The Boston Bruins were unable to acquire college free agent Kevin Hayes, who reportedly signed a contract with the New York Rangers, Mark Divver of the Providence Journal reported Wednesday.
Hayes, a former Boston College Eagles forward and Dorchester, Mass., native, drew interest from several NHL teams after he turned down an offer from the Chicago Blackhawks and hit the open market. Divver reported last week that the Bruins were among a handful of teams “in the mix” to sign Hayes.
The 22-year-old’s decision leaves the Bruins with less-than-ideal depth at right wing, a predicament the team has found itself in since veteran winger Jarome Iginla took his talents to the Colorado Avalanche on the first day of free agency.
How can the Bruins address their right wing issues entering September’s training camp? Here are three options to consider.
Give First-Round Pick David Pastrnak a Chance to Win an NHL Job
Don’t be surprised if David Pastrnak, the team’s first-round selection in the 2014 NHL draft, receives plenty of opportunities to win a right wing job on the Bruins roster during training camp and the preseason. The Czech forward is a highly skilled player with an accurate shot, superb playmaking skills and above average speed. His lack of size and strength is a concern, but he does well to use his skating ability to elude stronger opponents. Pastrnak was one of the stars at B’s development camp in July, and Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was impressed with what he saw from the 18-year-old.
“You don’t want to place too much of a burden on this kid’s shoulders, but he was good,” Chiarelli said when asked if Pastrnak could push for a spot on the B’s roster.
“You know, the hesitation you have is he’s 170 -173 pounds, but he’s wiry strong, so you never know. Speed, skill, sense is all there so it would be nice, but we’ll see. But you know, he’s young and to throw someone like that at that age, at that weight – but there have been guys who have done it.”
The Bruins have not been afraid to give top prospects a chance to compete in the pros early in their careers — Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin both made the Bruins roster a few months after they were drafted in the first round.
Simon Gagne Could Provide a Short-Term Fix
Gagne reportedly was invited to B’s training camp on a tryout basis, where he will look to revive his career after not playing last season. The 34-year-old last played in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, scoring 16 points in 38 games between the Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers. His playoff experience and scoring record also are impressive: 59 points (37 goals, 22 assists) in 109 games.
At this stage of his career, Gagne doesn’t have a ton to offer the Bruins on the ice. Injuries and age have lessened his speed and goal scoring ability, but he could provide leadership and mentor the young forwards looking to make the team, such as Ryan Spooner and Matt Fraser. With that said, the Bruins already have plenty of veteran leaders.
Gagne is a left winger with a left-handed shot, which doesn’t satisfy Boston’s need for a right winger with a right-handed shot. The best decision for the Bruins would be to devote time to developing forward prospects and giving them a chance to earn an NHL job instead of seeing what Gagne can offer.
Shift a Center to the Wing
The Bruins have tremendous center depth and they might use that surplus to fill vacant spots on the wing. When Carl Soderberg settled in to the third-line center role last season, Chris Kelly found a home on the wing. We could see more of the same in 2014-15. Another center who could shift to the outside is Gregory Campbell.
B’s head coach Claude Julien also could put a center prospect, like Alexander Khokhlachev or Spooner, on the wing. Spooner brings great speed to the lineup and tallied 11 assists in 23 games for Boston in 2013-14. Khokhlachev brings a bit more size, goal-scoring and physicality to the ice.
At this stage, the Bruins probably will fill the third-line right wing spot from within the organization. Pastrnak, Fraser, Spooner and Daniel Paille are the best fits for the position. Addressing this need through free agency isn’t a good option right now because there aren’t any quality forwards left on the market. A trade is always possible, though, and the Bruins might need to move a contract or two to clear enough salary cap space to re-sign restricted free agents Torey Krug and Reilly Smith.
The good news for Boston is that it has plenty of options to consider when figuring out its bottom-six forward group. A little training camp competition will only help the team.
Photo via Andrew B. Fielding/USA TODAY Sports Images