergeron’s shoes is a monumental task.

The first-line center role is pivotal on any hockey team. This player is often the team’s best offensive player and is expected to contribute significantly on both ends of the ice. They are also typically leaders, both on and off the ice. Bergeron embodied these qualities, and finding a player to fill this role is challenging. In eight NHL seasons, the 26-year-old Czech Republic native has appeared in 468 games as a versatile forward and, when given the opportunities at the faceoff dot, has a career of 46.2%, winning 1,770 and losing 2,063 draws. Last season in Zacha’s first year with the Bruins organization, Pavel had a 45.3% winning 134 and losing 162 in 82 games played.

When assessing whether Zacha could fill this role, it’s important to consider his strengths and weaknesses. Zacha has shown himself to be a versatile player with a keen understanding of the game. However, the first-line center role demands consistency and leadership—traits that Bergeron exemplified. As a point producer, Zacha certainly has the potential to surpass last season’s NHL career high of 21-36-57 in 82 games. Zacha is average at the faceoff dot, along with fellow forward Charlie Coyle, who is a career 48.0%, winning 3,086 and dropping 3,344.

As we sit in late July of the off-season, the Bruins top two centers in Coyle and Zacha, will be heavily relied on in the faceoff circle moving forward. Both will challenge for top-line center duties in the B’s training camp this fall. I believe the better all-around skill of Zacha gives him a slight advantage over Coyle, who’s been a solid third-line center throughout his Bruins five-year career.

Sports analysts have mixed opinions about Zacha’s potential fit as a first-line center. Some believe he has the talent and drive to excel in the role, while others feel he may need more time lower in the lineup or even facilitate a roster spot at either wing position. The consensus, however, is that Zacha has the potential to take on this role but will need to prove himself on and off the ice.

Should Zacha take on the first-line center role, it could significantly impact the Bruins’ 2023-24 season. It could present new challenges, as Zacha would need to adjust to the increased responsibility and expectations. However, it could also provide an opportunity for the Bruins to develop a new style of play centered around Zacha’s unique skills.

While the void left by Bergeron’s retirement is significant, the Bruins have a potential successor in Pavel Zacha. Whether he can successfully step into the first-line center role will be one of the key storylines of the Bruins’ 2023-24 regular season. Only time will tell if Zacha can rise to the occasion and carry on Bergeron’s legacy.

Could a Plab “B” be in Place if the Top-Line Center Position Isn’t Addressed Internally?

While the 2023 offseason continues, and the question remains of who can be the Boston Bruins first-line center, there is another avenue to travel if the B’s don’t see enough of Zacha or Coyle. The Bruins could trade for a center who they believe could seamlessly fit into a role up the middle, but I’m not sure a “big name” would become available in talks with the lack of draft capital leverage the Bruins currently have.

If the Bruins do not find a fit at first-line center internally and need to facilitate a trade, looking at the PuckPedia.com website, I see four centers who could fit this Bruins style almost seamlessly. Forwards Mark Scheifele, Elias Lindholm, Jack Roslovic, and Chandler Stephenson would be attractive additions for sustainability up the middle on the top line. Again, the price for these types of players isn’t going to be cheap as they all have one-year remaining under contract and rebuilding teams like Winnipeg, Calgary, Columbus, and even last year’s Stanley Cup-winning Vegas Golden Knights will want to get something of significance in return.

Regardless, it will be an exciting training camp this fall and a healthy dose of completion as Head Coach Jim Montgomery puts the pieces together of a competitive team for the upcoming season. A nice mix of veteran players who recently joined the Bruins organization and young prospects knocking on the door of NHL careers will battle it out at Warrior Ice Arena when camp starts in September to showcase their skills and secure available 2023-24 roster spots. With all this competition set to gear up in a month and a half, it’s also going to be interesting how Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney and Assistant Evan Gold make the team salary cap complaint with the season starting in early October.

The B’s have a little over $5 million in available salary cap space, with restricted free agent goaltender Jeremy Swayman and forward Trent Frederic having arbitration hearings in the next few days. Sportsnets Insider Elliote Friedman tweeted yesterday that the Swayman camp is seeking $4.8 million while the Bruins organization is offering $2 million. As his arbitration hearing is set for August 1st, Frederic’s desired salary has not yet been released publicly.