Puck-moving defenseman Matt Grzelcyk has enjoyed a noticeably strong week for the Boston Bruins at training camp during a time when the B’s are very much asking for more out of him.
The 27-year-old has been slick and fast-moving in drills breaking pucks out, has melded quite nicely chemistry-wise with Brandon Carlo in a new top-4 pairing for this season and has epitomized stability on the left side of a B’s defense swimming in change this year.
Grzelcyk also slid into Torey Krug’s vacant spot on the top power play unit where he was quarterbacking things along with David Krejci at practice this week. So, it’s pretty apparent that success for the hard-working Grzelcyk is going to be tied pretty tightly to how well the Boston Bruins transition things on their back end with both Zdeno Chara and Krug now gone.
The 5-foot-9, 174-pounder is coming off a season where he posted career-bests with four goals and 21 points last season, and some are predicting him to be one of the top breakout players across the NHL this season. There are fancy stats underscoring his ability to move the puck and keep things out of the defensive zone, and that’s a skill he’s going to need to perfect given the battles with East Division teams awaiting in the regular season.
Certainly, that’s something the Boston Bruins are hoping for given he’s the lone experienced guy on the left side. Grzelcyk’s new defensive partner, Brandon Carlo, says he’s off to an unbelievable start at this week’s abbreviated training camp before the shotgun start to the season.
“It’s great. He’s an amazing player and sees the ice so well. I feel like we can mesh really well in the same way Torey Krug and I did. He’s more of a puck-mover, but at the same time I feel like he’s giving me the puck too and putting some responsibility on my shoulders too. It’s nice to be with a guy that’s been in the same organization for a while and has been in the same spots,” said Carlo. “I’ll always miss Torey. He was amazing on and off the ice. I love the guy to death.
“But I’ve gotten to terms with it. Being out there with Grizzy has been a lot of fun and I’m excited. When he’s making plays, I tell him that he’s dropping my jaw at times. It’s fun to watch him play and moving the puck with him. I’ve had a blast adjusting to that. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun this year.”
What does Grzelcyk think?
Well, the modest Charlestown kid simply wants to work hard, keep getting better and do whatever is needed for team success. But there’s no doubt he also wants to up his offensive production, become more of a shooting threat from his point spot on the power play and perhaps tap into the offensive creativity just a little bit more.
These are all things he’s focused on along with the heavier workload associated with being a top-4 defenseman.
Grzelcyk is never going to be Krug, and he’s probably never going to be the kind of explosive 10-goal, 50-point guy that the gifted Krug was over the last five years. But the scrappy BU alum is also a better defender than Krug ever was with the Boston Bruins, and provides the B’s with a well-rounded two-way defender that’s going to make a rock-solid second pair with Carlo’s shutdown specialist. Grzelcyk won’t be exploited defensively like Krug was at times over the years, and that’s probably some of the reason why he still remains in Boston.
“Obviously, we lost Zee and Torey and those are some big shoes to fill,” said Grzelcyk. “For me personally, I just try to be more assertive and show that I’m capable of handling more of those big minutes and responsibility that are going to be coming my way.
“I just tried to work hard this offseason to try and get bigger, faster and stronger like always, but also to hopefully get used to playing more minutes and take care of my conditioning in that way. We’ll see how it plays out, but I’m really excited to get going.”
The ability to play bigger minutes will be where the rubber meets the road with Grzelcyk, who is going to have to prove he can play 20 minutes a night as an undersized defenseman. He averaged 18:04 of ice time per game last season and has never averaged more than 19 minutes of ice time per game in an NHL season. It’s something that the similarly undersized Krug was able to successfully do during his career with the Black and Gold, but it won’t be easy for a guy like Grzelcyk that’s listed at 5-foot-9 and 174-pounds.
Time will tell if Grzelcyk can make that next step after excelling as a third pairing puck-over over the last few seasons in Boston, but the hometown kid is off to a very encouraging start one week into training camp.