The Boston Bruins signing of rookie defenseman Jakub Zboril is a clear indication that there is likely a youth movement underway on the Bruins blue line.
The announcement Wednesday that they had signed the 23-year-old restricted free agent wasn’t that surprising but what did catch plenty off guard was that the two-year contract worth $1.4 million was a one-way and not a two-way contract. This means that Zboril unless he is traded or waived – he has to pass through waivers – is assured a spot on the Boston Bruins opening night roster for the 2021 NHL regular season, whenever that may be.
The two-way contract definitely caught some NHL pro scouts, who have scouted Zboril closely while he played for the Providence Bruins, off guard.
“Last I heard they were listening to offers on him and were leaning more towards [Jeremy] Lauzon and [Urho] Vaakanainen to make the leap soon and fill in on the left side,” one NHL scout told Boston Hockey Now immediately after the Bruins announced that signing and that they had signed unrestricted free agent forward Greg McKegg and UFA goalie Callum Booth.
“He’s not NHL ready,” another longtime NHL scout said of Zboril.
Boston Bruins Will Get Younger On D
Well, apparently Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney and his staff think otherwise as Zboril will now begin next season on the big club. Word around the team is that Lauzon, 23, and Vaakanainen, 21, will also be given legit shots to join Zboril, John Moore, 29, and if and when he’s signed to a new contract, RFA defenseman Matt Grzelcyk who is 26 years-old. Zdeno Chara remains an unrestricted free agent but he and his agent Matt Keator are in constant contact with Sweeney and if and when he re-signs with the Bruins, the 43-year-old will rejoin the left side of the Bruins blue line.
Following the signing of unrestricted free agent Craig Smith last Saturday, Sweeney hinted that the Bruins may very well look for an assortment of the aforementioned defensemen to fill the void left by Torey Krug’s departure by committee.
“We certainly feel comfortable with ‘Griz’ [Grzelcyk] or Charlie [McAvoy], and if other players, Jakub Zboril, establish themselves, somebody is going to get an opportunity there,” Sweeney pointed out. “Or we’re going to have to continue to explore from outside if the opportunity presents itself. We’re continuing to explore external options.
We feel that we have some young players, not unlike a few years ago where [Brandon] Carlo came on to the scene. Did we absolutely know that Brandon was going to be able to go in and play the amount of minutes right out of the gate? Nope. But we felt comfortable that we were going to give him that opportunity, and felt we could insulate it.”
Sweeney used McAvoy’s and Carlo’s growth as an example of the Bruins already filtering in their youth and elevating their established younger player to more veteran roles.
“Charlie and Brandon now have been in this league and have had a tremendous amount of success.” Sweeney pointed out. “Can they carry a younger player? Is ‘Griz’ ready for an elevated role? Some of that is to be determined. Vaakanainen, Zboril, John Moore, and the collection of the group is what it is at this stage, while I continue to explore external options and it might be by a committee in some of those situations. And I think some of the younger players are excited. And Zdeno is part of that equation. We’ll continue to have the conversations with his group and allow him the latitude to make those decisions accordingly.”
External Options For Sweeney
Sweeney still needs to ideally sign Grzelcyk and fellow RFA, Jake DeBrusk to new contracts and has $10.3 million in cap space to do so. DeBrusk has been a constant name on the trade rumor circuit but as of 2 PM ET on Thursday, he was still the property of the Boston Bruins. If Sweeney does decide to go the external route and in doing so, go big with an impact trade, then DeBrusk may very well be the bait he uses to lure in that big fish for the left side of the Boston Bruins defense. However, the read here is that any trade or signing for a left-shot d-man would be more middle or lower tier given their desire to audition and filter their young prospects in.
The Bruins may claim that they don’t have an ‘internal hockey spending cap’ but to this point, they’ve operated as if they do and they’re getting thin on salary cap space as well. They’ve been linked to Florida Panthers RFA defenseman MacKenzie Weegar and that is the kind of bargain hunting you can likely expect them to do if they make any trades.
The same goes for signing a UFA defenseman. If Sweeney dips back into the free agent pool then 32-year-old veteran rear guard Karl Alzner could make sense and will have a chip on his shoulder after being bought out by the Montreal Canadiens last month. Dmitry Kulikov, whom the Bruins have had past trade interest in, is also a UFA. The 30-year-old rear guard won’t command a lot. In fact, both him and Alzner could even be potential camp tryouts.
If Sweeney decided to pull a 180 on the direction his offseason has gone thus far, one way to make a big splash and bring in a young and skilled top 4 defenseman would be to lay down an offer sheet on St. Louis Blues restricted free agent and 23-year-old defenseman Vince Dunn. Pulling that off would be some sweet irony after the Blues lured Krug away from Boston.
The only issue of course would be money. According to a league source, Dunn is looking to get up into the $2.8-3.5 million per season threshold and that would mean the Bruins would have to surrender a second round pick as compensation. Rather than surrender a pick and take up even more cap space, Sweeney could dangle DeBrusk or another forward.
That’s all speculation for now though and as the free agent period moves into its second week, the Boston Bruins appear poised to flood the left side of their defense with inexpensive youth.