The Boston Bruins find themselves in unfamiliar territory ahead of the 2021-22 campaign. Both David Krejci and Tuukka Rask will be absent come October, with the former returning to his native Czech Republic to continue his career, and the latter recovering from hip surgery to repair a torn labrum.
When the Bruins open their season at home on October 16th against the Dallas Stars, they will do so with just two remaining members of the 2011 Stanley Cup Championship team- Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand.
After infamously moving on from Zdeno Chara last December it was evident that a youth movement was on the horizon. In theory, it’s an excellent idea to go that route, while you still have a championship core you might as well plug in younger, cheaper options to fill the void. However, there are clear risks associated.
Take last year’s playoff series against the Islanders for example. It was obvious, especially in games 3-6, that Boston struggled to match up against their opponent. Failing to generate secondary scoring, yes, but more importantly they missed their former captain’s presence. Lacking leadership in the locker room and proper depth on the blueline ultimately sunk Bostons ship.
Therein lies the risk.
So it’s only human to wonder how the departure of a franchise second-line center and Vezina trophy-winning goaltender will impact the culture in the locker room. Luckily there’s no shortage of candidates who are primed to assume a leadership role. For reference, this experiment focused on players outside of the obvious so don’t expect to see Bergeron, Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, etc.
Don Sweeney on day one of NHL free agency was aggressive committing a number of players to Boston. Most notably former Columbus Blue Jacket captain Nick Foligno who turned down the chance to play with his brother Marcus in Minnesota to join Boston.
Foligno who has played in the NHL since 2007-08 and served as Columbus’ captain from 2015-2021 is an obvious leadership candidate for Boston. A hard-nosed player unafraid of embracing challenge, he helped Columbus qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs four seasons in a row from 2016-2020 and was instrumental in sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019.
Expect Foligno to partner with Bergeron in shouldering the bulk of Boston’s leadership duties.
If the 2021 season taught us anything it should be that a healthy Brandon Carlo and Boston Bruin success on the ice go hand in hand. Carlo at just 24 years of age has already played in 45 playoff games, for reference Nick Foligno at 9 years Carlo’s senior has suited up for 55. Playoff exposure alone is enough for him to qualify.
Unfortunately, nagging injuries and recent concussion issues have plagued Carlo’s early career. Outside of his rookie year in 2016-17 Carlo has never completed a full season and when he is not playing it’s obvious. Carlo has gained the trust of head coach Bruce Cassidy through his elite defensive play and stay-at-home style. Yet, the sky is the limit for Boston’s second-best defender.
Trent Frederic has participated in 59 career NHL games since 2018-19, 42 of them were this past year. So expect continued ascension into a full-time role for the 23-year-old. It’s worth noting that Bruce Cassidy who historically has had an extremely small leash with coaching Bruins prospects, in a limited sample size, appears to have given some slack.
Perhaps it’s due to what Frederic can provide when in the lineup. His antics are well noted, he was the team lead in penalty minutes with 65, the bulk of which is due to gentlemen-like disagreements with the opposition.
Fighting Brendan Lemieux was bold but doubling down and challenging Tom Wilson was borderline insanity. But for the role Frederic is quickly adapting to it pays to have a few screws loose.
Lest we forget a former Bruin cut from the same cloth was considered by many to be one of the most impactful voices in the room.