Firing a head coach mid-season is always a risky move, but for last year’s edition of the Boston Bruins, it was exactly what the team needed.
After falling out of the playoff picture, new coach Bruce Cassidy brought energy to the team, and they found themselves back in the postseason after a two-year absence.
Despite breakout seasons from David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo, to go along with Charlie McAvoy’s playoff performance. This is still a team that is led by a veteran core ideally set to win now.
Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand form one of the better center-wing combos in the league. By adding Pastrnak in the mix, it resulted in the Bruins having one of the best lines in all of hockey.
The three combined to register 208 points last season and were the best in the league for puck possession.
Despite being so reliant on an aging group of veterans, if the Bruins want to find themselves back in the playoffs this upcoming season they will need younger players to step up and take on key roles in the lineup, the same way Pastrnak did in 2016/2017.
Boston has five forwards that make $6 million or more this season after Pastrnak signed his new deal. By the time you throw in Matt Beleskey, who carries a near $4 million cap hit, the Bruins have 13 forwards who take up over $44 million in cap space. That’s more than half of the team’s total amount allowed.
Factor in Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug, and you can see the serious cap situation the Bruins sit in and the necessity to have youth injected into their lineup.
Being a former first-round pick, and given his performance in the playoffs, it is no surprise that expectations are high for McAvoy to take a big role in this upcoming season but that won’t be enough.
This preseason, Cassidy and the Bruins have experimented with breaking apart their top line from a year ago, sliding Pastrnak down to play with his countryman David Krejci. Doing this has opened two spots in the top-six where they may not only be filled with younger players but two who have yet to play a game at the NHL level.
Drafted in the first round in 2015, DeBrusk was the middle of three consecutive picks the Bruins had in the opening round, along with Jakub Zboril and Zachary Senyshyn. He was the first of the three to turn pro, playing all of last season with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League.
He turned in a promising season for playing a part of the year in his teens, recording 49 points (19 G, 30 points) in 74 games.
DeBrusk appears to be a perfect fit alongside both Krejci and Pastrnak, something that the latter has recognized.
“In the last two games he’s gotten plenty of pucks out of the battles and he’s winning pucks,” said Pastrnak. Even though DeBrusk has yet to register a goal, there isn’t much concern going forward. “So I think the scoring and confidence will come with that.”
A perfect mix, if the 20-year-old can win the puck along the boards, get the puck to Krejci who can set up Pastrnak, it has the makings of a deadly second line.
Who better to replace Pastrnak on the top line than a guy who was selected in the same draft as him? Bjork was the Bruins’ fifth-round pick back in 2014 and after three years at Notre Dame is looking to make the jump straight to the NHL from college.
While in college, Bjork scored at a near point-per-game pace (.947) which included 52 points in 39 games in his last year on campus.
While it might intimidate others to play with one of the better duos in the league, Bjork’s well-rounded game should make it an easy transition into such a big role.
His head coach believes that Bjork is ready for such a role.
“Yes. He sure does [look ready] to me,” Cassidy said. “Again, competition will stiffen for him and we’ll keep evaluating that. He’s got skill, speed, and he’s got courage. He gets to the dirty areas. He’s hard to play against. And there’s the second effort on pucks, it’s not one-and-done with him.”
He also got a ringing endorsement from Bergeron, still one of the league’s premier two-way forwards. “He’s got that speed and the smarts to get open and then find the openings in the quiet ice.”
It may not be an ideal situation to place two rookies with no NHL experience into top-six roles to start the season, especially for a team that is expecting to make the playoffs.
What is ideal is that the players that will play with them have plenty of experience.
The Bruins still have one of the better cores in the league. But with so much money invested in them, it will always come down to what kind of contributions they can get from players on entry-level deals or cheap contracts.
Bjork and DeBrusk can offer that and could make the Bruins an even more dangerous team to face in the Atlantic Division this season.
Will Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork be able to step up to help the Bruins this season? Let us know in the comments section below.
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