By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Other than lukewarm interest in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Bruins haven't looked much for left-shot defense help outside the organization. That may be because they are genuinely confident that Jakub Zboril will, at long last, become a real fixture on the Bruins defense going forward.
Bruins executive director of player personnel John Ferguson went on the record with Fluto Shinzawa of The Athletic to express excitement for the development of Zboril, who is still just 23 years old. Zboril has been playing major minutes for HC Kometa Brno in Czech Extraglia, who are borrowing him until the start of Bruins camp. Ferguson likes what he sees so far, and thus is shifting expectations upward.
"I would have said I was more hopeful than emphatic [in prior seasons]," Ferguson told Shinzawa. "I’m much closer to emphatic now. Because he made good strides, but we still wanted to see that high level sustained over a few weeks over just a few games. That happened. He was playing at the top of his class in our organization for an extended period. We saw that over months leading up to the pause — that extended view as opposed to games or weekends."
Zboril may never live up to the billing of a top-half-of-the-first-round draft pick, become a true franchise defenseman, or offer anything close to a replacement for Zdeno Chara - or, for that matter, Torey Krug. But after Krug's departure to the Blues, there's a clear opening on the left side of the Bruins defense for the first time since Zboril's entry-level contract stopped sliding three seasons ago.
If Chara ultimately doesn't return, there will be two openings. Can Zboril at least salvage the pick by becoming a solid top-4 defender, like '15 draft-mate Brandon Carlo?
Bruins GM Don Sweeney has also expressed confidence in Matt Grzelcyk assuming a bigger role on the blue line, perhaps as Charlie McAvoy's left-shot partner on the top pairing. So if and when Zboril makes the NHL roster in 2020-21, he wouldn't likely be counted on as any more than a second-pairing defenseman. But if he is, that would certainly be a great sign.
Zboril has only played two games at the NHL level, coming up after a rash of injuries decimated the Bruins defense in 2018-19. He looked, frankly, overwhelmed. But his further experience in the AHL and now the Czech Republic appears to have done a lot of good for the former 13th pick in the much-maligned 2015 draft.
It can't be stressed enough that it takes longer for defensemen to reach their full potential than it does for forwards or goaltenders. It's a cerebral position, no matter your style, and playing a consistent 200-foot game at a high level is exceptionally rare for kids. Charlie McAvoy has steadily improved his play over the first 187 games of his NHL career, but even he hasn't reached his peak as a player. So it's not out of line to suggest that Zboril is simply taking a while to refine his game and almost never had the combination of development and opportunity to be worth rostering in the NHL.
We'll see if that changes as the Bruins seemingly rebuild the left side of their defense on the fly. It's sounding more encouraging that Zboril will be a viable piece of that process.
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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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at [email protected].