Matt Grzelcyk - Defense
Last season, Grzelcyk played the majority of his time on the third line with the likes of Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid, Nick Holden and the rest of the rotating company of d-men that made up the bottom pairing. Yet, Grzelcyk seemed to be a constant in the defenseman rotation, and with good reason. In an era where defenseman are being relied on more and more to move the puck and less to bully opposition forwards, the Bruins benefited from having the Charlestown native on the ice.
With a qualifier of 50+ games played in a Bruins uniform, Grzelcyk was 5th on the roster in CF%, tied for best defenseman with none else than his former Boston University teammate, Charlie McAvoy. Is Grzelcyk more sheltered in his opportunities than McAvoy on the ice? Absolutely, as a third line defenseman, Grzelcyk isn’t consistently put up against top forwards, but the fact he’s contributing to Bruins scoring chances at the same rate as someone on McAvoy’s level shows he’s taking advantage of the opportunities he’s being given.
Does that mean he’s been perfect? Not at all. Take a look at this Lightning goal from Game 3 of the second round.
Clear mental mistake letting it get by him and when the Lightning sniff out an opportunity to take advantage of a mistake, they don't miss. He recovered to play well enough the rest of the game, playing 14:33 total with three blocked shots and two shots of his own. Still, Grzelcyk demonstrated during the season that he could be in the right place at the right time and contribute. Take a look at this goal in Edmonton.
Letting McAvoy slide back to take center point position, Grzelcyk slides down the side boards and pinches inside the dot as the puck moves to the other side of the ice and McAvoy draws the rest of the attention from Oilers’ back-checkers. The rebound from McAvoy’s eventual one-timer finds Riley Nash, who has the awareness to know Grzelcyk has all kinds of room, so Nash feeds a backhanded to the 24-year-old. Gryz, as he’s affectionately known, has a wide open net to pot a game-tying goal. He’s not just taking advantage of having space, he can create it too. Look at his goal in Carolina.
When Sean Kuraly pokes this puck to Grzelcyk, he takes just a few strides to pull away from the back-checking Elias Lindholm. Of course, Lindholm had to choose to either press Grzelcyk or take away the pass in a 2-on-1 and chose the latter, but the acceleration and glide speed Grzelcyk had in this chance gave him the space on his own to fire a shot past Cam Ward to get the Bruins back in the game.
That's not to say he can’t get taken advantage of at his 5-foot-9, 175 pound frame. Here’s an example where Gryz’s size worked against him.
Even with Grzelcyk fighting in front of the net, Hayden still gets the better of him to provide a screen in front of the net and Gustafsson can rip the one-timer and put it past Rask, who couldn’t see the puck.
Even with that, his hockey IQ is developing well, and has been one of the constants since his call-up from Providence early in the season. Look at this David Backes goal in what was arguably one of Grzelcyk’s best games.
Even Jack Edwards can’t help but fawn over Grzelcyk’s smart play here, instead of overcomplicating his possession at the point, he takes an indirect shot off the back boards to give David Backes a close chance in tight.
Aggregate Grade: B
Were his opportunities on the ice sheltered as a third line pairing? Yes. Is he a smaller guy and could be taken advantage of by his size? Yes, as well. However, in the chances he got on the ice, he showed he could make the smart play and not let his size become a disadvantage in possession, creating far more chances on the ice for his team than could have been expected. Next season, hopefully we see when Grzelcyk is on the ice, he’s being thrown into situations where he can prove he’s more than a third-line pair. The two-year deal Don Sweeney and co. gave him shows the organization has faith he might. The John Moore signing and Brandon Carlo becoming healthy absolutely throws a wrench into Grzelcyk’s playing time in Boston, but if anyone deserves the opportunity to be the #7 defenseman and slot in when needed? It’s Matt Grzelcyk.
Do you agree with Grzelcyk’s grade?
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Yes, he’s graded just right
No, he’s graded too high
No, he’s graded too low