Can The Bruins Fourth Line Repeat Last Year’s Success?

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Written By: Jamie Gatlin   |   Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

Last season the Bruins’ fourth line was one of the most productive in recent memory. They drew comparisons to the Bruins’ fourth line in 2011, which was key in their Stanley Cup run. This offseason, the Bruins lost Tim Schaller in free agency as he signed with Vancouver. He was one of the key contributors on the team’s last line. Noel Acciari and Sean Kuraly are projected to return to the fourth line, leaving an open spot on the wing. How that spot is filled has yet to be determined, but the Bruins do have a couple of options.

Since that magical 2011 season, the Bruins had failed to find a fourth line pairing that was as successful as the “Merlot Line.” Last season proved to be an exception as the trio of Kuraly, Schaller, and Acciari became fan favorites. They endeared themselves to Boston with their gritty and energetic style of play. Whenever the Bruins needed a jolt or change of pace, the fourth line often was whom Cassidy called on. They were unexpectedly productive offensively as of the trio only Sean Kuraly scored less than 10 goals. They will look to make the same kind of impact even with the loss of Schaller in free agency. Whoever replaces him will be filling a key role.

Fortunately, the Bruins have multiple players who could fill the vacant spot on their last line. Those options include Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom. They both bring their own unique characteristics to the Bruins and would be good fits in Schaller’s spot. The Bruins signed Wagner, a Massachusetts native, to a 2-year deal earlier this offseason. He is not known for his offense, but he was able to record 16 points last season. Wagner made his impact with his physical style of play and finished third in the NHL with 235 hits last season. He can play both the center and wing, which gives the Bruins flexibility. He brings a similar blend of offense and physicality like Schaller. The fact that the Bruins gave Wagner a multi-year deal shows how much the Bruins believe in him. However, he will have competition in the form of another Bruins free agent signing in Nordstrom.

Comparatively, Joakim Nordstrom is not a physical player like Wagner. He is a smart player who is good at reading plays and disrupting breakouts. He can be frustrating offensively, which limits his upside. He has been a good enough penalty killer to stick around in the league. Nordstrom had a knack for getting to the net but struggled to finish last season which is partly why he will end up in a bottom-six role. Where he ends up will be interesting as it could be on the third line. After a solid 2017-18 campaign, Kuraly could be bumped up to the third line. This would mean that Nordstrom could center the fourth line with Wagner on the wing. Wherever Nordstrom ends up will have a significant impact on the Bruins’ bottom lines.

Last season the trio of Kuraly, Schaller, and Acciari showed how important the fourth line could be. Even with the loss of Schaller, the Bruins have good replacements. They will need to step and be counted on in big moments. Whoever ends up on the Bruins fourth line will have the responsibility of continuing last season’s success. It will be a key storyline to watch as these players will look to replicate the same grit and energetic play that made the Bruins fourth line so successful last season.

What To Do With The Bruins Second Line

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By: Jamie Gatlin | Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

In a little over a month, the Boston Bruins 2018-19 season will begin. The team will be looking for revenge after a disappointing exit in the playoffs last season. One of the reasons they were eliminated was their bottom lines’ inability to score. Other than the Bruins top line — which is arguably the best in hockey — the Bruins did little offensively. This has lead to speculation that the Bruins may be better served to break up their top line to spread out the scoring. One possible solution could be moving David Pastrnak to the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. This is a move that could work for multiple reasons.

Krejci and Pastrnak have experience playing together which could make this an easy transition. The Bruins began last season with Pastrnak on the second line. He would make the Bruins’ second line very dangerous because of his skill set. His creativity and scoring touch would play well alongside Krejci and DeBrusk. Each trio has their own unique characteristics that make them dangerous in the offensive zone. Breaking up the Bruins top line is not an easy idea to consider given how good the trio was last season. It may, however, be the best thing for this Bruins team.

Like Pastrnak, Krejci relies on his creativity and vision on the ice. DeBrusk is the opposite as he relies on grit. Last season DeBrusk showed that he would sacrifice his body for the puck. That plays well with Krejci and Pastrnsk who will use their creativity to put pucks on the net. Krejci has also shown he could play well with DeBrusk and Pastrnak, which is big considering how the Bruins have struggled to find the NHL veteran linemates he plays well with. DeBrusk showed last year he can be a 20-goal scorer, and Pastrnak has had 30 goals each of the last two seasons. With Krejci feeding both of them, those numbers would only be better. It will also allow the Bruins to groom one of their younger talented players.

By taking Pastrnak out of the first line, the Bruins could place Anders Bjork in his spot. Bjork can play both ends and relies on his speed and creativity. Both are similar qualities to the guy he would be replacing. It would allow Bjork to improve his game while learning from Bergeron and Marchand. Bjork may not become the next Pastrnak, but it is an exciting comparison. Learning from arguably two of the best players in the NHL would only make him better. The Bruins have many players they could use in this spot such as Danton Heinen. Bjork may be the best option because his playing style is so similar to Pastrnak.

The Bruins will experiment with their lines early on. Where everybody ends up will be determined by performance. They already have one of the best lines in hockey but last year that was not enough. This combination could give them two very formidable lines and improve their depth. This will be one storyline to watch in a season with high expectations.

Bruce Cassidy’s Effect On The Bruins

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By: Jamie Gatlin  |  Follow Me on Twitter @JamieGatlin1217

Two years ago, the Bruins organization was at a crossroads. During the 2016 season, longtime head coach Claude Julien was let go mid-season. At the time, the Bruins had a record of 26-23-6. They were not adapting to a changing league and not making much traction in the standings. They were a defensive, hard- checking team in a league that was getting faster. Bruce Cassidy took over for Julien, and the Bruins have looked like a different team under him. They are playing with a new edge, and unlike under Julien, the younger Bruins are excelling. The Bruins are once again one of the best teams in the league and next year should be no different.

Before being named the head coach of the Bruins, Cassidy was the head coach for the Providence Bruins from the 2010-11 American Hockey League season. He also had one head coaching stint for the Washington Capitals in the early 2000s that included a playoff appearance. In Boston, he has not looked like an inexperienced coach. Under Julien, younger players struggled as the veterans were favored. This was reflected in the departure of many young talented players including Phil Kessel, Dougie Hamilton, and Tyler Seguin.

These players didn’t necessarily perform poorly under Julien, but they also were not interested in staying in Boston long-term. Kessel and Seguin were both traded, but they didn’t leave on good terms. Under Julien, the Bruins struggled on the power play — a place where they have excelled in the past 2 years.

Julien’s tenure in Boston was far from a failure. He brought them to two Stanley Cup finals and won it all in 2011. He made the Bruins fun and competitive again after years of mediocrity. In Cassidy’s short tenure it is already looking he could have the same type of success. In Cassidy’s first full season the Bruins finished with 112 regular season points — a surprise to many. In a season in which the Bruins were still supposed to be rebuilding, they were one of the top teams in the league. There were many reasons for their success, but it all starts with Cassidy.

Under Cassidy, the Bruins have not been a defense-first team, but they have still been good defensively while adapting to the change of pace. Defensemen such as Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk are aggressive with the puck and not just waiting back in the defensive end. They took on the personality of an underdog as they could never be counted out of a game last season. They played more aggressive than they ever had in years past. While this new style of play was a success, it also had its negatives.

As a result of being more aggressive, there were more lapses in the defensive zone. This was partly due to the Bruins defensemen being young and still learning how to play at the NHL level. That will only improve this season as they get more experience. Over the next few seasons, many more Bruins prospects will make their debuts and go through similar growing pains. Having Cassidy as the head coach will be key to their development. If Cassidy can build off last season, then he will be around to see their debuts and help them develop at the NHL level. In year one he was very successful in that regard.

In Cassidy’s first full season he finished second in the Jack Adams voting — the award given to the best NHL coach. Cassidy did not finish in second by luck. Cassidy has gotten off to a good start in Boston and changed the culture in a positive way. That should only continue next season, and he may not be finishing second this time around.

What The Bruins Should Expect From Heinen In Year Two

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By: Jamie Gatlin  |  Follow Me on Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

Last year Danton Heinen played his first full NHL season. Heinen made his NHL debut during the 2016-2017 season but only appeared in eight games. During those eight games, it did not look like he was NHL ready as he did not record a point. His 2017-18 campaign went very differently. He finished fifth on the team in points with 47. In the playoffs, he struggled as he only scored one goal and had zero assists. This upcoming season he will look to build off his success while being motivated by his playoff disappointment. With many Bruins prospects waiting in the wings, Heinen will have to prove that last year was no fluke.

In 77 games last season Heinen had 16 goals and 31 assists. On the power play, he had 12 points including two goals. He trailed only Krug, Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak in points on the Bruins. His value was not only reflected in his statistics but in how the Bruins used him. Heinen began the season on the third line, but he did not stay there all season. Due to injuries to players such as Patrice Bergeron, he found himself on the Bruins first and second lines at times. His two-way game, which has drawn comparisons to Bergeron, fit very well on the Bruins top two lines. His impact was echoed by Bergeron’s linemate Brad Marchand. When asked about Heinen’s impact in February Marchand said, ” And I can’t say enough about Heino and how his two-way game has added so much to our roster. You need guys like Grizzy and Heino to win a cup.” Marchand would know since he won a cup with the Bruins in 2011.

Going into last season, Heinen flew under the radar. His teammates who were also rookies at the time including Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk got all the attention. This season he will not be flying under the radar for Bruins fans. It is most likely that he will start the season on the Bruins third or second line. It will depend on if the Bruins keep their deadly top line together or break it up to improve their other lines. That is something the Bruins will experiment with early on in the season. Heinen proved last year that he will excel in whatever role he is placed in.

Although Heinen had a solid season, he was prone to slumps. That was in part due to the fact that it was his first NHL season. He will need to limit them this upcoming season especially if he is placed on the Bruins second line. Repeating his numbers from last season should not be a hard task. He is not a 30-goal scorer, but his tenacity should allow him to record 30-plus assists again. As Marchand said, his two-way game brings an element to the Bruins that makes Heinen invaluable. He may not be the most skilled player, but through hard work, he has put himself in a position to succeed.

What The Bruins Should Expect From Prospect Zboril

 

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By: Jamie Gatlin   |   Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

In 2015 the Bruins had three consecutive picks in the first round of the NHL draft. They had the 13th, 14th, and 15th overall picks. With the 13th pick, the Bruins took Jakub Zboril who was considered a reach at that spot in the draft. Of those three picks, only Jake DeBrusk — picked 14th overall — has made it to the NHL. Zboril may soon join DeBrusk in Boston and is coming off a very good season in Providence. His path to NHL has not been easy, and at first, it looked as if the former first-round pick may turn into a bust.

After being considered a reach at 13 overall, Zboril’s first developmental camp was a disaster. He looked out off place both on and off the ice. Zboril suffered an injury the year before the draft and was still having problems with his knee. At developmental camp, he failed his conditioning tests and was ripped on social media. But since that first developmental camp, he has shown the tools that made him a first-round pick. After recording 33 points for the Saint John Sea Dogs in 2014-2015, Zboril had only 20 points in the 2015-2016 season. He was able to rebound the following season, putting up 41 points 50 games for the Sea Dogs.

One of the reasons why Zboril has been criticized is the because of the players picked after him. With the 16th pick in the same draft, the Islanders took Mathew Barzal. Last year Barzal took the NHL by storm as a rookie scoring 22 goals while adding 63 assists. While Barzal was tearing up the NHL, Zboril was in Providence — where it took him 40 games to score his first professional goal.

But Zboril finished his first season in Providence on a roll, which gives the Bruins hope. He finished the season with four goals and 15 assists in 68 games. He will enter training looking to prove himself and earn a spot in Boston. It will not be easy since the Bruins already have eight defensemen under contract next season — not including Zboril.

Zboril is a two-way defenseman that plays to his strengths in all three areas of the ice. He is not afraid to take a hit to make a play. Before the draft, he drew some comparisons to Keith Yandle, who has had a very productive career. This year’s training camp will not be Zboril’s last chance to crack the Bruins roster. The B’s will still have him under control on his rookie deal through the 2019-2020 season. With Zdeno Chara likely to retire sooner rather than later, the Bruins need another a top-four defenseman alongside Charlie McAvoy. Zboril could be that player, and after looking like the bust of the draft class, he has made huge strides the past two seasons.

Making the team out of camp is highly unlikely for the former first-round pick. He still has some improvements to make in Providence before he is NHL-ready. Zboril does have a chance to leave an impact and help the Bruins later this season. Injuries are inevitable over a season, and that could be his first chance to make his mark. The Bruins still have faith in him and will give the former 13th overall pick every chance to succeed. The rest is up to him.

Kevan Miller’s Importance to the Bruins

Ottawa Senators v Boston Bruins(Photo Credit: Causeway Crowd)

By: Jamie Gatlin   |   Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

The 2018-2019 season will be Kevan Miller’s fifth year in the NHL. Miller has spent his entire career with the Bruins and had his fair share of up and downs. He has missed significant time due to injuries and struggled when matched up against other teams’ top lines. Last year he flourished as the Bruins gave him a steady spot on the third line defensive pairing. Miller showed his value when he was put in a position to succeed and was one of the Bruins’ most productive players. He began last season paired with Paul Postma and Rob O’Gara. It was not until the Bruins’ 19th game of the season that he found his permanent partner in Matt Grzelcyk. Along with Grzelcyk, Miller stabilized the Bruins’ third defensive pairing.

One element that made the two so successful was that Grzelcyk allowed Miller to stay on the right side — his natural position. Before the move, Miller had been switching between the left and right side. Miller does not make his impact offensively as in five seasons he only has 12 goals. He did have a career-high 15 assists last season, including two short-handed points. Miller makes his impact with physicality and defensive play. He logged big minutes on the penalty kill last season and averaged 19:28 of ice time a game. When paired with Grzelcyk, the two were very good at recovering pucks and moving them up the ice.

Miller was more confident last season, which showed in how he dealt with the younger Bruins defenseman. When David Backes was sidelined last November, Miller was named one of the alternate captains. Head coach, Bruce Cassidy highlighted Miller’s importance in January when referring to Grzelyck’s growth.

“I think his partner really helps,” Cassidy said. “I think [he and Miller are] a good tandem, they make each other better. That’s what you want out of a line, out of a defense pair.”

He credited Miller for Grzelcyk’s growth as the rookie improved. Miller is not afraid to stick up for his teammates, who have been evident throughout his career. Miller’s value shows a dramatic change from where it stood 2 years ago.

The Bruins signed Miller to a 4-year extension worth $10 million in the 2016 offseason. It was a move heavily criticized as it seemed like the Bruins had overpaid an average defenseman. Miller was coming off his third season in Boston and had the second-best plus/minus rating on the team the season before. The Bruins needed help on the blue line and Miller was not seen as the answer. He will never be a top defender or put up offensive numbers like his teammates Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy. But Miller is a reliable stay-at-home defenseman, which is what the Bruins need him to be. He affects the game in many ways that do not show up on a stat sheet.

The key for Miller is staying healthy and making sure he is not matched up against other team’s top lines. He provides the Bruins with depth and like Chara has served as a mentor for the Bruins’ next wave of talent. Miller has 2 years left on a deal that was once heavily criticized. After last season his extension is not judged as harshly, and he will look to continue changing the narrative this upcoming season.

What To Expect From Bruins’ Sean Kuraly

 

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By: Jamie Gatlin   |   Check Me Out On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

Earlier in the offseason, the Bruins re-signed Sean Kuraly to a three-year deal. Kuraly was key on the Bruins fourth line last year in his second NHL season. With the departures of Riley Nash and Tim Schaller, he could see time on the Bruins third line this upcoming season. Kuraly is not an explosive offensive player like his teammates Brad Marchand or David Pastrnak. He is still valuable to the Bruins in many different ways.

Kuraly endeared himself to Bruins fans last season with his all-out play. The Bruins fourth line of Kuraly, Noel Acciari, and Tim Schaller was one of the most popular in recent memory. They drew comparisons to the Bruins fourth line in 2011 due to their grit and physicality. Kuraly, in particular, is not afraid to skate through someone to get to the puck or sacrifice his body for the team. In his second NHL campaign, he had six goals and eight assists. In the playoffs, he had two goals and two assists including a goal that exemplified his style of play. In Game one of the first-round against Toronto Kuraly batted a rebound out of the air to give the Bruins a 4-1 lead. Kuraly did not give up on the play and showed tremendous concentration by being able to locate the puck while in mid-air.

This goal was not Kuraly’s first impactful playoff moment. During the 2016-2017 season, Kuraly appeared in four playoff games for the Bruins. He had two goals including the game winner in game five against the Senators. Before last season he was not seen as a key piece on the Bruins roster. As Kuraly has gained more experience, he has only gotten better. He is not only fun to watch because of his grit but the energy he brings to the ice.

Kuraly is a bottle of energy on the ice which showed when the Bruins fourth line reenergized the team throughout the season. Every time the Bruins needed a boast the Bruins fourth line was there to shift the momentum. When the Bruins scored a goal with Kuraly on the ice, you would have thought he just scored the game winner to win the Stanley Cup based on his reaction. That is one of the characteristics Kuraly brings to the table that does not show up on the stat sheet.

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Kuraly will never be a thirty goal scorer or record 100 points in a season. Next season his goals and assists should improve If he moves up to the third line. If he remains on the fourth line, he will not see a significant point increase but should still be able to score more than six goals. Last season he was third on the team in hits which shouldn’t change in the 2018-2019 season. Regardless of what line he is on Kuraly will bring the same grit and energy every shift. He affects the game in ways that do not show up on the stat sheet, and that will only continue next season.

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Bruins Future In Net

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By: Jamie Gatlin   |   Follow Me On Twitter @JamieGatlin1217

With the addition of Jaroslav Halak, the Bruins goalie situation is set for the upcoming season. If Halak plays well then like Khudobin he should appear in around 30 games barring an injury to Rask. He will not be Rask’s replacement as he is already 33-years-old. The Bruins have two talented Goalies In the minors in Zane Mcintyre and Daniel Vladar. They are unlikely to see anytime in Boston this year, but they could replace Rask when it comes time for the Bruins to move on.

The Bruins drafted Mcintyre in the sixth round of the 2010 NHL draft. He struggled in his first season in Providence as he had a save percentage of .898. His goal against average was .268, and he only appeared in one game in the Calder Playoffs. Since that season he has improved. His best season was 2016-2017 as he posted career highs in multiple categories. Mcintyre had a career-best .930 save percentage and Goal against average of 2.03. During the 2017- 2018 season he appeared in a career-high 47 games after appearing in 31 games each of his first two seasons. His save percentage dropped from .930 to .914. He recorded a career-high seven shutouts after recording only two throughout his first two seasons in Providence.

The former sixth-round pick does have NHL experience however he was not impressive in his only stint. During the 2016-2017 season, Mcintyre appeared in eight games for the Bruins. He had a goals against average of 3.97 and save percentage of .858. In those eight games, he allowed three or more goals four times. If he does make it back to the NHL, those numbers will motivate him.

The Czech Product

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The Bruins drafted Daniel Vladar in the third round of the 2015 NHL draft 75th overall. When Vladar was drafted, he was seen as a long-term project partly due to the fact he was just 18. His 6’5 frame and natural skill are why he projects to be a solid goaltender in the future. Since being drafted by the Bruins, the third round pick has spent most of the time playing for the Atlanta Gladiators. He did make four appearances in Providence last season and was impressive. In his limited time, he had a goals against average of 2.23 and save percentage of .924. He is a work in progress but will have plenty of time to improve his skills. Next season he should get more than the few appearances he received last year in Providence. With Rask under contract for the next three seasons, the Bruins are set in net. Vladar is now only 21 and will be looking to impress in this year’s camp.

What To Expect

Between the two Mcintyre is the most NHL ready. He has already spent three seasons in Providence while Vladar has appeared in only 12 games. Vladar does have a higher ceiling than Mcintyre. Other than the 2016-2017 season McIntyre’s Goals against average has never been lower than 2.50. His numbers in the AHL playoffs are not impressive as in three seasons his Goals against average is 2.64 with a save percentage of .899. Vladar does not have the experience, but he does have the higher upside. It will be a fun season in Providence as these two will be looking to gain an edge and move one step closer to the NHL. If an injury to Halak occurs then one of these two netminders could get their shot. Halak’s contract is only a two-year deal leaving the opportunity for one of these two to be Rask’s backup sooner rather than later.