In their pursuit of at least another deep playoff run to kick ice chips over the memory of their abruptly terminated title defense in 2012, the Boston Bruins cannot live out on their Stanley Cup core alone. Nor can they wait for defenseman Dougie Hamilton and forwards Jared Knight, Alexander Khokhlachev and Ryan Spooner to step in and blossom.
As promising as the three forwards are, patience is a necessity for them in particular. Likewise, as encouraged as anyone may feel about Nathan Horton restoring normalcy, the Bruins ought to know as well as any team not to bank too heavily on those with concussion history.
Even with Horton, general manager Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien are overdue to concede that the brawny winner cannot be at his best in alliance with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. Lucic must be reassigned to the third line and Chiarelli must pursue an extra top-six caliber forward.
Most preferably, he should continue to browse the free-agent market so as not to be forced to relinquish any of his established players or any of the aforementioned prospects. He must be keen on one who can replenish some of the void left by Mark Recchi, instill a new wave of inspiration to the dressing room and hold the big club up while Spooner and Knight foster in Providence.
In ascending order of potential value, here are the top five available forwards Chiarelli needs to look at and prepare to extend offers.