BOSTON — The Bruins didn’t meet expectations this season and missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign.
That said, there were a few positives that emerged from the 2014-15 season. On Sunday, I wrote about the problem areas for the B’s, so now it’s time to look at three things that went right for the Original Six club over the last seven months.
1. Rookie Forwards Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak Impress
Ryan Spooner didn’t play well enough at the start of the season to remain on the Bruins’ roster. But when David Krejci suffered a knee injury in mid-February, Spooner was recalled and took full advantage of what might have been his final chance to impress at the NHL level.
Spooner led the Bruins in scoring during March with 14 points in 15 games. In previous callups, the 21-year-old center didn’t use his excellent shot enough, but that changed in the last portion of the season. Spooner had 11 games with three or more shots on goal and it resulted in eight goals in 24 games, compared to zero goals in his first 32 NHL games.
One major weakness in Spooner’s game coming into this season was faceoffs. Even though there’s still plenty of improvement left in this part of his game, ending the season with a faceoff percentage of 50 or better in six of the last eight games is encouraging. His post-practice faceoff work with Patrice Bergeron and others seems to be paying off.
David Pastrnak was expected to play in Boston this season after being selected 25th overall in the 2014 NHL draft, but few would have predicted the youngest player in the league would become a key part of the Bruins’ offense right away.
Pastrnak was one of two players from the 2014 draft to play in more than 40 games, and his scoring production compares favorably to former Bruins first-round picks Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin.
The Czech winger did end the season scoreless in the last five games, but to be fair, he played in almost twice as many games in 2014-15 (70 between Boston and Providence) than he did last season in Sweden (36).
Spooner and Pastrnak led the B’s with 17 points in the final 20 games, which helped keep the Bruins in the playoff race because several of the team’s veteran forwards failed to meet expectations during that span. Both of them still need to work on the defensive part of their game, but the progress made in 2014-15 is very encouraging, especially for Pastrnak because it’s not easy for 18-year-old forwards to step into a veteran team with a defense-first mentality and make a positive impact offensively.
2. Dougie Hamilton, Zach Trotman Take Steps Forward
Hamilton was Boston’s best defenseman this season and became a legitimate, top-pairing player who could drive puck possession, provide scoring and contribute to both special teams units. He led all Bruins defensemen with 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) in 72 games and played against the second-toughest competition of the group, per Behind the Net.
As the following even-strength usage chart from War on Ice shows, Hamilton compares favorably to the top Norris Trophy candidates.
The 21-year-old defenseman suffered an undisclosed injury on March 22, one that forced him to miss the final 10 games of the season. It was a huge loss for the Bruins, but Zach Trotman did an admirable job filling in for Hamilton.
Trotman played alongside Zdeno Chara for most of his even-strength shifts and was on the ice for very few goals against during the third period. In fact, Boston accounted for 53.52 percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts when Trotman was on the ice in the 10 games he played during his final recall (best among B’s defensemen in that span).
His size, defensive skill and ability to make the smart play were valuable to a Boston blue line that gave up 25 goals in the last 10 games (sixth-fewest in the league over that span). Trotman was much better in his second call up with the Bruins compared to his first, and there’s no question he’s ready for a top-six role on the blue line next season.
3. Tuukka Rask Still Elite
Contrary to what sports radio hosts with “hot takes” will tell you, Rask had an excellent season and is at, or near the bottom of the list of players most to blame for the Bruins missing the playoffs.
Even though Rask was forced to play in a career-high 70 games and had to deal with many more defensive breakdowns than in years past, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner still ranked seventh with a .922 save percentage among goalies with 3,000 minutes played.
When the calendar turned to 2015, not many goaltenders with at least 1,800 minutes (1,000 at 5-on-5) were better than Rask through the end of the regular season.
The Bruins have one of the league’s five-best goaltenders at the start of his prime and signed long term to a reasonable cap hit. Not many teams have this kind of building block in place.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images