WILMINGTON, Mass. — The Boston Bruins didn’t defend well enough throughout last season, and the blue line could be a weak spot again, given the youth and inexperience in the current group.
Dougie Hamilton’s departure in the offseason left the Bruins with one legitimate top-four defenseman: Zdeno Chara. The B’s captain still is a top-tier defenseman, but he’s 38 years old and missed about a month last season with a ligament tear in his knee.
Chara will lead the first pairing, as he’s done since arriving in Boston nine years ago. The rest of the blue line spots could go in any number of ways.
?As far as anyone being comfortable, it?s about carving out their spot and their ice time and seeing where the whole group fits together,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Thursday at Ristuccia Arena. “I?ve made no reservations about believing that those guys have the ability to step up, but that proof will be in the pudding for them to come out and establish themselves and being able to play those minutes and spread that around.
“We have five, six guys returning who were part of our group. We feel good about that. We have two guys who?ve played, we have one guy who?s played several games and we have a younger player who?s going to come in and push as well. I expect our guys at all levels are going to want to play for this team, but I?m not going to stop, if it?s through waivers or acquisition, whatever it’s going to be. If we need (an upgrade), then we?ll go and fill.”
The Bruins didn’t sign free-agent defenseman Cody Franson, who would have slid into a top-four role. Instead, he signed with the Buffalo Sabres, forcing the B’s, at least for now, to give some prospects and other younger players a chance to prove themselves.
It’s actually a better situation for the Bruins — even if it means suffering some short-term pain for long-term gain — to roll with these young D-men and let them develop. That’s the only way to properly assess their skill and determine if they’re a good fit for this system. If not, they can be traded, and it’s easier to do that if opposing teams are able to scout them playing against NHL competition.
The most notable young defensemen who will compete for jobs in training camp and the preseason are Joe Morrow, Colin Miller, Zach Trotman, Matt Irwin and Torey Krug. Krug is a lock to make the top-six, but he’s motivated to be a top-four player and has a tremendous opportunity to step into that role with Hamilton gone.
The real spotlight will be on Miller, Morrow and Trotman. Miller was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in the Milan Lucic trade and ranked second among AHL defensemen in scoring last season, thanks in large part to a powerful shot from the point.
Morrow, who was part of the Tyler Seguin trade and a 2011 first-round draft pick, is a good fit for the new-age style where defenseman are expected to be mobile and move the puck quickly (just look at Chicago’s transition game). Morrow has spent three full seasons in the AHL between Dallas and Boston affiliates. He had a brief stint in Boston last season, but he needs to receive an extended NHL stay to take his game to the next level.
Trotman was one of the bright spots in Boston’s disappointing 2014-15 campaign. He replaced an injured Hamilton in the final 10 games and excelled defensively with Chara on the top pairing despite facing tough competition and difficult zone starts. The Bruins controlled 53.5 percent of even-strength shot attempts with Trotman on the ice in those 10 games, which helps shows his positive impact on puck possession.
Trotman remaining on the first pairing with Chara would be a smart move to begin the upcoming season.
Internal competition is great for any team. Sure, there will be some growing pains and mistakes made by these young defensemen early in the season, but the long-term reward will more than make up for it.
It’s time for the future of the Boston blue line to take shape right now.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images