A look at the Bruins down the middle.
Take a quick look at the Bruins current roster and one thing that might jump out at you: the Bruins have a lot of freakin’ centers.
Besides the guys returning from last year who can play in the middle of the ice (Patrice Bergeron, Charlie Coyle, Curtis Lazar, Trent Frederic, and Jack Studnicka), the Bruins added centers Tomáš Nosek, Erik Haula, and occasional center Nick Foligno this summer via free agency.
With so many options at center, the question then becomes which players will get a shot to play center and which line will they play on.
The center for the first line is an absolute no-brainer, and requires very little to be written on it.
Bergeron will be centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak when the season begins. End of story.
While there are a few options here to fill David Krejci’s old spot, it looks like Boston’s 2C to start the year will most likely be Coyle.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy already alluded to bumping Coyle up from the third line in August when asked about who would be his second line center.
“The obvious choice is Charlie Coyle,” he said at the time. “He’s the most familiar with our guys and I’m the most familiar with him.”
And while there is no guarantee this will happen as the Bruins have yet to start training camp and chemistry could form between Taylor Hall, Craig Smith, and another center, Coyle appears to be the guy at the moment.
If this is true, the Bruins will need a big bounce-back season from Coyle. Last year, he was not the player that he was in the 2018-19 playoffs or during the 2019-2020 season.
After the season ended, we did learn that Coyle had been playing a bad knee all year, an injury that required two surgeries this summer.
To date, Coyle has never had such a prominent role as he appears slated to have this season. The pressure is certainly on for Coyle to produce.
Coyle is a solid playoff performer when the games matter most, so hopefully this is an indication that he can perform under the scrutiny he’ll face in 2021-22.
This is where the uncertainty begins for the Bruins.
The Bruins have at least four legitimate players who could slot in as the third-line center; however, many are predicting that Haula might get the first shot here with Nick Foligno on his wing.
In the past, 30-year-old Haula has shown some offensive punch (scoring 29 goals and 25 assists in 2017-18), and if he could find that scoring touch on the third line this year it would go a long way in making the B’s a complete hockey team.
After an knee injury in 2018-2019, however, Haula has not produced at a similar rate as that career year. Haula is still a great skater though, is sound defensively, and very strong in the faceoff circle (55.1% last season), making him the most likely candidate to center line three.
Perhaps we shouldn’t sleep on Jack Studnicka as a third-line center quite yet . Though a longshot, if Studnicka has a really strong training camp and preseason, he may be able steal this spot.
The B’s have also got to be eager to give their top pick from 2017 a shot at his natural position before too long so they can see what they really have in the kid.
The Bruins’ fourth line center spot probably comes down to Nosek or Lazar, and the deciding factors may be that:
- Lazar has plenty of experience playing right wing in the NHL, while Nosek doesn’t have as much experience on the wing.
- Nosek is a much better face-off man (career numbers: Nosek 52.6% vs Lazar 46.4%).
Nosek is also coming off of a career year in Vegas (8 goals and 10 assists in 38 games), so the Bruins may want to continue to see if Nosek grows at center.
The very long shot for fourth-line center is Frederic.
Frederic was drafted by the Bruins as a center, but in his limited time in the NHL so far, he’s played mostly on the wing.
You can expect the same to happen this season, unless injuries bite the Bruins down the middle.
Despite having a plethora of center options, there are many Bruins fans wondering if Boston still needs to find a bona-fide 2C.
Coyle’s performance last year has many people doubting if he or any of the other centers (not named Bergeron) are good enough to lead the 2nd line. The departure of Krejci has left very big shoes to fill, and the Bruins may have to look outside the organization to fill them.
Complicating matters is the fact that if a deal is done to bring in another center, the Bruins would have even more centers on the roster; one would likely have to be moved in the deal to make space in lineup and under the salary cap.
Ultimately, if another center is not brought in to Boston, this could very well come down a what Sweeney referred to as a “center by committee” situation.
In all likelihood, the guy who plays center on lines two through four could change quite frequently; however, you have to think this plan is less than ideal for a team that wants to compete for another Stanley Cup.