The Walpole native himself, Chris Wagner, is having himself one heck of a season. The fourth-line body-banger is on pace to set a new career high in both goals and points this season. In fact, that whole line has really brought it as of late!
What a finish by Chris Wagner.— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) January 18, 2019
Bruins take the lead. pic.twitter.com/nkDNonsCCg
After scoring a magnificent goal last Thursday night against St. Louis, Wagner now has 6 goals and 6 assists on the season, good for 11 points. His career high in points is 15, so if all goes well, he’ll well on his way to breaking his career high. Sean Kuraly meanwhile has matched his production from last year, and is only looking up and up and up as time goes on, and he had his face broken! The infamously obnoxious fishbowl helmet somehow turned on a new gear for Kuraly who appears to be poised to have his best season in the NHL yet.
With guys like Wagner and Kuraly producing at a better rate than anybody expected, it made me think of how former bottom-six Bruins have produced in the past and what a recent history their depth has had, and what a promising trend that is for the season. Last season with the B’s, Riley Nash set career highs in both goals and points with 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points as well as being a possession force. Same goes for Tim Schaller, who tallied 12 goals and 10 assists for 22 points.
Both Nash and Schaller were terrific in Boston, bringing their A-game night in and night out. Now, both are on different teams and aren’t producing anywhere near as well as they were while in Boston, though we can maybe chalk this up to “not playing for teams run by competent, rational people”, since they’re being used entirely differently than the way Cassidy used them.
Somehow, someway, Bruce Cassidy’s team of coaches has managed to turn guys that looked like they’d be grinders for the rest of their careers into honest depth producers. And the crazy thing is it’s not even that shocking; The Bruins just seem to know how to get the best out of certain depth guys every year. It’s gotten to the point that Cassidy can even trust his fourth line to play against opposing teams’ first lines!
Over the years, we have seen some pretty darn good fourth lines out in Boston, including one of my all-time favorite fourth-lines: the Merlot Line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton.
The Merlot Line always seemed to have a jump on their opponents. Providing tenacity, heavy hitting and a surprising amount of skill was the way they defeated opponents. It seems as though the Bruins have found a way to embody those characteristics in their fourth liners today.
Schaller was someone I grew to love during his time in Boston. Now I’m growing to love Chris Wagner. There’s something about these players that drives people to like them. They play with a chip on their shoulder and an extra jump in their step. They don’t always produce, but they embody something about Boston hockey that everyone just gravitates towards.
And why not? It’s a team sport, after all. The contributions of depth forwards should never be taken for granted. A fourth line can make a huge difference in a Stanley Cup run, as we saw in 2011 in Boston and across the league in seasons after. Marcus Kruger with the ‘Hawks certainly did pretty well in the 10-12 minutes he played in red, white and black. Why should this fourth line be any different?
After such a rough start, why not have a line that picks up through sheer determination and work ethic?