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  • Midseason report cards: Bruins forwards

    Tim Rosenthal February 3, 2022

    The reviews for the Boston Bruins 2021-22 campaign provided mixed results through their first 43 contests. Surely they’re in a better position following the COVID break, holding a firm grip on the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

    Clearly, they’ll need upgrades between now and the trade deadline for any hope of another deep playoff run, including a second-line center and a top-four defenseman. We’ll look ahead to the marquee names on the block heading into another pivotal deadline period for Don Sweeney.

    For now, we’ll look at some of Boston’s top performers and the players who need to improve. Here’s are the midseason report cards for the Bruins forwards. Check back tomorrow as Ryan Ames assesses the B’s defense and goaltending.

    Brad Marchand

    We begin our assessment of Bruins forwards with a potential Hart Trophy candidate.

    Marchand’s only blemish to date came with his three-game suspension for slew-footing Canucks defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson on Nov. 28. Compared to his other disciplinary moments, the ruling from NHL Player Safety for Marchand’s ban was rather palpable at best.

    His brief exit didn’t hinder his game one bit. Marchand’s crafty and aggressive playmaking traits make him a threat to score whenever he touches the puck.

    With 49 points in 38 games (21 goals, 28 assists), Marchand remains on pace to notch another 100-point campaign. He may have a bit of an uphill climb to secure at least a top-three nomination for the Hart, but there’s no question regarding his MVP status among all Bruins.

    Grade: A

    Patrice Bergeron

    To think that certain sports radio personalities questioned Bergeron’s heart at the start of the season.

    Father time hasn’t slowed down one of the greatest two-way forwards in NHL history. Amid Boston’s roller-coaster season, Boston’s lone all-star representative in 2022 once again provided consistency in all three zones, winning an astonishing 66 percent of his faceoffs in 5v5 play.

    Somehow, Bergeron remains tied with Bob Gainey for the most Selke awards. He’ll finally end a five-year drought and surpass Gainey with his fifth Selke, Barring any surprising developments.

    Bergeron (12 goals, 22 assists in 42 games) remains mum on publicly discussing a potential new contract. Even with notable core members from year’s past departing elsewhere, like Zdeno Chara and David Krejci, it’s hard to imagine Bergeron suiting up for any other team. The Bruins over-relied on Bergeron over the last couple of seasons, but he continues to thrive in every even-strength and special teams situation.

    Grade: A

    David Pastrnak

    A snakebitten Pastrnak found himself pressing more often than not to start the season. More often than not, he tried to make the perfect play after passing up quality shooting opportunities. Whenever he fired the puck, he admitted to picking corners instead of simply shooting at the net.

    With that in mind, Bruce Cassidy decided to switch things up. He moved Pastrnak away from the dynamic Bergeron-Marchand duo — replacing him with Craig Smith — and into a second-line role with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula. The move provided the necessary scoring balance that the Bruins lacked over the first few months.

    Pastrnak went on a torrid pace in January, notching 12 goals in 16 games. He picked up right where he left off in the first game of February, lighting the lamp twice in a needed Bruins win over the Seattle Kraken.

    The 2014 top overall pick and 2020 Rocket Richard winner now sit in the top 15 among the league’s leading goal scorers with 22. Eleven of those tallies came on the man advantage. Only Chris Kreider (17) and Leon Draisaitl (13) rank ahead of Pastrnak atop the power-play goal department.

    Pastrnak’s crafty offensive skillset and Hall’s two-way work ethic meshes well no matter who’s centering them. A potential upgrade at second-line center would give Cassidy more fluid options with his top-six, including a possible Pastrnak reunion with Marchand and Bergeron. For now, they’ll reap the benefits of the growing chemistry between Pastrnak and Hall.

    Grade: A-

    Taylor Hall

    A rotation of second-line centers hindered Hall’s performance after Krejci’s departure. The Bruins tried Charlie Coyle, Jack Studnicka and a rotation between Haula and Tomas Nosek between Hall and Smith at certain junctures.

    The COVID pause benefitted the Bruins both physically and mentally. Perhaps Hall became the biggest beneficiary when Pastrnak joined him on the second line.

    Hall notched 15 points in the 17 games with Pastrnak at the opposite wing. Cassidy even put Hall back on the top power-play unit in the net-front role, a position he never had until this season. The 2010 top overall pick looks more comfortable retrieving pucks and establishing secondary opportunities since he found himself among exceptional talent like Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy.

    Now in his fifth home, Hall acclimated himself nicely within Boston’s culture. He still thinks he has another level reach after notching 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 43 games. Stabilizing the center situation behind Bergeron will only help Hall achieve his lofty expectations.

    Grade: B

    Erik Haula

    Haula’s stat line doesn’t necessarily match his current position as a second-line stopgap (5 goals, 11 assists in 40 games). But the Bruins needed his versatility to balance out the lineup.

    Like Pastrnak, Haula found himself snakebitten early on. But he’s hardly looked out of place with Hall and Pastrnak, tallying 11 points in 14 games with the duo before entering COVID protocol.

    The Bruins signed Haula with the intention of improving their bottom-six depth. The Islanders exposed Boston’s third and fourth line in last year’s second-round exit. Haula shouldn’t see a steep dropoff in production, assuming he returns to center one of the bottom two trios to go along with his secondary roles on the power play and penalty kill.

    Grade: B-

    Craig Smith

    An early-season injury and a stint in COVID-19 protocol hindered Smith’s second season in Boston. He’s found a rhythm in spurts since Cassidy placed him with Bergeron and Marchand but he hasn’t sustained the same scoring touch from a year ago.

    The good news is Smith hasn’t shied away from shooting the puck. He sits fifth on the team in shots on goal (86) with 73 coming in 5v5 situations. His shoot-first mentality provided Cassidy with a versatile top-six winger to ride along with Bergeron and Marchand whenever Boston’s bench boss decided to alter his lineup.

    The Bruins need more production from Smith (six goals, eight assists). He hasn’t fully received the benefits of the Bergeron-Marchand bump this time around, tallying seven points since Jan. 1. Perhaps that production will come around when the B’s head into a busy 39-game slate coming out of the All-Star break.

    Grade: C+

    Jake DeBrusk

    To his credit, DeBrusk hasn’t become a distraction during this awkward time for both team and player following his trade request. He’s upped his trade value with a recent uptick in scoring production.

    At times, his effort came into question during the worst season of his career in the pandemic-shortened 2021 campaign. This season, he settled into a third-line role with a rotating cast of linemates. The Edmonton native surpassed his 14 point-campaign in 41 games from a year ago, tallying 15 points in 38 tilts this season.

    A month ago, DeBrusk likely teetered into ‘D’ territory. His grade isn’t anything to write home about now, necessarily. At the very least, he’s making the most of his potential final days donning a black and gold sweater.

    Grade: C

    Charlie Coyle

    It wasn’t so much chemistry issues with Hall or Smith that prevented Coyle from securing the second-line center gig, at least for the short term. But rather, a case of having three shoot-first skaters together.

    Coyle’s production already increased after a nagging knee injury set him back a year ago. His seven 5v5 tallies rank him third among all Bruins, behind only Marchand and Pastrnak. His 20 points in 43 games (10 goals, 10 assists) puts him on pace to match or surpass his 37 points from 2019-20.

    Yet, Coyle found himself in a nine-game point drought in January. He hardly encountered issues with puck possession or creating scoring chances in that stretch, skating mainly with DeBrusk and Oskar Steen. Heck, at times, the third line was one of Boston’s best trios even when they didn’t find themselves on the scoresheet.

    The Weymouth-born forward hasn’t quite lived up to the $5.25 million contract extension he signed a couple of years ago. He hasn’t developed a scoring streak longer than three games. The Bruins could use a little more scoring consistency from Coyle heading into an important second-half of the season.

    Grade: B-

    Oskar Steen

    Even with the off-season additions of veterans Lazar, Nosek and Nick Foligno up front, the Bruins still had a spot or two open for hoping at least one of their prospects would take the next step. It took a while, but Steen became a keeper during his extended run in Boston.

    Steen averaged more than a point per game in 16 tilts down in Providence. The Bruins called the Swede up for a trip up I-95 after a slew of players entered COVID protocol.

    The 23-year-old became a keeper during his recent stretch with DeBrusk and Coyle. Steen hasn’t been out of the lineup since Cassidy inserted him in a bottom-six role in Detroit on Jan. 2. He even earned some playing time alongside Bergeron and Marchand during the team’s recent three-game road trip.

    Steen’s trajectory likely slots him as a middle of the lineup guy. Even with just six points (two goals, four assists) in 18 games, Steen is gaining confidence with each shift while providing a healthy mix of skill and grit.

    Grade: B-

    Curtis Lazar

    The Buffalo Sabres added Lazar in the Hall deal for Anders Bjork and a second-round pick in the 2021 draft. Indeed, Lazar came as advertised since arriving in Boston.

    Whether it’s providing timely offense as an unlikely source (11 points on five goals and six assists in 36 games) or providing energy when the team doesn’t have their skating legs, Lazar fits his fourth-line role to a T. His reliance and durability in a bottom-six role allows Cassidy to use him in various situations, from the penalty kill to lining up against other teams’ top-scoring trios.

    The Bruins need all four lines rolling come playoff time. They have no qualms about their fourth line with a sparkplug like Lazar leading the way.

    Grade: B+

    Tomas Nosek

    Sweeney went to work after watching the Islanders wear down the Bruins in last year’s second-round series. He inked a quintet of veterans on the first day of free agency, including Nosek.

    The former Vegas Golden Knight provided the Bruins with heavy minutes on the fourth line and the penalty kill. He doesn’t have the scoring touch like Lazar but still fits the bottom trio mold with his blue-collar work ethic.

    Nosek filled in for Haula on the second line in Boston’s final two games before the All-Star break. He notched an assist on Hall’s tally in Tuesday’s win after winning a puck battle along the boards.

    It won’t take long for Nosek to return to fourth-line duty. He served himself well in the brief time he skated with Hall and Pastrnak, providing another versatile option for Cassidy.

    Grade: B-

    Anton Blidh

    For the brief time, he spent with the big club, it’s quite remarkable to think that Blidh is in the middle of his sixth season in the Bruins organization.

    The 26-year-old suited up for a career-high 24 tilts in 2021-22. Blidh’s previous high came in his first season, skating in 19 NHL games in 2016-17.

    Blidh’s heavy physical presence, Lazar’s flashy skillset and Nosek’s workmanlike attitude complimented each other well when Cassidy trotted this version of the fourth line out. He’s meshed well with other skaters in that fourth line role, from Stephen Fogarty’s recent two-game stint to even Trent Frederic’s presence earlier in the year.

    He’s one of Boston’s few pending UFA’s after the season. The fourth line has the highest turnover rate among the 32 teams. Blidh should earn a raise from his $750,000 salary. Yet, the Bruins might need every dollar to re-up their other two UFAs in Bergeron, Lazar ($800k) and other potential upgrades come the off-season.

    Grade: B

    Trent Frederic

    Many scouting pundits pegged Frederic as a reach when Sweeney selected the former Wisconsin Badger in the first round of the 2016 Draft. Well, they’ve been proven right.

    Frederic became a fan favorite with his agitating persona. He’s challenged the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, hoping to get under their skin. Any old-time fan would appreciate Frederic’s work ethic, but he still hasn’t lived up to his first-round billing.

    Frederic started to gain offensive traction with goals in consecutive games before sustaining an upper-body injury on Jan. 10 against the Capitals. He now finds himself on the outside looking in once he’s cleared for game action.

    Grade: C

    Nick Foligno

    The Bruins value Foligno’s leadership inside the dressing room and his blue-collar work ethic doesn’t need questioning. But the results, well, that’s another story.

    Foligno encountered setbacks with injuries and COVID. More often than not, he had to re-establish his footing with each return only to have another setback down the line. The Bruins knew they likely didn’t envision Foligno putting forth similar outings from his prime years as the captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets. But they clearly expected more than a goal and six assists during his first 26 games donning the spoked B.

    Grade: C-

    Incompletes: Jesper Froden, Stephen Fogarty and Jack Studnicka

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    Tim Rosenthal

    Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.


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