Boston Bruins Season in Review: Forwards

After a disappointing finish to a great season, the Boston Bruins will try to reload. Key players like Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, Jake DeBrusk, and Zdeno Chara will be free agents of some form. The Bruins may need to replace all of them. In this end of season review, I will begin with the Bruins most polarizing group: forwards. 

Patrice Bergeron

Bergeron appears to be encountering the end of his prime, and it showed at some points this year. While the two-way forward was nominated for the Selke Trophy yet again, his offensive game began to show some holes. His point production dropped from 79 to 56 in only 4 less games. He was at times nonexistent during the playoffs, especially in the Lightning series, on the offensive side. 

The veteran centerman will always be a standout defender, but his offense has begun to show holes. Bergeron is signed through the 2021-22 season, but after that, it may be over for the 16 year Bruin. If the Bruins choose to reload, he won’t be on the move, but may be donning the C should Chara move elsewhere (which I don’t believe will happen). Bergeron will remain a key piece for the Boston Bruins as they load up to make another cup run, although his career may be coming to an end soon. 

Anders Bjork

The young winger had a very interesting season. He managed to stay healthy for a whole year and showed flashes of his potential in the 58 games he played, scoring 19 points with 9 goals. Don Sweeney signed him to a team friendly extension for 3 years at a cap hit of 1.6 million. It looked like a bargain until the playoffs.

Bjork did not perform well at all in the bubble. He sometimes looked lost on the ice, took some very dumb penalties, and the theme of “showing flashes” continued. The Notre Dame product had only 1 assist in 10 games and did not generate very much offense, even paired with Charlie Coyle, who has been among the best Bruins forwards in terms of possession and puck control. 

Bjork does have a bright future and the potential to be a successor to Brad Marchand on the top line, but he needs to improve for that potential to be reached. 

Charlie Coyle

Coyle was among the Bruins best forwards all year. The centerman performed admirably on both sides of the ice, and Sweeney rewarded him midseason with a 6 year, 31.5 million dollar contract. The Weymouth native may not generate as many points as other Bruins forwards, but is integral to the Bruins plans.

Acquired by Don Sweeney at least year’s trade deadline for Ryan Donato and a 5th round pick, Coyle has perhaps been Sweeney’s best trade yet. In 91 regular season games as a Bruin, he has 18 goals and 25 assists for 43 points. While that production may not scream “one of the best players on the team, Coyle’s postseason contributions and hustle earned him the 7th man of the year award. 

Coyle is signed through the 2025-26 season at a cap hit just over 5 million. That deal is well worth it for a player of his caliber. 

Jake DeBrusk

DeBrusk may be the Boston Bruins’ most polarizing forward. At times he is nowhere to be found, and he will score 8 goals in 4 games. For instance, half of his 4 goals in the postseason came in just one game (Game 4 against Carolina). In the series against the Lightning, he posted a -4 plus/minus and only one point, a goal in game 4. 

For a player expected to take a third year leap after scoring 27 goals in his sophomore year, DeBrusk largely disappointed. He scored 35 points in 65 games. This is a respectable tally to be sure, but many Bruins fans and perhaps the front office expected better. 

DeBrusk’s future with the Bruins is rather murky in nature. The young forward is eligible to sign an offer sheet with another team this offseason. However, Don Sweeney may choose to deal him for a replacement for Torey Krug, who is an unrestricted free agent.

Ultimately, I expect the Bruins to retain his services unless he gets an offer sheet costing more than Charlie McAvoy (5 m average annual value (AAV)). Montreal and Marc Bergevin have been active in offer sheets in the past, and they may look to poach DeBrusk away from Boston. 

Trent Frederic

Frederic may be taking over a bigger role due to Joakim Nordström’s exit. Once an intriguing prospect and a first round pick out of the University of Wisconsin, Frederic has shown that his offense isn’t NHL-ready yet. Frederic provides a physical presence on the ice that the Bruins have definitely been lacking (hence the abominable Nick Ritchie trade). That should be enough, coupled with the offensive upside, to get him into the lineup. Frederic has not scored a single point in 17 career NHL games. Right now, he is best suited as a high-energy, fourth line player. Frederic will be a restricted free agent after the 2021 season. 

Ondrej Kaše

Kaše is another player who has been a topic of debate amongst Bruins fans. The winger, acquired by the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline for David Backes, Axel Andersson, and a first round pick, has been mediocre at best. During the Hurricanes series, Kaše was fantastic. He was a great partner for David Krejčí, who had an outstanding series as well. However, the Czech Republic native was largely neutralized by the Lightning.

Kaše had 4 points, all of which were assists, in the postseason. He mostly passed the eye test as well. He played strong with and off the puck and put up a lot of shots. Although his acquisition was mostly the result of a cap dump, he fit in well.

The Bruins are still looking for Kaše to score much more than he does though. An analytical favorite, he was only able to score 7 goals in the 2019-20 season but none for the Bruins. Watching his play, a lot of this lack of scoring comes from bad puck luck. That may improve given a whole year to learn the Bruins’ system.

Kaše will be a restricted free agent after the 2021 season. This upcoming season will determine whether the Bruins choose to retain him. If he were a free agent right now, though, I do not think he has shown enough to warrant another contract.

David Krejčí

Krejci was dependable yet again for the Boston Bruins. A year removed from a 73 point season, Krejci was never really able to get it going. The Czech center only scored 13 goals and 43 points. However, “playoff Krejci” reemerged, especially when David Pastrnak went down for 3 games during the Hurricanes series. He led the Bruins in playoff points with Brad Marchand and tied for second in goals with Jake DeBrusk.

Krejci is probably nearing the end of his career as well. He will be in a contract year and may be on the move as the Bruins look to the future. Signed to a 6 year deal with an AAV of 7.25 million, the 34 year old still has some good hockey left in him. But not for 7.25 million.

That being said, Krejci is one of the two dependable secondary forwards the Boston Bruins have right now. The team has become noticeably top heavy, which Don Sweeney will work to address in the coming offseason.

Karson Kuhlman

Kuhlman continues to outperform expectations for an undrafted free agent. Coming out of Minnesota-Duluth, the forward rose through the ranks quickly. Kuhlman is still only 24 years old, and is an integral piece of the Bruins depth. Kuhlman had 6 points in 25 games despite suffering a broken leg.

His production did not echo his performance in the playoffs, as Kuhlman looked good every time on the ice. His speed allows him to win icing races and forecheck well. If his offensive game continues to develop, he may be a nice piece for the Bruins bottom 6. Kuhlman is a restricted free agent but is ineligible to sign offer sheets. Unless he is traded, Kuhlman will likely be in a Boston Bruins uniform next season.

Sean Kuraly

Kuraly is another player who continues to be a solid depth piece for the Bruins. He is the established anchor of the fourth line, and his and Chris Wagner‘s absences considerably diminished that line’s effectiveness. His point total has increased each of the last 3 years, even despite playing less games this year. The Miami University (Ohio) product has also shown that he is capable of elevating to the third line, sometimes playing alongside Charlie Coyle.

Kuraly has considerable speed and good size, so he may look to add more physicality to his game, especially playing the über-physical Tampa Bay Lightning, whom the Bruins did not match up well with.

Kuraly’s contract is very team-friendly, but he is only signed through next season. Look for the Bruins to keep him around for the long haul. I expect Don Sweeney will make extending Sean Kuraly a priority. He is still only 27 and may still have some more offensive potential.

Par Lindholm

Par Lindholm was a nice depth acquisition by Don Sweeney. He will never be more than a fourth line center, but he plays well with the puck and does generate some offense. The Swedish centerman is signed through next season at 850,000 AAV.

Lindholm usually teeters the line between healthy scratch and fourth line center. He does not provide a whole lot of offense (6 points in 40 games), but his defense is usually fantastic. His expected plus minus sits around 3, and adds about a point defensively per game. Lindholm may gain a bigger role with the likely departure of fellow defensive forward and Swede Joakim Nordström.

As a borderline scratch, Lindholm did nothing to solidify his place in the lineup during the playoffs. He played in 6 games, registering no points. However, he did have a few chances at offensive output. Lindholm is a solid depth piece for the Bruins, and will contribute to a defensive effort that will likely be among the league’s best.

Brad Marchand

Marchand had yet another highly productive season for the Bruins. He totaled 87 points and 28 goals during the shortened regular season. The pesky left winger continues to be an offensive threat for the Bruins. The playoffs brought some inconsistency from Marchand, but he perhaps had the best playoffs of any Bruin. He scored 12 points and 7 goals in 12 games and was pretty much the only consistent offensive force against the Lightning.

The native of Nova Scotia is under contract through the 2025 season, so it appears that Marchand is not going anywhere. He will continue to anchor the Bruins top line and offensive attack for the next 5 years. Although the winger is getting up in age at 32, he is showing no signs of slowing down.

Joakim Nordström

Another Swedish fourth liner, Nordström underperformed, at least offensively, compared to last year. He was debatably the Bruins most physical presence in the playoffs, and totaled 55 hits in just 13 games. The Swedish winger will make an excellent addition to whichever team he makes a new home with, as the Bruins are highly unlikely to retain his services with Trent Frederic biting at his heels.

Nordström never brought much offensively, only contributing just 19 points in 118 games as a Bruin. However, he was always fantastic defensively. He always moved to block shots, get his body in the way, and always helped cover for defense. Nordy will be sorely missed next year; his absence may affect the fourth line defensively.

Nordstrom was in a contract year and proved enough to merit another contract. The Bruins, stuck in a sticky cap situation, will likely not be able to afford him along with the other players they have to pay. So, thank you Nordy, and best of luck.

David Pastrnák

Pastrnák had a fantastic season. He tied with Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in goals with 48. The Czech winger added 47 assists too, bringing his point total to 95, good for 3rd in the league. He has firmly cemented himself as a top 10 NHL player, and the 24 year old can only get better.

Pastrnak had to miss 3 games against the Carolina Hurricanes due to a side strain and never really looked the same after. He still scored 10 points in 10 games, but only managed 3 goals. Bruce Cassidy said later that Pastrnák was dealing with a lower body injury, which may explain some of the inactivity.

The Bruins also need to do a much better job of protecting Pastrnák. They let the Lightning especially get away with far too much without retaliation. Acquiring a physical defenseman or forward(s) may do the trick. The winger was knocked around too much without retaliation.

Pastrnak is signed through the 2023 season at a cap hit of 6.67 million AAV. He will most likely be looking for a deal with AAV bordering 12 should his offensive output continue.

Nick Ritchie

This one is painful to write. Nick Ritchie was absolutely horrible for the Boston Bruins. Acquired for Danton Heinen in February, Ritchie was nothing short of terrible in a Bruins uniform. In 7 regular season games, he only managed to muster 2 points. Added with the 8 postseason games he played in with 1 goal and no assists. For those who don’t remember, the goal was a trickle-in under Andrei Vasilevskiy pad. So in 15 games in a Bruins uniform, Nick Ritchie scored 3 points. So much for the equal offensive production. Ritchie was also supposed to bring much-needed physicality to the Bruins. He isn’t fast enough to finish checks and get back defensively, and when he did finally hit, it was incredibly late and cost the Bruins greatly (Game 4 of Lightning series).

Ritchie needs to improve in order to make any kind of contribution to the Bruins next year. He will need to speed his game up to adjust to a fast NHL. The native Canadian still has potential at 24, but needs to work very hard to achieve it. Ritchie will be a Bruin next year as he is under contract, but a trade is not the most far-fetched idea, especially if Ritchie can be replaced by another player.

Zach Senyshyn

A first round pick of the Bruins in 2015, Senyshyn will have a chance to contribute this upcoming season. He skated in 4 games this season and posted 2 assists in Boston. The winger spent most of his time in Providence, posting 16 points in 42 games in the AHL. He profiles as a middle 6 winger, but certainly has the potential for more. The Canada native could take over Charlie Coyle’s right wing if he has a good camp. He is a restricted free agent, but will likely return as he is ineligible for an offer sheet.

Jack Studnicka

Studnicka, arguably the Boston Bruins’ best prospect, showed well in limited action. The forward is capable of playing center and right wing, seeing his time at the latter in the postseason playing with Charlie Coyle. He entered the lineup against Carolina over Nick Ritchie to provide speed and skill.

Studnicka did not score a point in the postseason, but clearly made an offensive impact. He puts up a lot of shots and will clearly play a large role on what will likely be a revamped forward group. He needs to add some muscle to produce more, as he is very scrawny at 171 pounds. Studnicka will likely be a middle 6 forward for the Bruins for a long time should he live up to his potential.

Chris Wagner

A Bruins fan favorite, Wagner proved how lucrative he is to the success of the Bruins when Sweeney handed him a 3 year extension. The Walpole native scored 10 points and provided hustle and physicality off the bench. Despite a slight offensive decline, Wagner still has solid hands for a fourth liner and provides chances regularly.

Wagner was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) and was unavailable for Game 5 against the Lightning. The Colgate University product will continue to anchor the Bruins’ checking line through the 2022-23 year.

Summary

The Boston Bruins’ front office have said they are taking a “heavy look” at reloading their roster. This likely means overhauling the middle 6 and may even include parting with fixations like Jake DeBrusk or some of their younger guys. Either way, it will be an intriguing and action-packed offseason for the Boston Bruins.

Photo Credits: Keith Gillett, Getty

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