The Bruins have traded away two of the best in the game in the past decade, yet still won a Stanley Cup and been a contender most seasons. Can Boston keep it up as the team’s current stars age?
Elite centers are the hardest thing to find in the NHL – ask any GM. Actually, you don’t have to, because I already did. It’s the reason Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Dylan Strome were the top picks this past summer and it’s the reason we’re all going to be super-mad if Edmonton somehow gets Auston Matthews this time around.
But in Boston, a strange dichotomy has arisen. In the past decade, the Bruins have traded two of the top centers in the game – first Joe Thornton, then a not-yet-in-his-prime Tyler Seguin – and barely suffered for it. In fact, the team won a Stanley Cup post-Thornton and is threatening for first place in the Atlantic Division right now with Seguin off doing wonders in Dallas.
So what gives? Well, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are two pretty good answers. And check out this play by third-line finess pivot Ryan Spooner from last night’s walloping of Pittsburgh:
Dang, Spooner. Now, I’m not saying that Spooner is on the same level as Bergeron and Krejci – and he’s not the same kind of center as the two-way veterans – but at 23 years old he’s starting to put something together and being shielded by the top two guys on the squad will continue to help his development.
From an organizational standpoint, the Bruins must be really proud that all three of those guys were taken in the second round of the draft. But in the game today, we’re always looking ahead to the future, so I had a very real question after Boston’s bizarre first day of the 2015 draft: Who will be the Bruins’ top centers five years from now?
Bergeron and Krejci will both be 35 by the end of the 2020-21 campaign and they’ve already logged warrior years for the B’s. Spooner is more suited to be a No. 2 guy, at best.
Now, I had no quarrel with new GM Don Sweeney using his first of three straight first-round selections on defenseman Jakub Zboril, but in passing on potential elite centers Matt Barzal and Kyle Connor for a pair of wingers with the next two selections? Not sure I can rationalize that.
If there’s a saving grace for the Bruins, it’s that Sweeney and his scouts had a great Day 2 of the draft. The key may end up being center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson. See, ‘JFK’ is a two-way pivot who is having an excellent freshman campaign with the Boston University Terriers. The Bruins nabbed him in the second round and if he continues to grow on his current path, he would fit more of the Bergeron-Krejci mould.
Super-big “if,” of course, but you have to look five years down the line, because top centers rarely come on the market. Other than Thornton and Seguin, you’re looking at Brad Richards and Ryan Johansen in the past decade. There’s a reason it will be earth-shaking if Steven Stamkos hits the market this summer.
So it may have seemed silly to freak out over Boston’s 2015 first-round, but there was cause for concern. Boston is a city that loves winners and with some of the troubles the defense has already had in the past year and a half, the Bruins can’t afford to be thin down the middle. It’s not a problem right now, but it’s always something to keep an eye on for down the road.