By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
After three-plus seasons of waiting, Jakub Zboril is finally getting an opportunity to show the Boston Bruins what he can do at the NHL level.
The Bruins announced on Tuesday that they’ve called Zboril up from the Providence Bruins and reassigned goaltender Daniel Vladar in the wake of Tuukka Rask’s return. Two other recent call-ups, defenseman Jeremy Lauzon and center Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, will remain with the team.
Rampant injuries on the blue line necessitated Zboril’s call-up. Charlie McAvoy (concussion) and Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) both skated with the team on Tuesday, but won’t travel on their upcoming four-game road trip. Per head coach Bruce Cassidy, Kevan Miller (upper body) will travel but isn’t expected to return until next Wednesday in Detroit, at the earliest. Brandon Carlo (upper body), meanwhile, will miss at least Wednesday’s game in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche.
As of the start of the road trip, the Bruins are looking at a defensive corps of Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, John Moore, Steven Kampfer, Matt Grzelcyk, Lauzon, and Zboril. Kampfer is currently the only healthy right-shot defenseman on the roster.
The story here, though, is that the 21-year-old Zboril is at long last getting his first chance to see ice time at the NHL level. He may still be a seventh defenseman for emergency purposes, but maybe the B’s are ready to give him a taste of the NHL after he reached the pros for the first time with Providence last season.
Don Sweeney’s first draft pick as Bruins GM in 2015, Zboril has been one of the Bruins’ slowest prospects to develop in Sweeney’s tenure. He’s been passed over for promotion in favor of other young defenseman in the system, most of whom were drafted either in later rounds or later drafts.
The earliest example is Carlo, who went 37th in the same 2015 draft. He obviously has NHL-ready size and showed enough defensive polish to end up playing all 82 games for the Bruins as a 20-year-old in 2016-17. He averaged over 20 minutes of ice time, helping stabilize a group that at the time was in need of an infusion of young talent.
Clearly, McAvoy displayed the kind of high-end talent that made him a valuable NHL defenseman right away. So amid another rash of injuries entering the 2017 playoffs, the Bruins called him up as a 19-year-old – and he was arguably their best blue liner in their series against the Senators. As far as promoting McAvoy over Zboril, no real concern there.
Grzelcyk is an example of a player who was actually drafted before Zboril, a carry-over from the Peter Chiarelli era. A third-round pick in 2012, Grzelcyk ended up playing four years at Boston University and quickly signed his entry-level contract in 2016. He got a cup of coffee with Boston in 2016-17, but didn’t really make his presence felt until he played 61 games last season.
Those three getting the nod before Zboril seems understandable. Eyebrows are starting to raise, however, in the wake of the promotion of both Lauzon and Vaakanainen (drafted 18th overall in 2017) this season. Lauzon went 39 selections after Zboril in 2015, while Vaakanainen just signed his ELC last summer.
And there’s also the signing of Moore to a five-year deal in the offseason, a bit of a head-turner given the Bruins’ glut of left-shot prospects. Sweeney and Cassidy continually opted for veterans such as Kampfer, John-Michael Liles, and even Tommy Cross in recent seasons.
Zboril is still just 21 and has only had one season with Providence, playing two years in the QMJHL before that. He’s still on his ELC due to those two years in juniors, so the Bruins will have until the end of the 2019-20 season to figure out the direction they want to take with him.
This could simply be a matter of taking longer to develop than other prospects. Defense is a cerebral position that typically takes players more time than forwards or goalies to realize their full potential. The Blue Jackets’ Seth Jones is a good example, as he didn’t put it all together until his fifth NHL season as a 23-year-old. Talents like McAvoy are rare, and even he has had his growing pains.
So … what CAN he do?
“It just feels incredible just being here, being a part of this organization.”— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) November 13, 2018
???? Jakub Zboril discusses his excitement to join the team: pic.twitter.com/r8PzOE6PoT
Perhaps the Bruins give Zboril a chance to play on this road trip. The Arizona Coyotes and Detroit Red Wings are not formidable opponents. They can “protect” him by giving him some ice time in those games against teams that aren’t going to be too challenging. It’s now up to six young defensemen getting called up before Zboril, so it’s about time that he finally can show what he’s capable of at the highest level.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Zboril entered the draft billed as a smooth-skating two-way defenseman. That’s fairly consistent with other young defensemen in the organization, like Vaakanainen and Lauzon. It’s a mystery as to what’s kept him down in the minors to this point, but it could simply be a matter of needing more seasoning than others.
Right now, Zboril is shaping up as the emergency defenseman. That would be a bit of a letdown now that he’s finally gotten the call-up to the NHL. But the same thing just happened with Vladar. Zboril’s NHL debut could be days away, or it could be months away.
Ultimately, it could be up to him to prove to the B’s that he deserves to stay in the NHL.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.