We’re more than halfway through the 2023-24 NHL season, and that means it’s grading time. I already gave midseason grades to the defensemen and goalies of the Boston Bruins, and now it’s time to grade the forwards. Here’s what I have:
Season Stats: 39 games, five goals, two assists, seven points
Boston’s 2019 first-round pick became a fan favorite early in training camp as he battled (and eventually beat out) Patrick Brown and Jesper Boqvist for the fourth-line center role. Upon arriving in Boston, Beecher was immediately thrust into a difficult defense-first role, which ultimately proved too taxing for the young center. He was too inconsistent for Jim Montgomery night in and night out, and his physical gifts weren’t shining through as much as they could have. Beecher did show some offensive flair (on pace for ten goals as a fourth-liner starting only 12 percent of faceoffs in the offensive zone) but still needs some time to marinate. I believe in Beecher and think he’ll benefit from more seasoning in the AHL.
Season Stats: 14 games, one goal, two assists, three points
The most recent Boston Bruins call-up has filled his role admirably as a bottom-six forward. Boqvist may not be flashy or provide the grit and snarl of the conventional fourth-line winger, but he’s incredibly smart with the puck, is a committed defender, and plays a low-event game. He probably won’t sell many jerseys, but Boqvist has stabilized an otherwise volatile bottom-six and pitched in when called upon.
Season Stats: 49 games, 18 goals, 24 assists, 42 points
Charlie Coyle has been one of my favorite players to watch this season. After finally being given a chance to shine in a top-six role, the Weymouth, MA, native has proven he can be a legitimate number-one center. Among all NHL centers, he’s tied for 16th in points, 12th in goals, and seventh in even-strength goals. It took some adjusting, but he’s developed chemistry with Brad Marchand and is playing a well-rounded 200-foot game that would make any coach happy. His confidence with the puck on his stick has been an excellent development, and seeing him play his game, even when playing with Boston’s big guns, proves that he’s taken the next step in his development.
Season Stats: 47 games, 12 goals, 13 assists, 25 points
You can’t overlook how slow of a start Jake Debrusk had. His underlying metrics have been great all season, and he’s added penalty-killing to his repertoire, but not scoring goals was a big demerit on his grade. However, since Christmas, he has 14 points in 15 games and contributes wherever he slots into the Bruins lineup. Like many members of the Black and Gold, he’s found his footing of late and elevated his game back to the DeBrusk of old. He’s had an underrated year defensively, and with the recent surge in scoring, he still has a shot at setting a career-high in points. If he continues to play like this, resigning him would be a no-brainer.
Season Stats: 49 games, 14 goals, 15 assists, 29 points
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season’s first half has been Trent Frederic’s ascension from bottom-six grinder to middle-six scorer. He’s evolved as a scorer, able to score from all over the ice, in and around the net. He’s been excellent on the forecheck and seems bigger, stronger, and more physical this season. He’s asserting himself more in the offensive zone and is now driving plays instead of waiting for them to come to him. Frederic has become a high-quality NHL power forward and still has more room to grow.
Season Stats: 43 games, eight goals, 15 assists, 24 points
I like to think Morgan Geekie started the 2023-24 season behind the eight-ball. He was pushed to the wing after Matt Poitras ripped through camp and then suffered an injury in early November, which put him on the shelf until Thanksgiving. Since returning from said injury, Geekie has been put back at center and is playing like the man Boston expected him to be. He has 20 points in the 29 games since he missed time, which would put him on pace for 53 points over the course of an 82-game season. Geekie’s strength and competitiveness are the two most impressive things about him. He can protect pucks and shield off defenders while making plays in the offensive zone. He’s become a more intelligent, more complete hockey player since coming to Boston and may be one of the steals of the offseason.
Season Stats: 41 games, nine goals, nine assists, 18 points
How can you not be rooting for Danton Heinen? He attended Bruins training camp but couldn’t sign with the team until the end of October due to cap restrictions. He waited patiently, accepted his role, and has been one of Boston’s most consistent forwards in his second stint with the Bruins. Heinen is as reliable a forward there is in his own zone, and his intelligent, mistake-free hockey makes him a versatile tool for Jim Montgomery to deploy. He’s noticeably more aggressive this time around, winning puck battles more frequently and adding some much-needed tenacity to his game. He’s on pace for 18 goals without any powerplay time and can be utilized in different roles up and down the lineup. The Bruins are lucky to have him.
Season Stats: 36 games, two goals, four assists, six points
Jakub Lauko was one of my breakout candidates coming into this season. I thought he could win a spot on the third line and show off some of the skill and finesse that the Bruins saw in him when he was drafted. However, a skate to the eye and a merry-go-round of linemates have made this season tough to read for Lauko. He was very open about the limitations imposed on him by the medical staff following his injury and couldn’t seem to find chemistry with Oskar Steen and Johnny Beecher. Since being promoted to the third line against Colorado, Lauko has done a complete 180. He’s playing fast, physical, and he’s starting to score. He needs to put up more points to stay in this third-line role, but we may see his development take off if he does.
Season Stats: 49 games, 24 goals, 23 assists, 47 points
Brad Marchand is playing some of his best hockey in his first season with the captain’s “C” on his jersey. He seems to have recovered entirely from his double hip procedure last offseason and has ultimately returned to form. Marchand is on pace for his first 40-goal season and has done an admirable job leading the new-look Bruins through the tumult of their first season together. He’s cleaned up his act since becoming captain but still has that unique snarl that makes him so fun to watch. The Bruins are at their best when Marchand is leading the charge, and as long as he keeps this up, they’ll be one of the most entertaining teams in hockey.
Season Stats: 49 games, 33 goals, 39 assists, 72 points
I have no notes or criticisms for David Pastrnak. He’s third in the NHL in scoring, on pace for yet another 60-goal season, and is one of the best players in hockey. The one development I’ve noticed this season is that Pastrnak has made a much more concerted effort to grow as a distributor. His vision and passing have improved from last year, making him an even more dangerous threat whenever he’s on the ice. Whatever complaints people may have about the all-star are moot; he’s a top-five player in the league, and this team (and its fanbase) should count their lucky stars they have him.
Season Stats: 33 games, five goals, ten assists, 15 points
Matt Poitras has had a solid rookie season. He’s producing at almost half a point per game, has adjusted well to the speed of the NHL, and has shown flashes of brilliance when given the opportunity. The biggest issue with Poitras this season is that the Bruins weren’t ready for him. They weren’t expecting him to burst onto the scene and compete for a roster spot out of training camp. He forced their hand into playing him meaningful regular season minutes, and he earned a spot in the top nine. The problem is the Bruins aren’t fully committed to a reboot yet, so they’re playing the long game with Poitras. Sure, he’s had some turnovers and may be starting to hit the ‘rookie wall,’ but overall, he’s been more than a pleasant surprise for the team. All things considered, Poitras has been impressive and shows the most promise of any rookie the Bruins have had in a long time.
Season Stats: 30 games, one goal, zero assists, one point
Early in the season, Oskar Steen proved that his game was too good for Providence. He put up five points in five games for the team’s AHL affiliate and earned himself a call-up to the NHL early in the season. The only problem is that Steen hasn’t outright earned himself a spot in the everyday lineup. Although he’s been deployed in a defensive role, he hasn’t added enough offense consistently to warrant a full-time gig. The Swedish native clearly belongs in the NHL and has the potential to be an everyday contributor. The problem is that too many skaters on the Bruins’ roster also fit that bill, and he hasn’t been able to beat them out.
James van Riemsdyk
Season Stats: 45 games, eight goals, 24 assists, 32 points
Talk about cashing in on a lottery ticket. Don Sweeney & Company jumped at the opportunity to sign the former second-overall draft pick to a one-year, $1 million deal, and he has been a fabulous addition to this team. The Toronto and Philadelphia alum is fifth on the team in scoring, third in assists, and third in game-winning goals. He’s one of the best net-front presences in the NHL and has impressed with his ability to facilitate and make plays from around the net and below the goal line. He’s excellent on the powerplay and has added a new dimension to the man advantage this organization hasn’t had in some time. His scoring has gone a bit cold, but that’s because he’s shooting a career-low 7.9%. If that number levels out, JVR will come close to a 20-goal season and remain the best contract in the NHL.
Season Stats: 45 games, ten goals, 20 assists, 30 points
Zacha, to a lesser extent than Coyle, has been a welcome surprise to start this season. The only time he struggled or looked out of place was when Jim Montgomery forced him onto the wing to accommodate Morgan Geekie. When Zacha played in the middle, he was a genuine top-six skater who shined as a passer who could also put the puck in the net. He has undeniable chemistry with Pastrnak, and the two make one of the league’s better dynamic duos. Now that the lines have figured themselves out look for Zacha to pick up his scoring in the second half and continue to play a solid and responsible defensive game, too.