Who are the Boston Bruins’ most underrated players? First we must define underrated. For me, an underrated player is someone who makes a impact on the team’s success that goes somewhat unnoticed. These kinds of impacts don’t necessarily bounce off the the scoresheet and are often defensive contributions that are not easily quantifiable.
But thanks to advanced analytics, we have more statistics that can help uncover underrated players. For the forwards, when I look at the relative impact of each player, one Bruins’ forward stands out; it’s Charlie Coyle who was recently locked up to a team-friendly six-year contract extension with an annual cap hit of $5.25 million by general manager Don Sweeney.
The Impact Chart (courtesy WaveIntel) below plots the relative impact of each Bruins’ forward relative to each other and all other NHL forwards. The y-axis is expected goals against which provides a strong indicator of on-ice defensive performance and the x-axis is points rate (per 60 mins) which is a basic measure of offensive contribution. The key to reading this chart is to look at a player’s performance relative to his teammates, because they generally play the same system and benefit (or don’t benefit) from the performance of their teammates.
Using this chart we can see that the top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are far and away the top performers with some of the highest offensive output in The NHL. But the next most impactful forward is Coyle combining good offensive output and exceptional defensive performance.
Coyle’s performance compares favourably to Gabriel Landeskog, who gets more favorable zone starts as well as two mins more power play time per game, not to mention his higher quality of line-mates. But their five-on-five impact is very similar and you could even argue that Coyle has the edge with better underlying on-ice defensive numbers as well as scoring 12 five-on-five goals which ranks 78th among all NHL forwards.
For me, the key is that Coyle plays his role well, meaning defensive play first; the good offensive numbers are a bonus and boost his performance into the significant impact realm, which makes him the Bruins’ most underrated forward.
On defense, if we look at the same criteria Matt Grzelcyk jumps off the page as the defender with highest five-on-five defensive performance, but also provides offence at a rate higher the The NHL average for defensemen. Back in September, Alex Thomas predicted that Grzelcyk would take a big step forward, and he has.
Grzelcyk compares favorably to Jonas Brodin, especially five-on-five where the advantage in shot rates and expected goal rates greatly favors the Bruins’ defender.
At a minuscule on-ice 1.7 expected goals against per 60 mins, Grzelcyk is in elite company in terms of suppressing quality chances against during five-on-five play. On the offensive side, his on-ice 2.3 expected goals for is above average for NHL defenders. He has three five-on-five goals, but he and his teammates have been snakebitten with a poor a five-on-five on-ice shooting percentage of 6.8 when Grzelcyk is on the ice. Compare this to Brodin’s on-ice shooting percentage of 9.5 and you can get an idea of the difference in quality of line-mates.
It should also be noted that Brodin has more difficult deployment than Grzelcyk, so the direct comparison is not entirely fair. Regardless, there is no denying the fact that, like Coyle, Grzelcyk is doing the job he is asked to do really well; take care of the defensive side of the game first and chip in offensively. In this regard, Grzelcyk is performing exceptionally well in his role and easily the Bruins’ most underrate defender.
To take the next step, Grzelcyk will have to show that he can translate his success on penalty killing into a bigger first-unit role and contribute more effectively on the power play where he averages 1.56 mins per game but has relatively low production.
But for how the Bruins are structure now, both Grzelcyk and Coyle are providing greater impact in their roles relative to their NHL counterparts, and for this, they are the Bruins’ most underrated players.