By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
If the 2020-21 season were to begin today, Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk would sit atop the left-side defense depth chart.
It may seem like a big jump — Grzelcyk has spent almost his entire pro career as the Black and Gold's third-pairing booster — but this may be the master plan when the dust, I mean tumbleweeds, settle on the 2020 offseason in Boston.
"I think It’s a little bit to be determined," Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said of Grzelcyk's ceiling. "Because of the opportunity and who well he plays. Obviously, there is a vacancy."
That vacancy includes the departure of premier power-play quarterback Torey Krug and the uncertainty of Zdeno Chara. The former averaged 3:53 of power-play time on ice per game last year (Grzelcyk was at 1:33 per night), and the latter was consistently paired with Charlie McAvoy on the Black and Gold's top pairing, with the 43-year-old Boston captain averaging 2:17 more of even-strength time on ice per night than Grzelcyk did a year ago.
You're essentially talking about potentially four minutes and change of extra action for No. 48 in 2020-21.
Beginning with the power play, it sure sounds like Grzelcyk (not McAvoy) will get the call with the Black and Gold's top unit out of the gate next season. Grzelcyk got a nearly 25-minute run of power-play time with the pillars of the B's top power-play unit — Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak — last year and the Bruins scored five goals on 22 shots.
It's a promising sample.
"I think the power play component is something we believe he can continue to grow in," Sweeney said of Grzelcyk's potential move to the top man-advantage unit. "He’s playing with some pretty talented players, he’ll get that opportunity. They’ve proven that they can carry the weight of the power play as a group and I think he’ll be able to compliment that. And there will be other players that will look for that opportunity as well. It’s always players driven.
When it comes to his even-strength impact, there's a promotion that's coming Grzelcyk's way. (You don't make Grzelcyk the second-highest paid B's defender to keep him on your third pairing, and again, the roster construct requires a promotion.)
It can be with Brandon Carlo on Boston's second pair, or even with a BU Terrier Reunion with McAvoy on DP-1. Or it can be with just about anybody, as Grzelcyk has proven over the last few seasons, according to Sweeney.
"I think he’s proven he can play in really any different position on the left side," Sweeney said. "He’s had a consistent partner in Kevan Miller over a period of time, he’s slid in and played with Brandon, certainly with Charlie in offensive situations."
It's actually been more than that, as Grzelcyk logged at least 175 five-on-five minutes with four different partners in 2019-20.
"It might just depend on the matchup the coaches feel comfortable with moving forward," Sweeney offered. "I think his [even-strength] ice time has been fairly consistent over the last three years. And we’ll continue to look at advantageous positions that we can put Matt into to help our transition game, get him involved in the offense. But we feel comfortable in the way our right side is built now and the depth and the different personalities that we have there that Matt can play with anyone."
The Bruins are going to rely heavily on Grzelcyk for left-side creativity, really. Even if Chara returns, the left-side defense behind the 26-year-old Grzelcyk includes John Moore, Jeremy Lauzon (who's played the right side almost exclusively since coming to Boston), and potential AHL-to-NHL jumps from first-round picks Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen.
"In seeing, allowing his offensive game to continue to grow, potentially and with a little more power play opportunity and again, it's player driven," said Sweeney. "I had a lot of conversations with our coaching staff about where they see the player fitting in and how he affects our transition game, his ability to move the puck and our D-zone exits.
"The rest is up to Matt to take advantage of a pretty good opportunity for him moving forward."