Erik Haula is not shying away from how this season has started for him. He hasn’t been good enough, and he knows it.
The Boston Bruins signed Haula this offseason to add veteran depth with both playmaking and scoring ability to help stabilize the center position. But the offensive production early on hadn’t been there, and while he had done enough to earn time as a penalty killer, his overall defensive game hadn’t been good enough to justify keeping him in the lineup.
Thus, he and Jake DeBrusk, who spent much of this season as his left winger, were healthy scratched for Sunday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks.
“Yes, I think it was warranted in the sense where I wasn’t where I needed to be,” Haula told reporters Wednesday about the healthy scratch. “I wasn’t playing the way the team needs me to play. I took it as ‘let’s reset, start over, find my game and make it look like it’s supposed to.”
Haula, who admitted he was too much in his head earlier this season, was back in the lineup for Tuesday’s loss to the Detroit Red Wings, and he looked more like himself. Although he finished scoreless, he had three shots on net, won three of his six face-offs and logged 12:35 ice time, 1:35 of which came on the power play with another 19 seconds shorthanded.
One of the hallmarks of Haula’s game is his skating ability, and when he’s moving well he tends to impact the game more. There seemed to be far less standing still against Detroit.
“I think it was a good step toward the right direction,” Haula said. “I had a stretch there where I wasn’t happy with my game myself. I didn’t recognize the player that was out there. Probably was good to sit a game, reset a little bit and now work to get back to my game. Last night it was skating, more confident on the puck, harder. That was my emphasis and I thought it was a step toward the right direction.”
In an ideal world, Haula would be the Bruins’ everyday third line center who anchors that unit and helps make it capable of playing well in all three zones. That’s an under-the-radar important role for the Bruins to have squared away, as they’ve fared best when players like Charlie Coyle and Riley Nash have been in that spot and playing well.
The 30-year-old skated on the second line left wing during Wednesday’s practice, but it’s not entirely clear where he’ll be against his former team, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday as Boston pieces its roster together.
Wherever he is, the Bruins must be hoping that his showing against the Red Wings was, indeed, a step in the right direction.