There are many question marks surrounding the Boston Bruins’ 2020-21 defensive unit.
How will the power play perform without Torey Krug? Will captain Zdeno Chara return for his 15th season in Boston? Which young players will separate themselves from the pack and earn their spot in the lineup?
One aspect that will be easy to determine is how Matt Grzelcyk responds to increased responsibilities.
Throughout his four years in Boston, Grzelcyk has been a very competent third-pairing defenseman. The 26-year-old is a very smart skater who understands when to join the attack and when to hold back.
His combination of offensive and defensive skills has made him a valuable part of the Bruins d-core. He gives just as good an effort on the power play as he does the penalty kill.
However, he will have a lot more on his plate with Krug off to St. Louis and the uncertainty swirling around Chara. But even if Chara is back with the Bruins for the 2021 campaign, it appears the top defensive pair for Boston will be former Terrier teammates.
Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy will be a very formidable combination, as both are very smooth skaters, make intelligent decisions in both zones and bring a good amount of offensive ability to the table.
It was made clear in the playoffs this year that McAvoy and Chara were no longer the best combination for Boston. McAvoy wants to push the puck up the ice and dictate play offensively. Chara would much rather save his energy for stymieing the opponents’ top scorers.
With Grzelcyk and McAvoy paired up, Boston’s No. 1 defensive unit will be looking to join the rush more often. Grzelcyk can also expect more power play time as well.
Grzelcyk will be much more prominent when the Bruins are up a man. He was a solid contributor on Boston’s second unit, as he was very heady with the puck and knew how to get it on the stick of the skilled forwards.
However, Grzelcyk will now get a shot on Boston’s top power play squad, along with premier scorers Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. It will be interesting to see how he stamps his own imprint with this group. While it is hard to imagine Grzelcyk being as creative as Krug, he will bring an element of stability that was often missing with this unit.
The Bruins have been notorious at giving up shorthanded goals over the past few years. In the 2018-19 season, Boston tied for most shorthanded goals allowed in the league, with 15, and finished ninth in that category this season. The Bruins’ ability to have their players switch spots on the ice has led to a lot of goals, but also many breakaways for the opponents.
Krug would occasionally slide down the half-wall away from the blue line, which usually left Marchand and Pastrnak as the last line of defense. If a penalty-killer was able to get some speed up the ice, those wingers were not in position to properly defend.
Grzelcyk is a lot less likely to roam around the zone as Krug was on the man advantage. While this will limit the effective scores Krug often helped produce, there will be more structure with Grzelcyk running the show.
Expect a slight dip in power play production, but the amount of shorthanded goals given up will decrease. The power play unit will still be able to frustrate penalty-killers with Grzelcyk walking the line.
Grzelyck will be transitioning from a serviceable third-pairing defenseman, who got some time on the power play and penalty kill, to being one of the most important Boston defensemen.
Sometimes an increased role becomes just what someone needs. There’s a plethora of examples throughout sports of players thoroughly exceeding expectations when given the chance to perform.
Grzelyck might struggle early on as he adjusts to his new role. However, he has shown the ability to improve and adapt throughout his time in the NHL. Bruins fans should be excited to see what the kid from Charlestown can do with a little added pressure.