Expectations for Each 2nd-Year Member of the Boston Bruins in 2014-15
Eight men donned the eight-spoked “B” for the majority of a season for the first time in their respective careers in 2013-14. Two of them, power forward Jarome Iginla and backup goaltender Chad Johnson, have since left the Boston Bruins via free agency.
The other six, though, either have a contract with the club or remain a restricted free agent as of Tuesday, August 26. It is safe to assume that at least five, if not all six, will keep brandishing the “B” through at least the start of training camp.
With three defensemen and three top-nine forwards constituting those six, there is little room for obscurity. All of them earned their share of scrutiny upon becoming Boston regulars and can expect more of the same, if not an intensified version of the same, in 2014-15.
It does not matter if they were homegrown rookies now seeking a sophomore surge or external acquisitions who entered a new system sometime in 2013. Those raring to be Bruins staples for a second full season should receive ample minutes with which to confirm their assimilation.
Here is a capsule for all six of those skaters, presented in alphabetical order.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com
If any player in this slideshow has the potential to change crests in the coming year, Matt Bartkowski will likely be the one. But for the foreseeable future, he remains a Bruin upon signing his third contract with the organization since turning pro.
After spending the majority of his first three seasons in Providence, Bartkowski amassed 64 NHL appearances in 2013-14. He won out over veterans and trade-deadline acquisitions Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter for playoff ice time, dressing for each of Boston’s last four outings.
Assuming top-to-bottom health on the blue-line brigade this fall, however, he projects to stand as a spare. Part of that is because the climactic stages of the Bruins’ 2014 playoff run exposed how much Bartkowski still has to learn.
Putting in five appearances in the seven-game Montreal series, he logged five minor penalties over the first three. He then brooked a minus-one rating in Games 6 and 7, both of which were failed attempts to close out the Habs.
Given where he and his peers left off, Bartkowski will pull an upset if he starts the next regular season on Boston’s game roster. The likelier scenario, until a nearly inevitable trade, will be a footrace with Adam McQuaid to be the top stand-in.
Early last month, csnne.com’s Joe Haggerty listed “Adam McQuaid, Matt Bartkowski and Warsofsky as the clear chips in trade discussions, and attractive targets for NHL managers that were left out in the D-man cold during the free agent frenzy.”
Because McQuaid has more NHL seasoning, the Bruins could dangle him first in order to retrieve a better return package. But if McQuaid’s injury history scares suitors off, Bartkowski will be Boston’s logical sacrifice.
With Iginla’s departure comes a rapid, presumptive elevation for Loui Eriksson up the right side of the line chart.
Concussions in October and December exacerbated a false start to Eriksson’s transition from Dallas to Boston. After perennial finishes in the 20-goal and 70-point range, he missed 21 games and mustered a 10-27-37 scoring log in 2013-14.
By season’s end, there was a silver lining in that he had found third-line compatibility with Swedish countryman Carl Soderberg. But with a key loss and little gain in the offseason, the Bruins need him to re-emerge as a top-six player ahead of 2014-15.
Under a best-case scenario, Eriksson will have left the worst of his injury history in a pile of Zamboni snow. If he can ensure that, he should make the most of his second go-around at a Boston training camp and break out with more authority.
In that regard, moving to the first line at this time may work to his benefit. He projects to start working with David Krejci and Milan Lucic, the latter of whom has hardly hidden his motivation to redeem a disappointing spring.
Those intangibles can bolster the Bruins to no small degree if they combine to unveil the Eriksson the team was initially expecting. That is, the one whom The Hockey News describes as possessing “tremendous offensive instincts and a goal-scorer’s touch with an accurate shot” as well as also “excellent stickhandling ability.”
To justify an extended stay on the top unit, Eriksson should strive to translate that skill set to goal and assist totals hovering in the 30 neighborhood.
Technically, before he and forward Reilly Smith spring back into action, there is the little matter of inking a new contract for Torey Krug. As of Tuesday, both remain restricted free agents after their respective entry-level deals expired.
Assuming Krug does re-sign, the pint-sized point patroller will likely assume a second- or third-unit position at even strength. When the Bruins have the biscuit on enemy property for a five-on-five or power-play swarm, they will bank on more of the same from Krug’s rookie year.
Production-wise, odds are he cannot go much higher than the 40 points that tied him with Zdeno Chara for the team lead among defensemen. He does not necessarily need to, though, as third-year NHL mainstay Dougie Hamilton should start chipping in more.
Krug’s day job will be the spot to watch for evolution in 2014-15. While his 5’9” stature has not stunted him much, he still has the same expectations to naturally mature that most 23-year-old blueliners face anyway.
Per Annie Maroon of Mass Live, head coach Claude Julien said of Hamilton and Krug in late April, “There were times when they did get caught…But that’s how they learn. You’ve got to teach along the way. Because they were allowed to do that, sometimes you learn from your mistakes.”
Three weeks later, Krug himself explicitly told the same author and outlet that “I want to be a top-four guy and get rid of that offensive-only thing that I have going on.”
The Bruins brass, Bruins buffs and the rest of the rest of the franchise’s followers should expect nothing different.
The primary reason why McQuaid appears so expendable, and thus why Bartkowski could stick around, is Kevan Miller’s rapid burgeoning.
Since the younger stay-at-home bouncer signed a contract extension in January, pundit after pundit has drawn parallels between the two. Twice in as many months beforehand, injuries to McQuaid necessitated Miller’s first two meaningful promotions from Providence.
He did not waste time gaining traction and introducing himself to such household names as Kings captain Dustin Brown. He would log 47 regular-season and 11 playoff appearances in The Show while his last AHL appearance occurred on Dec. 28.
Not unlike Bartkowski and Krug, though, the club’s freshest specimen of aggression endured his share of growing pains. Miller, too, took a minus-one in both of the Bruins’ botched attempts to clinch the Atlantic Division final.
But all that means entering training camp is that he has a healthy blend of a promising foundation and something left to prove.
Circumstances could press him into a more rigorous role at any time, and he need not crumble in that situation. But a slot on Boston’s third defensive pairing will be Miller’s to lose when he embarks on his first full NHL season.
Has Smith, whose 20 goals and 51 points earned him the 2014 Seventh Player Award, already brushed his ceiling? Or is the 23-year-old third-year professional a consistent contributor in the making?
Given their shortage of options for top-six right wings, the Bruins will hope Smith has another plateau in his reach. To reuse a word from the previous paragraph, the key to those new standards will be October-to-April consistency.
Variously filling in for an ailing Eriksson and an underachieving Brad Marchand, Smith surprised many by looking like a worthy second-liner more often than not. His first full-length NHL season, in which he was one of only three Bruins to dress for all 82 games, ended with his aforementioned output and accolades.
But he did have his slumps during that ride. His 2013-14 game log yielded goal-less skids lasting five, eight, seven, 15 and 10 outings. He had three four-game pointless stretches and another production drought that went for five games.
That ultimately did not do much to damper the individual’s final regular-season transcript. It also did not hamper Boston’s collective cause, as the team placed third in the league with 3.15 tallies per game.
Like his allies, though, Smith should be poised to rinse out the residual vinegar from their playoff letdown. If he applies that frustration properly, the former Miami RedHawk should continue his climb.
First he was a college star, then an AHL-based prospect, then an NHL newbie, then a depth acquisition still adjusting to The Show’s rigorous regimen.
At the very least, he should now move into the mid-20s goal range and mid-50s point range. And he should be ripe enough to shed the habit of producing in bunches.
Not unlike Smith, Carl Soderberg took some arguably unexpected strides in 2013-14. Chris Peters of CBS Sports summed it up crisply when he wrote, in reference to Soderberg, “His 48 points in 73 games last season was a pleasant surprise for the Bruins and they'll be looking for more of the same from the talented, yet blue-collar Swede.”
He is capable of stamping the numbers teams like Boston look for to maintain a balanced, deep strike force. He has a respectable frame that he fuels with gritty propensities at both ends of the ice.
With a full season and an extra eight appearances from the spring of 2013 to his credit, Soderberg must assume a veteran’s posture. He figures to enter the coming campaign as a full-time top-nine center with his exact wingers yet to be determined.
On either side, the Bruins could flank him with such homegrown youngsters as Ryan Spooner, Alexander Khokhlachev or Matt Fraser. They might find an affordable trade or free-agent import.
Even if it is one of the latter two, Soderberg needs to be ready to help take charge and hasten his other winger’s acclimation.
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