One of the biggest storylines from the Boston Bruins 2013 Stanley Cup Playoff run was the three rookie defensemen who stepped up when the team needed them.
Heading into the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Rangers, the Bruins were in the unenviable position of being down three veteran blue-liners. With Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden all hurting, Boston dressed a youth movement in the form of Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug. Fans were right to be concerned, as the lack of experience was glaring, especially on such a big stage.
However, instead of wilting under the bright lights, the three rookies played above their heads all series. Hamilton had a couple gaffes here and there, but for the most part did his job. Bartkowski was actually one of Boston’s better shutdown defensemen whenever he took the ice. And Krug, well, its tough to top four goals in his first five games. There’s a good chance Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist is still having nightmares about Krug’s one-timer.
Though their surprising prowess didn’t last for the entire postseason, it was still encouraging in terms of considering Boston’s depth. And with the departure of Ference in the offseason, there’s room for a few of the kids come opening night next season.
However, which defensemen are going to get the open spots?
As it stands, Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and Seidenberg will all be starting for the Bruins next year. That leaves two spots left on Boston’s blue line. If I had to guess, because he received the most playing time last year, Hamilton is very likely to be taking one of those roster slots. Boston drafted him in hopes he could be the offensive defenseman they’ve been vying for what seems like since Ray Bourque left. It makes sense to continue grooming him through extended play in the NHL.
So, that would leave one starting position available between Bartkowski and Krug. Making things complicated is the fact these two have very different playing styles. Bartkowski, while quick, is much more of a stay-at-home type defenseman. He’ll pinch in to shoot every so often, but primarily he was used to shut down forwards.
Krug, on the other hand, is a puck-carrier with a snipe of a snapshot. He brought some life to a Bruins powerplay that looked like it had one foot in the grave way too often last season. He made a couple bad turnovers during the finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, but his speed and puck-handling ability helped dig the Bruins out of their own zone.
There’s still a good chance that whoever doesn’t get the spot will still be on the Bruins roster, just as a healthy scratch. It would certainly make some sense if both were kept and rotated throughout the year. But, the question is who will be on the ice when the regular season begins in October?
If I were a betting man, I’d say Krug. Despite the aforementioned mental lapses, Boston showed a ton of faith in him by continuing to start him even after the ailing vets returned. With Chara, Seidenberg and Boychuk, the Bruins have plenty of starting defensemen capable of shutting down an offense. And if they’ve learned anything in their fruitless search for a puck-mover on the blue line, its the importance of having someone who can skate the puck out of their own zone.
Make no mistake; Bartkowski will stick around. Hockey’s a rough sport, and injuries are going to happen. Defensive depth is crucial for a successful season, and Bartkowski gives that to the Bruins.
For now though, my money is on Boston’s dressing Hamilton and Krug come opening night.