By Andrew Bluestein | Follow Me On X (Formerly Twitter) @adbblue
The center position was the biggest question surrounding the Bruins going into the 2023-24 season. With Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retiring, two enormous vacancies were left to fill.
Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle were the only centers penciled into the lineup coming into this season. And they have more than answered the bell, filling Bergeron and Krejci’s shoes.
We are 15 games into the Bruins Centennial season, and they are once again firing on all cylinders with a 12-1-2 record. Zacha and Coyle have been a substantial part of the early season success. Through their first 15 games last season, Bergeron and Krejci combined for 26 points. Through 15 games this season, Zacha and Coyle have 12 points each, combining for 24, only two less. That’s a pretty good start to filling some massive shoes.
Head coach Jim Montgomery has juggled up the lines a lot so far this season. However, Zacha has primarily been on the top line playing with David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, and the three have shown good chemistry. Coyle has been mostly playing with Trent Frederic and James Van Riemsdyk. When those guys are together, they have been dangerous. On November 9th against the New York Islanders, they combined for eight points, including the first hat-trick of Coyle’s NHL career.
Both also play a crucial role on special teams in each game. Zacha averages 2:14 of shorthanded time on ice per game, which is second on the team among forwards. Coyle averages 2:44 of shorthanded time on ice per game, which leads the team amongst forwards. They also get power-play time, with Zacha on the first unit and Coyle on the second. They have combined for four points on the man advantage with two each thus far.
Their defensive games are solid, as well. Zacha, so far, has a plus-minus of +7, and Coyle is +2. Often, Coyle is put on the ice in situations where he’s needed to go against the opposing team’s top line. This is to try and limit their offensive chances and win face-offs for possession. Speaking of face-offs, both have faired decent at the dot. Coyle has a percentage of 53% and Zacha 50.9%. The percentages might not look excellent, but both have won draws in several key situations.
The top two Bruins centers have also significantly benefited from the emergence of John Beecher and Matt Poitras. The two rookies have played their center roles exceptionally well, which has helped take pressure off Zacha and Coyle. Beecher, a 2019 first-round pick, has slotted in on the fourth line. He’s showcased tremendous speed and has been effective at the face-off circle and killing penalties. Poitras, a 2022 second-round pick, has displayed great skill and positional hockey. He has four goals and four assists for eight points through his first 15 games.
Plenty of hockey remains to be played in the 2023-24 season, but through 15 games, the center position hasn’t been a problem. Zacha and Coyle have done an outstanding job filling the shoes of Bergeron and Krejci. And it’s something that hasn’t been widely acknowledged enough.