Mideason report cards: Bruins forwards
Over the next two days, the Bruins Daily staff will reveal their midseason grades for the 2015-16 Boston Bruins. Today in Part 1, we examine the Bruins forwards through the first 49 games of the season. Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow where we’ll grade the B’s defensemen and goaltending.
As a team, the Bruins are doing much better than most expected. Having won five of their last seven, the Bruins enter the All-Star break fourth in the Atlantic Division, just one point behind the third place Detroit Red Wings. The Bruins do hold the East’s first wild card spot by two points over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Brad Marchand-Tim Rosenthal (TR)
Prior to Training Camp, Marchand’s words about the locker room division in 2014-15 gave us a better perspective on just how separated the team was. It also indicated that Marchand, now in his sixth season with the Black and Gold, was ready to expand his role from ‘Little Ball of Hate’ into a better leader in the Bruins locker room.
Marchand’s ‘Little Ball of Hate’ side got the worst of him in the Bruins’ last game before the Winter Classic when he earned a three-game suspension for clipping Sens defenseman Mark Borowiecki. More often than not, though, he’s been one of the more consistent players this season as he carries a team-leading 20 goals into the All-Star break. As Marchand’s game became more well-rounded, his presence in the locker room has also kept the Bruins afloat during a year in transition.
Patrice Bergeron-Anthony Travalgia (AT)
In a season of inconsistency, Bergeron has been far from inconsistent. Leading the team in points with 44, Bergeron has been the Bruins anchor. His reliable two-way play, combined with his work five-on-five and on special teams continues to make Bergeron one of the game’s best centers.
Some have mentioned Bergeron in the MVP race which may be a stretch, but not completely crazy to say. Bergeron makes everyone around him better, and it’s helped the Bruins exceed expectations so far.
Brett Connolly-Chris Chirichiello (CC)
Entering the 2015-2016 season, there was much optimism for the Boston Bruins with having a healthy Brett Connolly. But, it has been a rough first half for the 23 year-old tallying just seven goals and nine assists in 46 games.
Head coach Claude Julien has mixed and matched Connolly with different players nearly on a nightly basis, but his inconsistency has been too much to overcome. At one point during the year, the forward had just one goal in his last 31 contests.
Connolly was a healthy scratch last Saturday versus the Canucks and responded with a game-winning goal against the Flyers the following Monday. We’ll see if Connolly can continue to answer the bell on a more consistent basis and he must if he is playing alongside the likes of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Matt Beleskey-Bob Snow (BS)
Boston’s biggest free-agent splash last summer is still struggling to show face value for Don Sweeney’s 20-million-dollar investment in the former Anaheim Duck. While the effort and chemistry has been there since Game 1, Beleskey’s 22 goals last year — the reason for his acquisition — will be all but impossible to replicate.
He has but one goal in 2016 and is 8-16-24 overall in 47 games. Two of those points came in the last game before the All-Star break, a 6-2 embarrassment at home last Tuesday night against, you guessed it, Anaheim. Those points represented his first in the last six games. All while averaging 15:00 minutes a game, mostly on Boston’s top lines. His plus-8 overall – and that aforementioned grit and locker room presence – keeps him out of Claude Julien’s doghouse. That can’t last forever with the team lingering on the playoff bubble.
David Krejci-Jimmy Murphy (JM)
After playing just 47 games last season, a healthy and rejuvenated Krejci came flying out of the gate poised to have a great season. He was well on his way with 15 points in his first nine games and was playing like the top line NHL center the Bruins believe he can and needed him to be.
For the first three months of the season, Krejci looked like the center who had 23 points in 25 games when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and then 26 points in 22 games when they fell to Chicago in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. But then — as it has twice in the last three seasons — the injury bug hit as Krejci suffered an upper body injury on December 27 and missed the next ten games.
Since returning on January 21, Krejci has three assists in four games and appears to be regaining his stride. If that continues, there is no reason he won’t earn an A or A+ in the final season grades. But for now — and not so much because of his play but rather the injury — Krejci falls just short.
The question with Loui Eriksson isn’t so much about production because he’s been one of the most reliable players for the Black and Gold this season. From killing penalties to his two-way game and putting the puck in the net, he’s having his best season in a ‘Spoked B’ since coming over in the infamous Tyler Seguin trade from Dallas. With 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists), Eriksson enters the All-Star break as the team’s second leading scorer, trailing only Patrice Bergeron (44 points).
The bigger question with Eriksson is whether or not he’ll be in a Bruins uniform for the rest of the season. Indications from recent reports suggest that the B’s will be parting ways with him at either the deadline or the off-season. Quite frankly, I’d be shocked if the Swede is still wearing a Black and Gold jersey after the deadline.
When David Krejci was lost for 10 games thanks to an upper-body injury, Ryan Spooner was promoted to the second line and asked to help keep the Bruins afloat in Krejci’s absence. Spooner did just that.
With 10 goals and 27 assists, Spooner sits behind Bergeron and Eriksson for the team lead in points. Spooner has been an important asset on the Bruins’ second-ranked power play with 14 points. The 23-year old Spooner has shown a huge confidence boost of late.
Despite struggles in his own zone and especially at the faceoff dot, Spooner continues to earn head coach Claude Julien’s trust.
To date, Pastrnak has only played in 18 games, but he does have five goals and four assists. The 19 year-old brings speed, skill and another dimension on an already talented Bruins’ power-play.
With “Pasta” in the line-up, the Black and Gold are a better team especially when he is playing alongside Ryan Spooner. The Czech is still getting adapted to the NHL style of play, but it seems whenever he is out there, he is making a difference. The problem is he needs to stay out there.
In his second year, Pastrnak hasn’t found his stride yet. We have seen glimpses of his greatness, but with the more practice repetitions and game action, the Pastrnak we saw last year when he was lighting the lamp quite often should return.
Pastrnak was sent down to the Providence Bruins on Wednesday. He will skate with the “Baby B’s” during the break and is expected to rejoin the big club when NHL play resumes.
Hayes was Don Sweeney’s biggest trade splash last summer when his first play as GM was to swap Reilly Smith even up for the Dorchester native and ex-Florida Panther. Tough going in pro sports for most to be in the local spotlight. Hayes is still struggling with that dynamic, as well as establishing a consistent presence for his 6-foot-5 and 215-pound power forward label.
Last year, Hayes netted 32 points for the surging Panthers. This year in the Black and Gold, he is 11-11-22 in 47 games. But 12 of those points came in four games. Add the minus-6 and it all reinforces that hometown-struggle argument.
While Sweeney saved a million in the deal, his return on investment for the former Boston College standout is still not paying Bruins’ dividends. (Smith is 16-12-28.)
When the Bruins signed the 27-year old Finnish free agent in the offseason, they were hoping that he could be their third line center. But, while head coach Claude Julien still uses him in that slot, Kemppainen hasn’t seized the opportunity and has become more of a utility player.
Yes, it takes time to adjust to the North American game and missing eleven games early on didn’t help the transition, but with just three points in 35 games, his play has been underwhelming to say the least. One thing Kemppainen has proven to be reliable for is his face-off capability where he is 51.4 percent at the dot. That’s probably why Julien keeps using him instead of scratching him, but one has to wonder if that’s still a waste of a roster spot.
Out of all of Don Sweeney’s off-season moves, acquiring Zac Rinaldo from Philadelphia for a third round pick is still a head scratcher. His games lost due to suspension (14), are more than the goals he’s tallied during his career (9) and that includes his lone goal through 41 games this year.
The only good news coming from this? His past reputation hasn’t caught up with him, yet. He escaped supplemental discipline after he was given a game misconduct for charging former teammate Sean Couturier in October. Since then, he’s been keeping his nose clean for his standards.
With five fighting majors to his credit, Rinaldo has been somewhat serviceable in his role as an energy player on the fourth line. That said, there are others who can serve in that role if needed.
In a season that has seen Talbot make a few trips up and down I-95 to and from Providence, he’s done a great job accepting his role, especially as an established veteran.
Talbot has just two goals and three assists in 28 games. Despite the low point totals, he still has been a valuable member of the Bruins. Creating a presence on the fourth line and being a go-to guy in the dressing room, Talbot has done more good than harm for the Bruins. He’s not going to light up the scoresheet by any means, but for what is role is and what is expected of him, Talbot gets the job done.
Many people didn’t know the name Landon Ferraro before he was acquired off of waivers by the Bruins in October. So far, he has appeared in 37 games for the Black and Gold tallying three goals and four assists.
Ferraro isn’t the type of player that is going to make an immediate difference in a game like a Patrice Bergeron, but he is serviceable, and that’s what Julien is asking of him. The 24 year-old center plays between 11-15 minutes per night trying not to make mistakes that will land him up on Level 9 watching the game with the media.
The former Red Wing has dealt with injuries and healthy scratches this year but tries to make the most of his opportunity when he is out there with the bottom six. As a matter of fact, he does have a game-winning goal this season to his credit against the Canadiens in Montreal.
Pick the Bruin who flies lowest on the radar screen and it’s likely Randell. The Route 95 drive from Providence to Boston is done in his sleep with 20 games on Causeway Street since October, the last on January 9. He shows flashes of potential with his four goals and Shawn Thornton-type play as the team’s enforcer. But six minutes a game average is not going to help his progress this year. At 24, he may be part of the long-term picture for Boston – or showcased for the trade deadline next month.
I’ll come right out and say, being a UMass-Amherst Alum and one-time Western Massachusetts resident, I’m a bit partisan when it comes to Vatrano who hails from East Longmeadow, MA. So take this critique and grade with a grain of salt! That being said, I, at first, disagreed with Vatrano being reassigned to Providence when Krejci returned from injury. Yes, the rookie had long stretches without points, but was he really brought up to rack up points?
Vatrano — if he continues to play well enough — likely has a ceiling of a third line player and that’s how I thought he played. He played that role better than Kemppainen did and the Bruins would likely be better served to continue letting the 21-year old hone his skills at the NHL level where he proved he can hang. They will, however, need more offensive output than the six goals and one assist he provided in 30 games. Not much, but more.