Some of the Boston Bruins’ most important players are the ones looking to flourish under a new voice.
As the Bruins get ready for the 2022-23 season, we’re keeping a close eye on those who clashed with Bruce Cassidy or otherwise couldn’t find themselves in recent years. The Bruins’ success in the coming season may depend on this key handful of younger players, who they hope will benefit from better communication with new head coach Jim Montgomery. That’s been a consistent topic for Ty Anderson and myself on the Sports Hub Underground podcast, but now Ty has gotten to see these kids in person at training camp. Listen above for the newest episode of SHUG, which takes a deep dive into Bruins camp and the preseason.
It’s too early to tell with projected first-line right wing Jake DeBrusk, who literally hasn’t been on the ice enough to judge. DeBrusk is still the most notable example of a Bruin whose tension with Cassidy seemed to hurt his on-ice results at times. It remains to be seen how he truly looks with Montgomery behind the bench. But there are several other players that have gotten more ice time that are worth noting.
Yes, it’s only training camp, so it’s too early to make any sweeping judgments on any of these guys, really anything at all. But Ty was happy to report some positive progress.
“They look good, and when I say that, I’m talking in the sense of players implementing what’s being asked of them,” Ty said. “It feels like there’s more learning. It feels like there’s more, ‘Hey, this is what we want you to do, I’ll show you how, ask a question, I’ll explain it, and then we’re gonna see it.’
“I think these guys are really handling the coaching very well and I think they’re doing the things they want them to do, and I think that you’re seeing it play out.”
Here’s a closer look at a handful of important Bruins to keep an eye on amid the team’s coaching changes…
Nov 26, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo (25) gets set for a face-off during the second period against the New York Rangers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Carlo hasn’t made the same impact on the ice in the last three years that he did in 2019, when he was one of the Bruins’ best all-around defenseman on their run to the Stanley Cup Final. And he admitted in a recent exclusive with Fluto Shinzawa at The Athletic that he became afraid of making mistakes under Cassidy. That crept into his head and ultimately took his game from bad to worse.
Under Montgomery, Carlo is having fun again and feels much better about the communication between coaches and players. And from what Ty has seen and heard at camp and the preseason so far, the team is putting Carlo in position to succeed and helping him build confidence with the puck.
“I think they’ve done a good job here in camp of putting [Carlo] with guys who I would say force him to play with more offensive pop,” Ty said. “I think what you’re seeing is they’re trying to do things to try and make him more confident and [develop] muscle memory in terms of activating, creating offense, taking chances.”
If Carlo can return to his level of play from 2019, perhaps contribute even more offensively, that will make a huge difference for the Bruins from the last few years.
Nov 20, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Jakub Zboril (67) and goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Zboril may never be the franchise defenseman many hoped he’d develop into when the Bruins drafted him 13th overall in the 2015 draft. But it looks like the team’s patience is paying off in the sense that Zboril is poised to be a real contributor to the Bruins’ back end this season. Zboril is healthy and playing like an NHL regular.
“He’s moving well, decision-making is better,” Ty said on Zboril’s performance so far in camp and the preseason. “I feel like he’s not overthinking things when the puck is on his stick. But the thing that I like about Zboril that I don’t think people realize on the surface is, he’s got some confidence. He’s got it in him.
“I think you need some of that mentality to succeed defensively at this level. I’m expecting to see more of that. But I like him. I like his game.”
Zboril is a left-shot defenseman, but has played a lot on the right side amid a logjam of lefties. Especially now, with Charlie McAvoy out for several weeks to start the season, he has a chance to bring more secondary pop to the right side, and to the defense as a whole. Ty was confident enough to say that Zboril “should a full-time fixture in this lineup.”
Feb 12, 2022; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators goalie Matt Murray (30) makes a save in front of Boston Bruins center Trent Frederic (11) in the first period at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Apologies if you’re squeamish about hockey’s violent side, but here’s the truth: Trent Frederic never looked better in a Bruins uniform than when he was just a hooligan wreaking havoc.
Over his first 21 games of the 2020-21 season, Frederic averaged just over two penalty minutes and 1.7 hits per game. That dropped to just 1.05 penalty minutes and 1.2 hits per game over his final 21. It seemed that Cassidy reined him in after he got an instigator penalty and game misconduct against the Capitals halfway through the season. But Ty feels that Frederic has struggled to find consistency while playing a more responsible game, and that Montgomery and the Bruins would benefit most from him resuming his role as the enforcer, the muscle.
“They’re committed to him, they are committed to make it work now,” Ty said on Frederic. “I think the best role for him is a fourth-line agitator. Let him cross the line on occasion. Let him do it. Because he was pretty damn good at in [2020-21]. The first half of the year he was like a menace. Let him be that guy! Stop trying to save face on the first-round pick. Just let him do it.”
Frederic is getting a serious push from A.J. Greer behind him in the competition (?) for the third-line left wing spot, alongside Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith. He may yet hold onto the job, but if Montgomery is going to tap into Frederic’s strengths, his best bet may be to bring the menace back out of him.
Mar 24, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins center Jack Studnicka (23) during the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Unfortunately, Studnicka has not produced enough or played a sound-enough all-around game to justify a spot among the top-6 forwards. But the former second-round pick appears on track to make the team as a regular in the bottom two lines, likely at center or right wing on the fourth line.
Ty believes that Montgomery has done a good job of getting Studnicka to accept the reality that if he’s going to play in Boston, he needs to get “uncomfortable” – meaning, play more of a grinding game, live more in the dirtier areas of the ice. This came after Studnicka struggled in the preseason opener against the Flyers, but looked much better against the Rangers after he and Montgomery had a talk.
“The message from Montomgery to Studnicka was, ‘You’re gonna have to play greasy, you’re gonna have to get your hands dirty, because if you make this team, it’s gonna be on the fourth line to start,” Ty explained. Studnicka was asked about it and admitted: “I took it to heart. You can only make one first impression, so I made sure my second impression was good.”
Studnicka still has plenty to prove in terms of his ability to play a greasier game and do it consistently, but that was a good early sign that Montgomery is getting through to him.
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BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 23: A detail of the Bruins logo on the sweater of Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins during the first period of the preseason game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on September 23, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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 and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.
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