The Boston Bruins have a hole in right wing that is as much of a question mark on their 2016-2017 roster as their defensive group. Loui Eriksson left the team in free agency, leaving an alarming gap on Boston’s right wing. The Bruins have plenty of players that can fill that void, but Eriksson played a huge role in the offense last year- 63 points saw him tied for second most on the team, and he was one of the team’s best all around performers. It’s hard to expect that kind of production out of any of the right wing options this season.
When the Bruins signed David Backes in free agency, most figured he would easily slot in on David Krejci’s right wing in an attempt to recreate the chemistry Krejci had with other power forwards in the past- think Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, and Jarome Iginla. However, it has since become unclear whether Backes will be asked to play right wing or center a Cam Neely approved “grittier” third line this season. The 32 year old has only hit 60 points once, in the 2010-2011 season. It’s most likely Backes spends time at both positions throughout the season until Bruins head coach Claude Julien finds a fit he likes best, but he may not be the best choice for a first line right wing. Backes is still a solid all around player, but he seems much more primed to anchor a third line and feed shooting wizard Frank Vatrano.
David Pastrnak and Jimmy Hayes were typically featured on Boston’s second and third lines last season, and both have a lot to prove with Eriksson gone. 20 year old Pastrnak, still considered the best young talent in Boston’s organization, has an opportunity for a breakout season on Krejci or Bergeron’s line. Though he’s been in the league for two years now, Pastrnak has not quite played a full season with the team (46 games in 2014-2015, 51 in 2015-2016). A leg injury sidelined him last year, but provided he stays healthy, Pastrnak has shown the ability to put up points in the NHL- it’s merely a question of when he’ll make the jump to a surefire first line player. Over his first two years, Pastrnak scored .55 points per game. Over an 82 game season, that puts him in line for 45 points- not bad at all for a 20 year old talent, but certainly not enough to make him the team’s star right wing.
Jimmy Hayes finds himself coming off a rather disappointing first season with his hometown team. He failed to build off his career high 35 points in 2014-2015, only reaching 29 points, and it was due to a few multi point games that he even had that many. Hayes was nearly invisible for long stretches of games last season and needs to do more to assert himself as a presence to be a reliable third liner. That’s not to say he has to play physical purely because he’s large, but he was often behind the play and sluggish compared to his competition. The good news is that Hayes is due for a comeback year when you look at his shot percentage. His career shooting percentage is 11.7%, and in 2015-2016, he only shot at 10.2%. An increase towards the mean this season should net him a few more goals, and if David Backes does center the third line, Hayes may develop a better chemistry with him rather than seeming to struggle keeping up with the speedy Ryan Spooner.
Speaking of Spooner, he may be Boston’s best in house answer to the right wing problem. Sure, Spooner is a natural center and prefers to stay there, but has said he’ll make the change if the coaching staff ask him to play the wing. That would certainly mean more ice time for Spooner, who was fifth on the team in scoring in 2015-216 despite only averaging 15:08 minutes per game. Spooner’s game is nowhere near complete- his defensive play still needs work and his possession numbers were poor. Playing on the right side of the Marchand-Bergeron line will give him firsthand experience playing with two of the NHL’s best at turning defense to offense, and Spooner’s offensive skill will likely add to all three player’s point totals. If any current Bruins player is most likely to put up a point total closest to Loui Eriksson’s from last year in the first line right wing spot, it’s Spooner.
Two dark horse candidates for a right wing spot are Seth Griffith and Austin Czarnik. Griffith re-signed in Boston for one year at $625,000 after leading the AHL’s Providence Bruins in scoring in 2015-2016. Czarnik’s entry level deal with the Bruins ends after this season and was third in scoring in Providence last season. At 23 years old, both players should be hitting a point where the Bruins will either deem them valuable roster players or trading assets. Both are natural centers who can also play the wing, and after success at the AHL level, it’s time for one or both of them to prove they can play in the NHL.
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