The 2019-20 NHL season is young, indeed, but enough time has passed to where educated opinions can be formed about the group the Boston Bruins are trotting out this season.
Despite injuries at seemingly every turn, the Bruins have found success time and time again, even though they are coming off easily their worst week of the season. Still, Boston remains among the league’s elite as we near the midway point of November.
So what exactly have we learned about this season’s group so far? Here’s a thought or two on each player that’s appeared in at least one game this campaign.
Brad Marchand — Marchand probably qualifies as the best offensive player on 90 percent of teams in the NHL, but his linemate is stealing the spotlight. He popped up on a lot of Hart Trophy ballots last season, and the same thing probably will happen again this year. Plus, he’s been an absolute delight to watch on the penalty kill.
Patrice Bergeron — He’s just going to keep on being his same old self. Bergeron isn’t really doing anything new this year, which is a good thing for the Bruins. He continues to make the best line in hockey tick.
David Pastrnak — Pastrnak might actually win the Hart this year. Seriously. At this point, it’s looking like either one of Boston’s duo (Marchand, Pastrnak) or Edmonton’s (Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl). If he can stay healthy, Pastrnak could put up some legendary numbers this season.
Jake DeBrusk — He’s one of, if not the most unlucky players on the team. It took him forever to get going offensively, though some of it was beyond his control. He’s rounded out fine enough, but, like linemate David Krejci, probably would benefit from a stable right winger.
David Krejci — He still needs someone to score. Krejci has been adversely impacted by DeBrusk’s offensive woes, which has further underscored the need for the center to have another winger that’s willing to pull the trigger.
Karson Kuhlman — He’s useful, but might be best suited in a bottom-six role. He’s out for a while right now anyways with a leg injury, so Bruce Cassidy has time to ponder where Kuhlman’s best used.
Danton Heinen — Still grossly underrated. Heinen’s filled in nicely on the second line, and he remains one of Boston’s best defensive forwards, especially on the forecheck — how do some people seriously not see that yet?
Charlie Coyle — He’s a good second-line center, but a great third-line center. Even on nights where he doesn’t score, there’ve been multiple occasions where he’s looked like the best player on the ice. (If you don’t believe us, go back and watch opening night in Dallas.)
David Backes — Backes, unsurprisingly, still is trying to figure out where he fits and how he can contribute. The game has sped up on him, and it’s tough to envision him playing regularly when most everyone is healthy. He’s actually looked OK for stretches this season, but not nearly often enough.
Brett Ritchie — Fine as a stopgap, but probably shouldn’t (and won’t) see a ton of regular ice time. Cassidy has questioned his hustle already, and there are enough bottom-six forwards on the shelf right now that Ritchie could routinely be healthy scratched once those players’ health improves.
Chris Wagner — He really does have great hands for a fourth-liner. Similarly to his first season in Boston’s he’s a fine fourth-line forward that’s been willing to play on both sides as injuries have necessitated.
Sean Kuraly — His impact on the fourth line remains huge. He’s had a revolving door of wingers this season due to injuries, but he’s kept that unit, whoever’s on it, playing at a high level. He gives the Bruins a lot, even when he’s not rewarded for it on the stat sheet.
Joakim Nordstrom — Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or something like that. Nordstrom’s been unlucky with his health, but he’s still one of the best penalty-killers and a key part of that fourth line. Boston will get a significant boost once he’s back.
Par Lindholm — He’s good for what he’s asked to do. Lindholm has had the unenviable task of pitching in on the second line one night, the third another and the fourth the next, and he’s handled it well. If you’re looking for someone to blow you away, he’s probably not the guy, but he’s done what he’s been asked to do.
Anders Bjork — It really seems like he took the message to heart that he needed to figure out his defensive game. There have been a couple nights where he’s delivered a snoozer, but he’s making a decent enough case to be a full-time NHL forward.
Peter Cehlarik — Cehlarik just struggling to figure it out, and it’s not like he hasn’t gotten a healthy number of chances in the top flight. Hurting him is that he doesn’t have good enough defensive ability to warrant staying in the lineup when everyone’s healthy and/or he’s quiet offensively.
Zach Senyshyn — His skating ability really is insane, he can flat-out fly. There’s a good chance he’ll end up back in Providence sooner rather than later, but he should get a few more chances to prove he deserves to stay before it comes time for such a decision to be made.
Cameron Hughes — There really weren’t any surprises with Hughes in the one game he played. His ceiling is a bottom-six forward, and that’s exactly what he was in a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Zdeno Chara — No, he’s probably not going to win another Norris trophy, but he’s still a quality top-pairing defenseman.
Charlie McAvoy — Still a little streaky. There are times where he looks like the franchise defenseman he projects to be, and there are other moments where he leaves you scratching your head. Fortunately for the Bruins, there are many more highs than lows.
Torey Krug — Yep, he’s easily in the conversation of best offensive defensemen in the NHL. If John Carlson wasn’t going scorched earth, Krug probably would have more votes as the top guy in that category.
Brandon Carlo — At long last, he’s shooting and hitting more: two things he really needed to do. And go figure, he becomes more impactful when he does those things.
Matt Grzelcyk — He’s starting to establish himself as one of the league’s better third-pairing defensemen. Grzelcyk’s so sure-handed and is capable of doing a little bit of everything, and on a blue line that has some big names, he deserves more credit.
Connor Clifton — He might not be ready to be a full-time NHL player just yet. What people describe as “Cliffy Hockey” at times has just been him playing recklessly and, in turn, hosing his partner and/or goalie. It’s tough envisioning him avoiding a demotion to Providence once Kevan Miller and John Moore get back.
Steven Kampfer — He’s still such a good soldier. Being the seventh defenseman must not always be fun, but he’s been ready to go every time his number is called.
Tuukka Rask — Turns out, he is capable of starting a season strong. He probably won’t keep putting up eye-popping numbers (and he’s delivered some concerning performances lately), but by and large Cassidy should be liking what he’s seeing from his top goalie.
Jaroslav Halak — His role on the Bruins still remains remarkably important. He’s come down to earth since his own hot start, but he still takes a ton of pressure off Rask, even if he doesn’t put up as good of numbers as last season.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images