Boston Bruins defenseman Jakub Zboril is happy to have the endless bag skates and very solitary rehab experience of last season’s knee surgery behind him and is absolutely showing it on the ice.
“Just working out and bag skates,” said a smiling Zboril, thinking back to last spring. “It’s a little different now. I’m going back for pucks now and I have a little pressure on my back. Things I’m getting used to again.”
Last season was almost an entire wash for the 25-year-old defenseman after he was lost for the season just 10 games into the year with ACL knee surgery, a shame considering that Zboril was just beginning to exhibit key developments in his game that were taking to a whole other level as an NHL defenseman. It’s exactly what the Boston Bruins thought they were getting when they made him the fourth overall defenseman taken in that 2015 NHL Draft after Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski, and just a few picks before Thomas Chabot.
Thankfully, the year layoff due to the injury doesn’t appear to have hurt his momentum at all as Zboril was the best Boston Bruins player on the ice in a 2-1 exhibition opening loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night.
The left-shot defenseman logged over 25 minutes of ice time, created countless scoring chances and clean zone entries with his puck movement and passing, and finished with five shot attempts of his own in an extremely active game.
Some poised, confident hockey from Jakub Zboril in the early going. pic.twitter.com/wdfnkpD0zx
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) September 24, 2022
Needless to say, new Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery has been impressed with Zboril’s elevated level of play and practice over the opening few days of NHL training camp.
“From the first few days of camp, he just continues to impress,” said Montgomery of Zboril, who has 12 assists in 54 career games with the Boston Bruins over the last few seasons. “He’s a dominant player out there right now. I think the word is assertive. It’s very impressive for [a guy that had] a year off. For him to have the confidence right now with the way he’s playing the puck, it’s really good.”
🎥 Coach Montgomery, Jakub Lauko, and Keith Kinkaid met with the media following Saturday’s preseason opener in Philadelphia: pic.twitter.com/yVFR5TqsVj
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) September 25, 2022
It’s an interesting time for Zboril, who can play on the left or right and gives Boston an excellent right-handed option while they are without Charlie McAvoy for the first few months of this coming season. It’s part of the reason the Boston Bruins brought Anton Stralman in on a veteran camp tryout, but Zboril knows the chance is there for him to really seize an NHL job if he can simply stay healthy and consistent out of the gate this season.
There’s also the chance that an emerging Zboril is going to hasten the possible trade of somebody like Reilly, Connor Clifton or other established D-men when everybody gets healthy a few months into the season.
“It’s just to finally make the roster and become a full-time NHL player,” said Zboril, of his mindset headed into camp. “Consistency and not getting hurt [are big keys]. I just want to go out there, enjoy it, have fun with the hockey and play well.
“It’s really exciting for me coming off a serious injury. Hopefully I can go out there and play big minutes right from the top and get back into a groove of playing games. I think it’s going to help. Whatever the coaches throw my way I’m going to deal with as best I can and go from there.”
There really isn’t any underscoring the opportunity for the former first round pick to cement himself in Boston this year after a pretty deliberate development track to this point. Sometimes it takes defensemen a little longer to develop the confidence, the feel for the position and the instincts needed to play the back end effectively at the NHL level, and it feels like all of those things are working in concert for the Czech Republic native.
It obviously doesn’t hurt either that Zboril is around friends and teammates that he’s had forever with best buddy Pavel Zacha on the team, and David Pastrnak and David Krejci around to make it arguably the most Czech-centric team in the league.
The bottom line is that there’s a great opportunity for Zboril to open the season in a top-4 role if the Boston Bruins start with a Hampus Lindholm/Brandon Carlo pairing, and then seek out a right-handed option to skate with Mike Reilly while Matt Grzelcyk rehabs from his summer shoulder surgery. He’s healthy, he’s playing well and leaning into his strengths, passing and on-ice vision, while continuing to mature the other areas to his game.
Now is the time for the 6-foot-1, 191-pounder to step and show just good he can be with the spotlight on him early in a Boston Bruins training camp that might turn to be one to remember for the former first round pick.