With Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak producing the way they are, the Boston Bruins are always going to be considered contenders. With David Krejci and Tuukka Rask having possibly played their last games in the NHL, the baton of success and consistency needs to be passed on to other players in the lineup if they want to continue to succeed. The top line can only do so much and with secondary scoring being a problem, there are certain players who need to breakout and finally show their worth. Outside of Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, and Taylor Hall, the Bruins desperately need Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle to help carry the offensive burden.
The Bruins defense has taken their fair share of blows in the last few years. Losing and trying to replace Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara in the summer of 2020 was always going to be difficult and it proved to be just that when Brandon Carlo missed 29 games in 2020-21. Their depth was tested but they didn’t buckle under pressure as Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton, and Jeremy Lauzon took on much bigger roles. For the goaltending to succeed this year, they’re going to need all hands on deck. McAvoy is as dependable as they come but the Bruins really need Carlo to stay healthy and assume a lengthy top 4 role; to stabilize the defense and give the Bruins a shot at making a run.
In 2020-21(not including David Krejci), Brad Marchand scored 29 goals and 69 points in 53 games, David Pastrnak scored 20 goals and 48 points in 48 games, and Patrice Bergeron scored 23 goals and 48 points in 54 games. After them there was a steep drop off in production. Craig Smith had 32 points, Charlie McAvoy had 30 points, departed Nick Ritchie had 26 points, Grzelcyk had 20 points, and Coyle and DeBrusk had 16 and 14 points respectively. To put that into perspective as to how badly they struggled offensively, Taylor Hall had 14 points in only 16 games with the Bruins. Coyle and DeBrusk played 51 and 41 games respectively.
After a really strong rookie season and a sophomore season where he scored 27 goals, a lot was expected from the young DeBrusk. However, his consistency, confidence, and hustle has faded in the last two years as he’s only been able to chip in with 24 goals and 49 points in 106 games. 19 of those 24 goals came in the 2019-20 season, which further illustrates the struggles he dealt with in 2020-21.
Trade rumours have been running rampant for a few years now but none more than this summer. The Edmonton Oilers have checked in a few times for the young forward but the Bruins don’t want to just give him away. He was one of the 3 back-to-back-to-back selections in the infamous 2015 NHL Draft, where the Bruins skipped out on Matthew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Travis Konecny, and Thomas Chabot. That cloud has been looming over him ever since he stepped on the ice but his recent play has only made it worse.
He’s got one year left on his current contract and one would assume he really needs to step it up this year if he wants to cash in. With Krejci retiring and the Bruins needing more secondary and depth scoring, DeBrusk should get a lot more opportunities and ice time. Scoring 16, 27, and 19 goals in his first three seasons is pretty good but last year’s totals need to drastically improve if he wants to help the Bruins advance further in the playoffs, remain a Bruin, and/or receive a good contract come the end of the season.
Charlie Coyle might be the Bruin under the most pressure heading into the season. Tentatively speaking, head coach Bruce Cassidy has said that Coyle will start the season as the second line centre. However, if he continues to struggle then the Bruins have Erik Haula or even Nick Foligno as possible second line centre candidates.
Charlie Coyle has a modified no trade clause and a full no movement clause, is signed for another 5 years at 5.25 million, and is coming off his worst statistical season of his career. He posted a career low 6 goals and 16 points, which are numbers that he hasn’t recorded since his rookie season in 2012-13 where he also only played a fraction of the games. With Krejci in the lineup, the Bruins felt comfortable having Coyle on the third line. It was a move to balance the lineup and add tertiary scoring.
Now he’s going to have a chance to play with Taylor Hall and presumably Craig Smith. He’s never really played with skilled guys like Hall, so this is his opportunity to seize the moment and try to jumpstart his numbers. He has the capabilities of scoring 20+ goals as he did it once in 2015-16 and came within striking distance twice, in 2016-17 and 2019-20.
With the Bruins severely lacking in centre position depth this is the chance of a lifetime for Coyle. His contract is looking more and more expensive by the minute and if he does end up struggling, he could find himself back in the bottom 6 in no time. However, playing with Hall and Smith should be enough to carry the second line and at least give the Bruins a dangerous top 6. Just like DeBrusk, his ice time will increase even more and he’ll have his chances on the powerplay units.
Outside of McAvoy, the Bruins defense no longer has that household name that everyone remembers. They had Chara for so long and a great cast around him but once Krug left, it was abundantly clear that McAvoy was going to be the new anchor on the backend. He needs a second-in-command and that should be Brandon Carlo, who is a great defensive defenseman, smooth skater for his size, and can get you 20+ points. Other than last year, he has stayed relatively healthy in his 5 seasons with the Bruins, missing out on only 20 games in his first 4 seasons.
With Grzelcyk assuming his role with McAvoy on the top pair, don’t be surprised to see a second unit of Carlo and Derek Forbort. Forbot is a 6’4/220lb towering defenseman who just signed a 3 year contract and should be an important fixture moving forward. There’s not really anything special about his game but he’s a gritty, grizzled, rough-em-up type defenseman that every team needs. Forbort playing in top 4 also has to do with the lack of depth.
Mike Reilly and Connor Clifton will likely make up the bottom pair with Jakub Zboril serving as the 7th defenseman. They are all good players who serve their purpose but it is absolutely clear that after McAvoy, Carlo is the second-in-command and he has to play like it as well. Playing alongside Chara, Krug, and McAvoy over the years should give him all the experience necessary to take on a much larger role in 2021-22.
With depth being a possible issue and lacking another top tier defenseman, the Bruins can ill afford another injury to Carlo or McAvoy this season. Even with both Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak not returning, goaltending shouldn’t be an issue as usual. Linus Ullmark had great numbers for someone who spent time in Buffalo and Jeremy Swayman is looking to build upon his stellar debut.
The Bruins looked primed for another good season and whenever you have players like Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, Hall, and McAvoy; playoffs is the minimum requirement. Returning to the old playoff format and the Atlantic Division might be trickier, especially with the Tampa Bay Lightning coming off back to back cups, the Florida Panthers acquiring more talent, and the core 4 of the Toronto Maple Leafs; the Bruins need all hands on deck this season.
Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, and Brandon Carlo are three players who are primed for and in need of a breakout season. They will have a much larger role to play this season compared to last and for the Bruins to succeed and make a cup run, they’re going to need all 3 players to chip in as much as possible. With a David Krejci-sized crater to fill in the lineup, DeBrusk and Coyle cannot combine for 11 goals in 92 combined games again. Although he has remained relatively healthy over the length of his career, Carlo can’t afford to miss time again. The Bruins will always be a tough team to play against but if their secondary and tertiary options start chipping in, they’ll be damn near impossible to beat on most nights.