By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy doesn’t believe the lower-body injury that knocked David Krejci out of Monday’s preseason head-to-head against the Flyers is anything serious.
Everything Cassidy said about Krejci was encouraging, too. It paints the picture of a mutually decision not to push their luck in what was a completely meaningless game in the grand scheme of things. But Cassidy has uttered these famous last words before, most recently with Kevan Miller just before the start of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’re still waiting to see Miller get back in game action, some five months and change since everything was fine.
But the Bruins are certainly hoping Cassidy is bang-on this time around.
Often the whipping boy of many B’s fans, Krejci’s numbers flew under the radar a year ago.
Not only did Krejci play in all but one of Boston’s 82 games last year, but the 33-year-old also matched his career-high in points, with 73. A friendly reminder: He did this while skating with a revolving door of linemates to his right, and with Jake DeBrusk struggling to find his game for the first half of the regular season. Seriously, do you know Krejci’s three most common right-side skaters opposite DeBrusk? It went Danton Heinen (146 minutes), Joakim Nordstrom (112 minutes), and then Peter Cehlarik (105 minutes). Those three players combined for 22 goals all of last season.
But that lack of year-long support from his top option and linemate continuity didn’t stop Krejci from averaging 3.06 points per 60 minutes of all-situation play, which was the 30th-best mark among the 150 NHL forwards with at least 1,200 minutes of ice-time in 2018-19. That 3.06 points per 60 made Krejci a more effective player than players such as Claude Giroux, Tyler Seguin, Nicklas Backstrom, Jonathan Toews, and Logan Couture, in case you were wondering.
Often tagged with outdated ‘injury-prone’ labels, Krejci has also been a model of consistency in recent years, as he’s played in 299 of a possible 328 games over the last four seasons (meaning he’s been available 91.1 percent of the time).
The Bruins are also desperately trying to pin down their best option at second-line right wing, and it’s hard to do that without Krejci, the line’s distributor and pace-maker, on the ice and in action.
In other words, having a one-legged Krejci would be a devastating blow to a Boston squad already trying their best to manage the chronic groin injury that apparently plans on haunting top-line center Patrice Bergeron for the rest of his career.
Now, the Bruins are certainly in a better position to handle a Krejci injury than they were had this happened last year.
Charlie Coyle, who would slide up into Krejci’s spot on line two, has been Boston’s best player this preseason. Brad Marchand said that the Weymouth, Mass. has “dominated” training camp from the jump. But taking Coyle out of his third-line center spot robs the Bruins of what’s perhaps their greatest strength — the Bruins are positioned to have what may be their most dominant one-through-four center grouping in terms of puck-possession — and puts them back in the situation they were in for the first half of last season, with a rotating cast of maybe-they-can-do-it players asked in the middle of their third line.
Should Krejci miss actual time, the Bruins would reignite a third-line center camp competition between Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, Sean Kuraly, and Par Lindholm. David Backes and Chris Wagner have experience at center, too, but moving either player to the middle isn’t something that Cassidy has ever truly considered a viable option.
It’s hard to love any of these options.
Frederic, a 2016 first-round pick who appeared in 15 games with the Big B’s last year, remains what feels like a long-term project for the Bruins. Especially when it comes to generating offensive chances at the pro level. This training camp hasn’t done much to change that short-term outlook on the Missouri native, either, as Frederic has gone without a point and landed just two shots on goal in over 43 minutes of time on ice in the preseason. It’s also worth mentioning that the Bruins hardly utilized him as a third-line center over that 15-game sample a year ago, as Frederic didn’t eclipse the 12-minute mark for time on ice in any of those games until final game, a meaningless regular-season finale against Tampa Bay.
Studnicka, meanwhile, just hasn’t looked ready for the NHL in any of his preseason showings. His decreased usage would indicate that the B’s are not quite sold on Studnicka, who will absolutely suffer from Shiny New Toy disease from many desperate to see him in an NHL sweater out of the gate, giving them enough against the men he’d play against in the NHL. And if we’re being honest, with Studnicka being the team’s top center prospect, weighing the value of 10-to-12-minute nights in the NHL against 17-to-20-minute nights in the AHL shouldn’t even be considered a worthwhile debate.
The Bruins opened the 2018-19 season with Kuraly as their third-line center, and while it wasn’t exactly the best move, Cassidy’s usage of Kuraly’s line has almost made them the team’s real third line most nights. Given their strides in last year’s playoff run, whether it was with Noel Acciari (now with the Panthers) or Chris Wagner or Joakim Nordstrom, this line’s reckless, take-no-prisoner attitude made them an absolute terror for the opposition. Whether or not that mentality and strength holds up over the course of an extended stretch of third-line minutes, however, remains an unknown.
Lindholm may seem like an off-the-board option for the Bruins, but the 27-year-old isn’t too far removed from being a point-per-game player in the Swedish League, and the Bruins seem to like what he may be able to provide to their team in a depth role in what’s been a positive preseason showing. Faceoffs could be a bit of an issue when it comes to trusting Lindholm to log third-line pivot minutes, though, as he’s won just 14 of his 30 battles at the dot this preseason.
Another way to read this: The Bruins can’t lose Krejci.
The Bruins are scheduled for two on-ice sessions at Warrior Ice Arena on Tuesday beginning at 10:30 a.m., and Krejci’s involvement (or lack of) and subsequent update should give us a better indication as to the seriousness of his situation.