Heading into training camp, the battle for the third line center job was well known. The departure of Riley Nash to Columbus left the Bruins with a big hole to fill, and all offseason long, it was a hole they were banking on filling internally.
But since training camp began, five players have gotten auditions for the spot, and no one has stepped up. The Bruins were hoping one of Trent Frederic, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, or Jack Studnicka would step up in camp and earn the job. However, not one of them did enough to get the gig.
Thus, Sean Kuraly was given the nod for the first two games of the season, but he has since been relegated back to his fourth-line duties.
The latest player to get a shot as the third-line center is David Backes, who, in case you forgot, claimed he originally signed in Boston to be the third line center.
The Bruins need to shut the revolving door of third-line centers and give someone an extended look. If they want their third line to create any sort of chemistry, it’s best to leave the same trio together for an extended period rather than draft a new line after every poor game, right? It might be tempting, but it isn’t always a recipe for success.
Backes played in between Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork on Monday, and won 50% of his faceoffs in 13:29. We all know that since signing his five-year, $30 million contract in the summer of 2016, Backes hasn’t necessarily lit it up in Boston. But either way, Backes might be the strongest option the Bruins have when you think about it.
They didn’t want to rush a rookie into the role. The Kuraly experiment ended after just two games, even though he might find himself back there at some point. The free agent centers obviously didn’t appeal to the Bruins over the summer (except for John Tavares, but we all know how that saga ended). What other choices do they really have at this point?
The Bruins need to decide on a third-line center and stick with it. A line can’t be good if they aren’t given any time to mesh and get comfortable with each other. Sure, there can always be a rotation of wingers, especially if an injury occurs during the game, but at the end of the day, a line has to be given a chance to succeed before it’s dismantled.
With confidence in its own players, Boston clearly did not think this would become an issue. However, it has since become a problem, and it’s a problem the Bruins need to solve, quickly. An unreliable third line can cause a world of issues, so the Bruins need to put a line out there and stick with it.
Leaving the Backes trio together for now is a good place to start.