By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Working with an extremely limited sample size, I gotta say: Brandon Carlo has been the star of this Bruins training camp.
And I’m not sure it’s close.
The rock of Boston’s second pairing for the last two seasons, Carlo’s Tuesday featured a little bit of everything.
During a three-on-one drill, the 6-foot-5 Carlo activated and finished off his trio’s chance with a snipe through Jaroslav Halak. He then immediately got on his horse and played the ‘one’ of the three-on-one and denied a pass destined for a high-danger look. Moments later, Carlo denied Charlie Coyle’s attempt to find Nick Ritchie on the far-post on an odd-man rush sequence. This was a constant of Carlo’s day, really, with a one-on-one shutdown of Robert Lantosi, complete with a ‘good effort’ helmet tap to Lantosi, a strong capper to a morning session of quiet excellence.
But Carlo also excelled with Matt Grzelcyk, his pairing partner for the majority of Tuesday’s session, and who feels like the player most likely to skate to Carlo’s left when the B’s drop the puck on Jan. 14.
While Carlo shined in individual efforts, his five-on-five moment and communication with Grzelcyk was also impressive, as their constant movement along the blue line extended or created countless opportunities.
It was a bit like watching last year’s second pairing, which frequently got the call with the Bergeron Line.
“It’s similar, right?” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked about Grzelcyk potentially filling the role once held by Torey Krug as Carlo’s d-partner. “The element of what [Grzelcyk] brings, it helps Brandon transition pucks. Brandon’s a bigger body who’s grown into more of a shutdown guy who takes care of the front of the net. He gets more physical every year.”
“He skates so well for how big he is, and makes it a lot easier when you’re playing with him to close plays quickly and get going the other way,” Grzelcyk said after Tuesday’s session. “He takes a lot of pressure off you being his partner. He takes a lot of pride in closing plays off, and that allows me to take pucks and make plays.”
At one point, it seemed as if Grzelcyk was destined to skate with Charlie McAvoy on Boston’s top pair. That may still happen.
But if the Bruins begin the season with Grzelcyk and McAvoy being their two most mobile defenders (they will), overloading that pairing may have a negative impact on the bottom two pairings’ ability to give the B’s their optimal mix. The Bruins are aware of that, and with the B’s not having a ton of time to completely reinvent the wheel, asking Grzelcyk to play the role of Krug (and Jeremy Lauzon to play the role of Zdeno Chara) next to McAvoy is looking more and more like the play.
“We know Grzelcyk can play with Charlie, it’s an easy switch,” said Cassidy. “And we know [Grzelcyk] can play with Kevan Miller. We know we have that in our back pocket if we have to make a switch.”
But with this Grzelcyk-Carlo pairing looking as good as it did Tuesday, there may be no need to switch.
Trent Frederic enters fourth-line mix to left of Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner
Monday came with Anders Bjork getting a fourth-line look with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner, but Tuesday was 2016 first-round pick Trent Frederic’s chance to shine with Boston’s energy line.
And similar to the situation with Jack Studnicka, the Bruins are looking at it as more than a one-off on practice rink ice.
“We’re gonna give Freddy a look if he creates an opportunity for himself,” Cassidy said. “If he can get to the net, get to the inside opportunities, give us some physical hockey, then he can help our team. We’re trying to get bigger in those areas.”
Not gonna lie, I like the idea of this line a whoooole lot. This is basically the roughest line the Bruins could create within their bottom six, and in this division and with so many head-to-heads with the same seven teams, violence might be necessary.
I look at a team like Washington and the Islanders and easily see how a Frederic-Kuraly-Wagner trio would make sense. The Islanders’ fourth line with Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin is straight-up menacing, and D.C.’s roster features Tom Wilson, Garnet Hathaway, Brenden Dillon, and now Zdeno Chara. Alex Ovechkin and TJ Oshie also throw their weight around for fun. That’s more than a single Kevan Miller can handle, especially if there’s more games like last season’s Dec. 23 head-to-head.
Frederic, of course, led the AHL in fights last season, and scored four goals and 15 points over his final 24 AHL games of the season. He can most definitely hang if things get nasty. He’s also built way more like Noel Acciari, who was a physical force with Kuraly and Wagner for the Bruins in 2018-19, than Bjork.
Hits and physicality haven’t been the issue during Frederic’s 17-game NHL sample. It’s been his lack of creativity with the puck and generating offense. But that hasn’t been a problem through Frederic’s first two skates of the new season.
“He looks better, more comfortable than he has here in the past,” Cassidy said of Frederic. “Some of that is hanging onto the puck, and being a pro for two years, joining us in the playoffs. He’s shooting the puck a ton right now. His shot has obviously improved over the last year. Or he’s just creating more space to get [his shot] off, and he’s going to have to do that in games.”
If you ask me, this fourth line’s complexion will be matchup based in 2021. Maybe you don’t need the added muscle and jam Frederic against some of the more skill-over-brawn teams. But, again, you certainly will at least eight teams this year. If they want a constant, however, the battle for this role may come down to added value in special teams, which Bjork has over Frederic, with 29:25 of shorthanded time on ice last year (eighth-most among Boston forwards).
Rebuilding the Krejci Line’s chemistry will provide interesting results
The Bruins are opening camp with Ondrej Kase getting another look as the right winger on a line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. The line worked at times in the postseason. Namely in Boston’s first-round series victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, with Kase totaling three assists and 13 shots on goal in five games. Their success faded in the second round against a bigger Lightning defense, and Kase’s 2020 Boston run concluded with him on the fourth line in their Game 5 loss.
This line could work. But the roles need to be established. First of all, we gotta look at DeBrusk and Krejci like they’re rebuilding their chemistry entirely. Whatever they were doing last year didn’t work for them, so it’s back to the drawing board. And the hope has to be that Kase’s ‘full’ offseason in the Bruins program has given him a better idea of his own ceiling.
Watching Tuesday’s session, you had a few sequences during some five-on-five drills where Krejci whirled around the o-zone with the puck while both DeBrusk and Kase drove to the front of the net. That’s fine in certain sequences and situations, of course, but it really leaves Krejci without a shooting option on the wing. That led to some low-percentage throws to the slot, or Krejci dishing it to a defenseman for an attempt through traffic. Not exactly the best options given the talent on the wings.
Now, Kase arrived to the Bruins as a shoot-happy Duck, and from all over the ice. And though he’s been prone to over-passing at times (he was exactly that during a two-on-one drill with Charlie Coyle during Tuesday’s session) you’d like to see that shoot-first attitude come to him and maximize his role with the Bruins. But most of his success with the Bruins has come from his net-front jamming leading to pure chaos. That may be a problem for DeBrusk, who has also done the bulk of his damage as a net-front nuisance, and this line’s ability to generate the initial high-quality look that creates a net-front war.
In essence, this line needs a shooter that’ll make the most of Krejci’s dishes to spark that line’s desired brand of chaos.
Other tidbits and happenings
– Cassidy wasn’t thrilled with the start of Tuesday’s session, at one point slamming his stick down and screaming, “Pass the [expletive] puck on the tape. We’ve already had this conversation!” The Bruins basically have eight days (and zero exhibition games) to implement their program at 100 percent before the games count. There’s no time for repeating yourself. Tuesday’s sessions had a noticeably faster pace and increased intensity, too. The ramp-up is officially upon the Bruins.
– Brad Marchand, who revealed that he had been playing ‘at 80 percent’ for the last two and a half years because of a sports hernia issue that never got better, ditched the red jersey and was a full participant in Tuesday’s session. You can always hear the 32-year-old Marchand out on the ice, and today was no different, with Marchand hollering at or with his linemates on every shift, and cursing himself on any shot that went anywhere besides the back of the net.
– The latest on Jakub Zboril Watch: Paired with Kevan Miller for Tuesday’s session, Zboril went 0-for-2 stopping passes on two-on-one drills, but then shut down a Patrice Bergeron pass on an odd-man rush with his skate. If we’re weighing chances in terms of their importance, you’ll take him stopping Bergeron’s attempt. Cassidy categorized Zboril as a “wild card” to make the roster. He’s really competing against John Moore here, and the Bruins gave Moore (and Connor Clifton) some seriously extended o-zone faceoff drill work with Charlie Coyle’s line, if you care to read into these things.
– Second day of camp and still no sign of forwards Anton Blidh, Karson Kuhlman, and Oskar Steen on the ice. Much like they were during the summer restart, teams have been instructed to simply say “unavailable to play” with any absence, but Cassidy did provide some updates on the trio after Tuesday’s session. Kuhlman is apparently hung up on some testing issues, Blidh is expected to be on the ice a little bit later into camp, and the B’s hope that they can get Steen (12 goals and 15 points for Bjorkloven IF in Sweden’s second tier before reporting to the U.S.) on the ice Wednesday.