Throughout the next three days at Bruins Daily, the staff will grade the Bruins roster through the midway point of the season. Today we’ll focus on the Bruins forwards. Check back tomorrow for part two featuring the B’s defense and goaltending and Saturday on Boston.com for a complete photo gallery.
They’ve never been a flashy group under the tutelage of head coach Claude Julien, but the Bruins forwards have produced nicely during his tenure. Things are no different this year for the most part, although there are a few players who are performing underneath expectations. That said, here are the grades from the Bruins Daily staff on the B’s frontline midway through the 2013-14 season.
Milan Lucic (Tim Rosenthal)
In 46 games during the 2013 Lockout shortened season, Milan Lucic was struggling to find his game. Once a 30-goal scorer, Lucic struggled in all aspects – including his toughness – and posted 27 points (7 goals, 20 assists), but his performance picked up significantly during the postseason (19 points in 22 games) as he was a key cog to the Bruins’ run to their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.
Lucic has picked up right where he left off from the postseason as the third leading scorer on the Black and Gold. His chemistry with David Krejci and Jarome Iginla makes the B’s top line one of the best in the NHL.
While Lucic did have his seven-game point streak snapped in the Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Jets Saturday afternoon, he has done everything he can to regain his form. Sure, he’s had goal droughts during the 2013-14 season, including his recent six-game skid. But he’s made up for it with the little things, including his physical play.
Sure, even though his chances were slim, Lucic is disappointed that he didn’t make the Canadian Olympic team. But now he can focus on leading the Black and Gold to another deep, playoff run for the next several months.
David Krejci (Anthony Travalgia)
In his early days as a Boston Bruin, Krejci was too often labeled as an inconsistent regular season player as he would show glimpses of brilliance, and then disappear for weeks. After back-to-back sold seasons, and a great start to the 2013-14 campaign, it’s safe to say that “inconsistent” and Krejci will never be used in the same sentence again.
Krejci has been tremendous playing between Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla as the trio continue to grow chemistry. Krejci leads the Bruins in points with 36, four up on the very surprising Reilly Smith. Krejci’s 27 assists are also leading the team.
Krejci comes in as one of the league’s most underrated center’s. His two-way play is top notch and his hands are right up there with the best of them. Krejci’s ability to make plays is fun to watch and is a big reason as to why his linemates Lucic and Iginla are second and third on the Bruins in goals.
Jarome Iginla (Tim Rosenthal)
To quote former college basketball coach and current Fox Sports 1 analyst Bill Raftery: “Send it in Jarome.”
Although he encountered a scoring drought in his first eight games to start the 2013-14 season, Jarome Iginla has been a nice upgrade since filling in for Nathan Horton on the Bruins’ top line. True both Horton and Iginla are big bodies and there’s no denying that Horton had some nice moments in a Black and Gold uniform. But Iginla’s physical consistency combined with his scoring touch is a nice addition along with fellow power forward Milan Lucic and crafty playmaker David Krejci. Not bad for the 36-year old forward, whose +18 is good for first on the team to go along with his 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists).
Iginla is a little past his prime, but he his producing nicely. And that’s all you can ask for from the former Flames captain.
Brad Marchand (Tim Rosenthal)
Without his buddy Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand has had his share of ups and downs in 2013-14. At times you see the good brat – one who gets under opponents skin and plays with an edge. And then there’s the bad brat, like the time he mocked Canucks fans by kissing the Stanley Cup ring and raising the Cup in Vancouver.
Marchand (10 goals, 11 assists) has developed some nice chemistry with Reilly Smith recently, and is still fitting in nicely with Patrice Bergeron. But a little more consistency would be a good thing for “The Little Ball of Hate” going forward.
Patrice Bergeron (Chris Chirichiello)
It is the same story every season for No.37. He is consistent, tough and leads by example. He is like that High Honor Roll student in high school who gets straight ‘As’ every year. Bergeron has 10 goals 15 assists on the season while he ranks only second in plus/minus (+17) only behind Jarome Iginla (+18).
Bergeron is masterful at the faceoff dot and as good as it gets in the defensive zone as a forward. He even dropped the gloves with Buffalo Sabres Tyler Myers last month. There isn’t one thing that Bergeron wouldn’t do for his team. We all know that. He is irreplaceable.
There is no question Bergeron could have gotten more money on the open market. He took a hometown discount because that is the type of player and human being he is. Hats off to Peter Chiarelli for getting it done before the season.
Loui Eriksson (Dan St. Pierre)
By sending Tyler Seguin packing this past summer and netting a package centering around Loui Eriksson, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli sent a clear message to the rest of the NHL. The message was clear, remains clear; “When the weather starts to heat up, plan on making a trip up to Boston.”
In the return of Eriksson, the Bruins thought they were receiving the player who amassed over 300 points – 130 goals, 177 assists – since 2008 with the Dallas Stars. Even though you can’t fault Eriksson for his concussion history this year, he’s hardly been a consistent producer over his 24 games played in Boston thus far. Prior to the concussion sustained in the Penguins bloodbath on December 7, the Sochi-bound winger tallied only 14 points overall and one assist over his last five games played.
There’s still time for Eriksson to find his place in the Bruins lineup, although I’d love to hear the case made to move Reilly Smith back to the third line in favor of Eriksson when he’s cleared to return.
Reilly Smith (Dan)
The consensus choice for the Seventh Man Award this year, Smith has been the Bruins most important forward this season, outside of that Bergeron fella. Seems like a far-fetched statement? Hardly.
If Providence was a long distance call, the Bruins would be cutting salaries at this point. With a plethora of call-ups from AHL Providence this year, Reilly Smith has remained consistent, even though his role did not. Whether suited in a defensive-minded third line role or filling a goal scoring role on the second line, Smith continues to exceed expectations in his first year in Boston. In 43 games played, Smith leads all Bruins forwards with 15 goals and second on the team in points with 32 this season, even while ranking 18th in Time-On-Ice/Game.
Whether or not Smith returns to a pesky, shutdown third line role when Eriksson returns is anyone’s guess, but if Julien retains Smith in a second line role on the Bergeron/Marchand line, how can you complain?
“Thank you Seguin?”
Chris Kelly (Anthony)
Between his leg injury and general inconsistent play from an offensive standpoint, lasts season was a difficult one for Chris Kelly. Through 29 games Kelly was cruising along with three goals and four assists, but a broken right fibula put Kelly’s season to a stop.
The Bruins have really missed Kelly in their own end, and very much so on the penalty kill, an area where Kelly still is tied for first in average shorthanded time on ice per game. Before his injury Kelly was starting to build great chemistry with linemates Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg. A big reason to Smith’s unexpected successes has been because of Kelly.
You won’t find Kelly scoring 20 goals like he did for the Bruins in the 2011-12 season, but his penalty killing skill, and third line presence is something the Bruins are missing badly at the moment.
Ryan Spooner (Dan St. Pierre)
Now a days, it’s tough to find room on the Spooner bandwagon, as the 21-year-old future stud centerman continues to dominate opposing defenseman with one of the quickest first strides in hockey. In 16 games played with Boston this season, the former second-round pick has yet to find the back of the net, but continues to draw attention while carrying the puck into the offensive zone, leading to nine assists on the season.
With Shawn Thornton returning on Saturday, and Eriksson soon after, Boston will have a tough decision to make with playing time, which will eventually force Chiarelli’s hand in using some of his depth to acquire a veteran defenseman. Spooner however, better not be going anywhere, not even Providence.
Carl Soderberg (Dan St. Pierre)
“Nice to see you, Carl,” is often the greeting you hear from Shawn Thornton when addressing the 6-foot-3 Swede and this season, Bruins fans are saying the same thing. Last season, Soderberg finally jumped ship from the Swedish Elite League, only to look overwhelmed by the speed of play, often looking positionally lost on the ice, resulting in only six games played.
This season marks a stark contrast for the soft-spoken Soderberg, who’s tied for seventh overall on the team in points with 21. To understand the importance of Soderberg’s presence in the Bruins lineup this year, consider this:
In 24 Bruins victories this season: 4 goals, 14 assists, 18 points, +7 rating
In 11 Bruins losses this season: 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, -11 rating
Now on the power-play this season, Soderberg has a huge opportunity to show the offensive talents that lit up goaltenders in the Elite league on a regular basis.
Daniel Paille (Dan St. Pierre)
Obviously, the last time the Bruins had their “Merlot line” intact was on December 7, 2013 which resulted in Shawn Thornton’s suspension of 15-games. Also on that night, Loui Eriksson exited the Garden ice with a concussion that would sideline the shifty winger indefinitely. As a result, the Bruins quickly patch-worked some lines together for a quick turnaround game in Toronto.
Roughly 24 hours after losing the services of Eriksson and Thornton, Peter Chiarelli announced after the game that Daniel Paille suffered a “upper body,” later known to be a concussion, and would be out indefinitely. Nonetheless, the Bruins continued to strive through adversity and continued to rack up points in the standings.
On December 27, 2013 against divisional foes, the Ottawa Senators, Paille returned to the lineup, logging only 12:00 of ice time as he caught himself up to game speed. Boy, did he ever.
Over his last five games played, Paille’s tallied four goals, five points and +5 rating, including playing in a season high 17:30 TOI during the Bruins’ most recent game in Anaheim on Tuesday night. No Paille isn’t going to score 30-goals in a season, but his skillset of killing penalties, generating pressure on defensemen using his speed and grinding out tough minutes against the oppositions top forwards makes him one of the more valuable fourth line wingers in the NHL.
Gregory Campbell (Chris Chirichiello)
Gregory Campbell isn’t the type of player who is going to pot 20 goals per year. He is a fourth line center that will grind the opposition out every single night. He would make a great third line center for some teams, but with the B’s depth he is on a very talented fourth line.
Everybody knows what Campbell brings to the table from last year’s heroic penalty kill versus the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He will do anything he needs for the team in order for them to win. That is the story for every Bruin frankly, but Campbell took it to the next level playing with a broken leg for a minute and a half killing off the penalty.
This year is no different. Campbell does his job on the fourth line-heavy hitting, getting pucks deep and trying to get to the dirty areas for some goals. Campbell has two goals and five assists on the season and as a fourth-line center will not hurt you. It’s a low-risk high reward situation.
Shawn Thornton (Chris Chirichiello)
One play shouldn’t symbolize Thornton’s season, but it is tough to ignore the ugly situation a month ago at TD Garden with Brooks Orpik.
Thornton is known as the Bruins enforcer who follows “The Code”, but on this night he took it too far slew footing Orpik to the ground and then punching him repeatedly once when he was already knocked out.
Thornton knows he was in the wrong, but he cannot change the way he plays. He is a fourth-liner who will protect his teammates or try to change the game’s momentum by dropping the gloves.
The Bruins record when Thornton drops the gloves is unheard of. Even though he was suspended for 15 games, don’t look for Thornton to be Mr. Nice Guy when he is eligible to return Saturday night in San Jose. He will continue his role, but will be extra careful in the process. His three goals are gravy at this point.
Jordan Caron (Anthony Travalgia)
This is going to be fun.
What is there to say about Jordan Caron that hasn’t already been said? This season has to go in the books as Caron’s worst as a Bruin. With the suspension to Shawn Thornton, and the crazy amount of injuries to the Bruins forwards, Caron has gotten a golden opportunity to prove that he deserves a spot in the Bruins lineup when the team is finally healthy.
With Carl Soderberg out for the beginning of the season, Caron found himself in the lineup on opening night. The former first round draft pick started off the season very well and even found the back of the net in the Bruins second game of the season. Through his first five games or so, it looked like things had finally clicked for Caron. Well, not so much. Since his goal on October 5, Caron has failed to record a single point in 21 games since.
With the play of Ryan Spooner, combined with the poor play of Caron, the day Bruins fans have been waiting for may have finally arrived. It looks like Caron’s tenure as a Bruin may finally be coming to an end.
Matt Fraser (Chris)
Matt Fraser must have been just as surprised as Bruins fans when he got the call up to the Bruins. The amount of injuries kept piling up for Claude Julien’s bunch so Fraser was the next man to step in.
The right winger hasn’t played bad in his time with the team scoring his first NHL goal against the Nashville Predators. He has also dropped the gloves a few times fitting right in with the Bruins tough rugged style of play.
Once the team gets healthy, Fraser may be sent back down to Providence where he had 16 goals and five assists in 23 games. He may have been called up due to the injury bug, but make no mistake about it, Fraser can play and he can score the puck. It will take time, but he will make an impact for the Black and Gold in years to come.