For the better part of the last decade, the Boston Bruins were the epitome of winning hockey. Few teams have been as consistently successful as they have. Led by some of the greatest players in hockey history in Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, this team knew how to win. But no team can win forever. The Bruins are reaching the point where they have to pay for all of the winning years they have seen. The Boston Bruins core is ageing rapidly and their window to win is closing.
The Boston Bruins Core is Declining
We knew that this season would be a real test for Boston. There was more roster turnover this offseason than we have seen in a long time. Two long-time Bruins in David Krejci and Tuukka Rask left the team. The only remaining links to the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning roster are Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. They are both old enough that their game could decline start to decline at any point in time. The core that propelled this team to a title and 10 years of consistent success is falling apart and a new one needs to be built. Right now, this team does not have what it needs to continue its winning ways for the next five years.
The Makeup of a New Core
What would the next core look like in Boston? There are a few good pieces. Being conservative, Bergeron and Marchand have roughly 2 and 4 more good years, respectively. At that point, they should both see a drop-off in playing ability. David Pastrnak is still very young and has most of his career ahead of him. The team also has Taylor Hall for three years beyond this season. Charlie Coyle will be the new top-line centre. The blue line will continue to be anchored by Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. In net, Jeremy Swayman is supposed to be the next great Bruins goalie, but is still very young and needs to develop. When Bergeron and Marchand are gone, the new core has a lot of question marks.
Starting at Centre
Options Already in Boston
The centre depth in Boston’s system leaves a lot to be desired. We are moving forward assuming Bergeron will re-sign with Boston. His contract expires at the end of the season and he has not yet signed an extension. Without him, Charlie Coyle becomes the top-line centre. There are already questions about if he can be the second-line centre, much less the first. While he has performed well so far this year, Boston can’t expect more from him than they already do. They need viable prospects if they have any hope of finding a true top centre.
In the Pipeline
Prospect development is the key to success in the NHL. The Boston Bruins can’t build a new core if they don’t have any. That isn’t to say they don’t have any at all, but none of significance. The best centre prospects the team currently owns the rights to are Jack Studnicka and Johnny Beecher.
Studnicka is a player that should have been an NHL regular this season. Instead, he has been sent up and down from Providence. He has performed well in the minors. While that doesn’t necessarily translate to success in the NHL, he has nothing more to prove in the AHL. This falls on Bruce Cassidy’s shoulders. Studnicka has only gotten into the lineup for five NHL games this season. To properly develop him, he needs consistent NHL minutes. The team is actively damaging his development by keeping him out of the lineup regularly. Still, Studnicka’s ceiling is not a true top centre. He can provide excellent depth but won’t be able to replace Bergeron.
The other option is Johnny Beecher. Drafted late in the first round of the 2019 draft, Beecher was expected to be the best centre prospect the team has. Not only does Studnicka seem like a better prospect now, but Beecher’s value has only dropped since draft day. Beecher committed to Michigan’s hockey program but has seemingly fallen by the wayside. Now in his junior year, Beecher is the third-best center (at best) behind sophomores Matthew Beniers and Thomas Bordeleau. Considering a slew of injuries and declining production in each season, Beecher’s ceiling may be dropping from a second-line centre to a bottom-six player.
There is no clear replacement for Patrice Bergeron in the prospect pipeline right now. Don’t be surprised if the team goes after a centre early in the draft. It is easily the biggest hole that needs to be filled. Shane Wright, Matthew Savoie, and Brad Lambert are all out of reach. A trade-up on draft day would be required to get one of them and the Bruins likely don’t have the necessary assets to make a move up to the top 10. This team will likely wind up with an early-round playoff exit so a guy like Nathan Gaucher could be within their range. If they manage a deep run, Marco Kasper or Matthew Poitras could be targeted near the end of day 1.
Out on the Wing
Options Already in Boston
Thankfully, Boston does not have as much to worry about in terms of wingers. David Pastrnak is a top 10 player in the NHL. Although his contract is up at the end of next season, the Bruins will surely find a way to get a deal done with their most talented forward. Taylor Hall is also signed on for several more years. While he isn’t exactly the player who took home the Hart Trophy in 2018, he is still one of the best players in the league (and at a bargain $6 million per year). When Marchand begins to decline, expect Hall to be a top-line fixture as long as he re-signs with the team.
In the Pipeline
Taking a look at guys in the system, Boston’s best prospect is a winger. Fabian Lysell was drafted by the Bruins 21st overall in the 2021 NHL Draft. The Bruins caught a break with their pick. Lysell was widely projected to go roughly 10 picks before he fell to Boston. Getting a talent like him was a massive win for a team in desperate need of blue-chip prospects. It’s not all sunshine and daisies, however. The supposed reason for Lysell’s fall was in regard to alleged character concerns. While the specifics surrounding the situation are unknown, it was enough to scare off some teams on draft day. But Boston was willing to take the risk and hopefully, Lysell can leave those problems in the rearview mirror and have a successful NHL career. He should be an important piece of their core in the next few years.
Options Already in Boston
It’s very well known that the Bruins have one of the best two-way defensemen in the NHL in Charlie McAvoy. They also have a very solid second pairing defenceman in Brandon Carlo. While his offence is nothing worth discussing, his defensive skills shine through. The two of them give Boston a pair of talented defenders who can easily lock down the right side. They are the future of the defence for the Boston Bruins new core.
On the left, Matt Grzelcyk is the best defenceman this team has. While he certainly makes for a dangerous pairing when playing with McAvoy, he should not be the best guy on the left side. He is a top-notch complimentary piece but is not a first pairing defenceman. Grzelcyk is also 27 years old already. He may be on the decline by the time a new core takes over.
In the Pipeline
Boston may have struck gold with a second-round pick in the 2020 draft. The Bruins selected left-side defenseman Mason Lohrei. He wasn’t on many draft boards and was playing with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL as an over-ager. Due to the fact that no one knew who he was, the front office was widely criticized for selecting him. So far, that pick looks to be a good one. The 6’4″ defender posted 59 points in 48 games with the Gamblers after the draft and started at Ohio State the following year. Lohrei has started off the year with 15 points in 18 games. Keep an eye on this kid because he is one of the best pieces Boston has going for them. He could develop into the missing piece in the top four of the Boston Bruins next core.
The Bruins have another good piece brewing on the left side. In the first round of the 2017 draft, the Bruins picked Urho Vaakanainen. While he doesn’t have the size Lohrei boasts, he is still a talented player. With that said, concerns are starting to mount. He has yet to make any kind of noticeable impact at the NHL level. He has gotten into some games but injuries and decisions by the coaching staff may be hindering his development. If he can get some consistent NHL time, he could still become a consistent top-four player.
A New Netminder
If you didn’t know about Jeremy Swayman before last season, you certainly do now. Tuukka Rask is rumoured to be coming back to the Bruins organization in the coming weeks. But this is likely his last run at a cup. Swayman is waiting in the wings and proved he can be the next great Bruins goalie with his performance last season. Over the course of 10 games, the young goaltender posted a .945 save percentage and a 1.50 goals-against average with a pair of shutouts. Those are elite numbers. While he has not been quite as good this season, Swayman is only 23 years old and is in his first full season of NHL playing time. If he can even be 3/4 as good as he was in his first 10 NHL games, the Bruins have their next goalie.
The Future is Uncertain
This team is going to undergo massive change over the next few years. Staples of Bruins hockey will be gone with new faces coming in. A new generation will take over the city of Boston and hopefully bring home a Stanley Cup or two. But this future is very much uncertain. This new core for the Boston Bruins will need to rely on the development of prospects to build a winning team. Prospects that may not stand up to the same calibre of other franchises. This team needs to draft well over the next two seasons if they want to continue their winning ways.