BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s really no secret that young Boston Bruins forward Trent Frederic is struggling a bit in training camp these last few weeks with a regular fourth line role pretty much carved out for him at this point.
The 23-year-old Frederic began to break through last season with four goals and 65 penalty minutes while playing the role of a physical rabblerouser but found himself as a healthy scratch toward the end of the year in deference to veterans like Nick Ritchie and Sean Kuraly. With both of those players gone now, there’s a wide-open path for Frederic and Tomas Nosek to be a fourth line combo with Curtis Lazar and Chris Wagner competing for the final spot on the B’s energy line.
The problem: Frederic hasn’t fully grasped the B’s lineup spot to this point in training camp as there’s a little too much fancy to his game, and not nearly the same kind of surliness he routinely showed last season while tangling with guys like Tom Wilson.
Trent Frederic exchanges pleasantries with Tom Wilson and Zdeno Chara: pic.twitter.com/ES9V29nPlE
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) May 12, 2021
None of that even mentions the lazy offensive zone penalty for hooking that wiped out a Boston Bruins power play, or the turnovers Frederic has had while hesitating to make the play that’s right in front of him.
It could be that Frederic’s game simply isn’t made for exhibition season, but the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder needs to start showing his game with the regular season less than two weeks away. Certainly he has it in him as he showed last season against the Rangers.
“Not strong enough on the puck (on Thursday),” admitted Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy when asked specifically about Frederic on Friday. “On the first shift [on Thursday], he makes a real nice play to (Chris) Wagner off the wing coming through the neutral zone, which he’s done for us. He’s shot the puck well. But he gets it below the goal line and [throws a] backhand pass that comes back at us. Backhand pass behind our net, it comes back at us, it gets intercepted. Things like that that he takes for granted, those little plays, he just needs to have more urgency and be stronger and hang on to it. That’s just a capsule of (what we’re looking for).
“When our fourth line is at its best over the years, it was puck possession below the goal line and along the half wall. We saw Kuraly do it, Noel (Acciari), Wagner, (Tim) Schaller. All those guys were really hard to play against and it frustrated the other lines. So that’s the messaging. That’s part of your job, to hang on to pucks. Nothing might come of it. You don’t know. There are good defenders. But if nothing, you’ve killed good time off the clock against good lines that are now frustrated a little bit and that’s part of your job. You’re going to leave the puck in a good spot for the next line of guys coming over the boards that are paid to score. Eventually, maybe you’re one of those guys. But right now, that’s the ask. I think that’s where he has to understand and buy into it.”
Essentially, it’s about buying into a fourth line role for a first round pick that surely wants to be a top-6 guy with point totals and power play time. But even at the US National Team Development Program that wasn’t really Frederic’s game, and that goes doubly so at the NHL level where Frederic needs to be mean, nasty and hard to play against. Essentially, Frederic needs to get back to his best moments from last season when he was annoying the other team’s best players and taking the agitating responsibilities away from Brad Marchand.
“I don’t want him going through the sheet, thinking ‘OK, I’ve got to fight the toughest guy.’ That’s not it with Freddy. To me it’s ‘Wake up in a bad mood somehow.’ So that you’re going out there and being a little more belligerent and less worried about who’s in the other sweater,” said Cassidy. “It’ll find you if you’re like that. Then that part will take care of itself. That’s what he was doing when he was on his game last year. He was annoying (Alex) Ovechkin, (Tom) Wilson and these guys, whoever. It might have been (John) Carlson that night.
“But he was annoying them and then the attention gets brought on to him. That part of his game will fuel him and brings out the better of him. Now he’s involved. But we’ve got to get him to that point, where he’s a little more annoying to some people. And if he protects the puck a lot, all of a sudden, the D are on him and there’s an exchange in the corner, a physical confrontation that could happen. We want him to do it on the forecheck. That’s why he’s been on the wing a little more than center, you’ve got a little more freedom. Maybe you take the puck to the net, drag some people with you and bump into somebody to annoy them. There’s different things he can do in that regard.”
While the natural comparison is to Marchand, who came into the Boston Bruins as a fourth liner that worked his way up to a top-6 role, it seems that Milan Lucic is a bit more of the comparison to the big-bodied power forward-type for Frederic. And the good-natured Lucic sometimes needed to find reasons to get angry prior to NHL games to get him into the proper mindset, a technique that Frederic might want to follow ahead of games this season.
“[Frederic] might be a guy we’ve got to prod a little bit. I don’t think anyone had to prod Marchy and that’s the beauty of the rise of his game,” said Cassidy. “He had a plan in his head on how he was going to make the team, whereas Freddy might not be as far along at that internal drive and figuring that part of it out. That’s where it’s on us to get him ready to play.
“But there’s a line you have to be careful of. You don’t want him thinking ‘These coaches are in my damn head every shift.’ That’s the balance we have to go through, use our staff wisely to get him going. It’s still a process for us.”
The good news is that Frederic understood, back when he signed a two-year contract extension in June, that “he has a lot more to offer” after his rookie season with the Boston Bruins.
Clearly, it’s still a process for Frederic, as well, as he works his way through a mediocre training camp with a pivotal season and a regular NHL role dead ahead if he can find his hard-to-play-against game.