The job of an NHL head coach is to win games in the here and now. Bruce Cassidy has that task on his plate, but also knows that he must continue to set the team up for the future. Torey Krug’s future, thanks to his contract status, is in jeopardy. The Boston Bruins have a logical replacement on their roster in Matt Grzelcyk. Will Cassidy give the Charlestown native a larger role in 2019-20?
Grzelcyk played in 66 regular season games in 2018-19 and looked comfortable against NHL competition. He thrived in a third pairing role, and flashed the potential of a top-four defenseman. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Cassidy looks to give Grzelcyk a bigger role this season. The natural progression of the player is one reason why he’d see a bigger role. He took another step forward last season and looks capable of doing more.
The need to lessen the burden on Zdeno Chara and to see if Grzelcyk can handle Krug’s role also plays a factor here. This is a huge season for the local product.
Grzelcyk played in 66 games a season ago, averaging just a hair under 20 minutes per game. His 19:08 per game indicates he was more of a third pairing defenseman than anything. Grzelcyk provided solid offensive play from the blueline, compiling 18 points over the course of the season. His 15 assists were good for third among defensemen on the Bruins, while his three goals placed him fifth on the same list.
Possession wise, Grzelcyk held his own, but took a step back. After finishing with a 54.8% Corsi For at five-on-five in 2017-18, he posted a 51.5% mark a season ago. That’s still a solid number. The puck was going in the right direction when Grzelcyk was on the ice, and that’s important. The issue here? He was actually a drag on possession relative to his teammates. Grzelcyk posted a -1.9% Corsi Rel at five-on-five in 2018-19.
In the postseason, Grzelcyk played in just 20 games. He dealt with a concussion in the Stanley Cup Final and never got the chance to impact that series. He collected eight points (4 g, 4 a) and was a real factor in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
This is the season where Grzelcyk will prove what he really is. Is he just a solid third pairing defenseman who can play second powerplay and contribute? Or, is Grzelcyk a player that is still growing and can become a top-four defenseman for the Boston Bruins? The upcoming 82 games will go a long way towards answering that question.
Not only will Grzelcyk’s performance impact his status moving forward, it could impact Krug’s as well. If Grzelcyk shows he can play higher up in the lineup, the Bruins might be inclined to not overpay to keep Krug around. All in all, Grzelcyk’s performance this season will be extremely interesting to watch.
Expect him to once again start on the third pairing at even strength. Time on the second powerplay unit, where he scored six points a season ago, should be expected as well.
It will be interesting to see if Grzelcyk can clean up in his own zone. His strengths are obvious. He is mobile, can move the puck, has great offensive instincts and can chip in points. His work on the boards, defensive positioning and ability to stand up opponents at the blueline all need to be improved. Expect him to get the chance to make that right this season.
Official Prediction: 71 GP, 4 Goals, 14 Assists, 18 Points, +11, 20:04 TOI