Three Boston Bruins Who Need To Take The Next Step In Their Development This Season
Heading into the 2016-2017 Season, the Bruins are retooling on the fly. Gone are the days of being a perennial contender, but so too gone are the days of being cap-strapped, old, and devoid of promising prospects. With the cupboards re-stocked, and roster spots up for grabs at all positions, the Bruins will be counting on young players up and down the lineup to step in and contribute. And while improvement will be needed across the board should Boston wish to end their two-year playoff drought, I’ve highlighted three players in particular whose continued development and evolution will be integral to getting over the hump and back into the playoffs. Let’s examine.
Though David Pastrnak is heading into his third pro season, it’s important to remember that he’s still just 20 years old….an age when most players are just beginning to be CONSIDERED for NHL roster spots. Surprising many by earning a promotion to the parent club at 18 years old after just 25 AHL games, his talent and playmaking ability have been on full display from the moment he arrived in North America. His stat lines of 10-17-27 and 15-11-26 in 46 and 51 games (respectively) are impressive for a player thrust into the lineup at such a young age.
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There have been the expected hiccups along the way (primarily neutral zone turnovers and defensive positioning), but perhaps a more concerning issue is that “Pasta” has been labeled by some as being injury prone. He missed time with an injury during his draft season in Sweden, he was knocked out of the AHL Playoffs at the end of his rookie season, and missed 31 games last season. While he’s certainly bitten by the injury bug more than you would like to see, “injury prone” is probably a harsh label. None of the injuries he has sustained have been recurring, and they are more likely a byproduct of playing in the NHL at under 180 pounds. He will continue to add size to his frame, and the hope is that enhanced durability (along with experience gained) will allow Pastrnak to develop more consistency at the NHL level, allowing him to best utilize his talents.
With questionable depth at right wing as well as Loui Eriksson’s departure, Pastrnak will be counted on this year more than ever before to produce at both 5v5 and on the power play. Destined to ride shotgun with either David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron, the opportunities to make plays and bury pucks will be plenty; Pasta just needs to make sure he’s on the ice, not in the ice bath. Should he be able to stay healthy and continue on his current developmental trajectory, the Bruins could very well have a dynamic, CONSISTENT force in Pastrnak this season.
Coming to Boston via last offseason’s Milan Lucic trade, Colin Miller performed admirably in his first NHL season. The 23-year-old Miller posted a 3-13-16 stat line in 42 games, putting up positive Corsi and Fenwick numbers long the way. Late-season defensive gaffes (as well as the deadline trade for John-Michael Liles) sent Miller to the press box for the majority of the last two months of the season, but the future remains bright for the former AHL All Star. Miller’s BOOMING right hand shot (105.5 MPH at 2015 AHL All-Star Game), swift skating and playmaking ability have the Bruins organization excited by his potential and the role he serves on their team.
Currently devoid of any right-handed, legitimate Top 4 Defensemen, a shining opportunity exists for Miller. Should he be able to improve his defensive positioning, awareness, and physicality in his own end, Miller could very well find himself playing over 20 minutes a night, likely alongside the aging, stay-at-home Zdeno Chara. With all things quiet on the trade front, and a dearth of talent at his position, Colin Miller’s improvement and development is essential to the Bruins fixing their most glaring team weakness.
With Dougie Hamilton departing for Calgary, as well as the continued decline of Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara’s abilities, Torey Krug was handed more minutes and responsibility heading into the 2015-2016 Season. Seeing tougher minutes both in terms of competition as well as start-zones, Krug stepped up last season, cementing himself as the team’s second best blue liner. Posting career highs in assists (40) and points (44), Krug’s Fenwick and Corsi numbers had him ranked in the Top 10 in the league in both categories.
And while he’s sure to improve on last season’s four goals, it was evident with every errant shot that the tougher defensive assignments were taking a toll on the offensive side to his game. Though the “size of the fight in the dog” is undeniable (as evidenced by Krug giving up five inches and 45 pounds in his bout with Chris Stewart), the actual size of the dog in question is in fact, a factor.
At just 5’9″, 185 pounds, Krug needs some beef alongside him at the Bruins blue line in order to balance out any unforgiving matchups. And with all due respect to Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller (both gutsy, larger, physical players), neither are talented enough to be receiving second-pairing minutes…at least not on a playoff team.
Someday in the near future, Brandon Carlo and his 6’5″ frame and encouraging pedigree seem to be a tailor-made fit alongside the diminutive Krug. Until that day comes, however, Krug must continue shouldering the load on the Bruins second pairing. The four-year, $21 million dollar contract he signed last month is a testament to how much the organization believes he has the ability and character to do so. With four years of pro hockey under his belt, a new contract in tow, and talent and moxie aplenty, Torey Krug needs to further solidify himself as a steadying force on the Bruins blue line (and in the locker room, for that matter), should the B’s have any wish to play more than 82 games next season.
While improvement across the roster is paramount, David Pastrnak, Colin Miller, and Torey Krug have a little bit extra on their plates this season. With the blue line and right wing having been identified as the most glaring team weaknesses, these three young players will be forced to take the next step in their respective developments should the Bruins wish to make it over the hump and back into the playoffs. With the prospect pool stocked with young, burgeoning talents, the future is undeniably bright. In order for that light to shine on Boston this season, these three need to grab the torch and start skating.