Every year, there seems to be one or two players for each team in the NHL who ‘break out’ and become mainstays in the league.
While the term ‘break out player’ is typically used for players who have been marginal in the past and then suddenly find their names all over the score sheet every night, there are so many other ways a player can break out in a season besides offensively.
Take the case of Jeremy Lauzon last year, for instance. Lauzon was a non-factor offensively for the Bruins, but stepped up big time for the B’s defensively after being a relative unknown to most hockey fans, so we can consider him a break out player.
The same could probably be said for Brandon Carlo the previous year as well. Although Carlo put up limited offensive numbers in 2018-2019, he solidified himself as a legit top 4 defender in the league by playing intelligent / tough defense for the Bruins after a rocky 2017-2018.
Then there are the more obvious types of breakout seasons. In 2016-2017, David Pastrnak broke out in a big way: after putting up just 53 points in his first 97 games, Pastrnak recorded 70 points (including 34 goals) in 75 games, and hasn’t looked back since.
Going into the 2021 season, there are a number of players on the Boston Bruins who are going to be given the chance to take a big step forward.
Here are five that are primed to ‘break out’ for Boston:
With Torey Krug leaving this offseason, it’s no big secret the Bruins have a big hole in their top power play unit. This could turn out to be a golden opportunity for Matt Grzelcyk.
While expecting Grzelcyk to fill the shoes of Krug is a tall (or actually, short) order, Grzelcyk has shown himself to be a capable PP quarterback when called upon.
In the 2019-20 season, Grzelcyk averaged 3.99 power play points per 60 minutes, just slightly behind first-unit power play mainstays like Drew Doughty (4.028) and Mark Giordano (4.117), which is remarkable, as the bulk of Grzelcyk’s minutes would have come on the 2nd power play unit.
Grzelcyk also showed some offensive promise on the PP during his time at Boston University and during brief stints in the AHL, so it is possible that if he’s given the chance, he may be able to develop the skills and confidence to become a break out player for Boston next season.
Jack Studnicka will probably show up on every list of possible breakout candidates for the Bruins, and for good reason.
The Bruins' best prospect had a great rookie year in the AHL last season (23 goals and 26 assists in 60 games) and didn't look too out of place in his appearances in Boston.
Studnicka is very gifted offensively, but has also shown a solid two-way game and a prowess for scoring shorthanded goals, two traits that are highly regarded by the current Bruins coaching staff.
The biggest obstacle in the way of Studnicka making his presence felt in Boston next season is the fact that there may not be room for the young center in the B’s lineup.
Down the middle, the Bruins are pretty much set, which means Studnicka may have to start his career on the wing.
Ondrej Kase kind of had a break out season in 2017 - 2018, when he scored 20 goals in 66 games.
However, it feels like he’s been injured so much that another strong season is needed to prove he belongs in the top 6 in an NHL lineup.
By all accounts, Kase should get the opportunity to prove himself, lining up with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk as the line’s right wing to begin the season.
He could also see more power play time if Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are unfit to play when play commences.
There is speculation that Kase wasn’t quite right last season after being elbowed by Jake Muzzin while playing for the Ducks, but given the long break the Bruins have had, health should not be a factor for Kase at the outset of this next season.
Kase seems to possess all the skills and speed necessary to excel in the NHL, and it would surprise no one if he did have a big rebound year.
However, given the recent past, it probably wouldn’t surprise many if he struggled once again either. We’ll see!
One of the big question marks going into the 2021 season is the state of the Bruins’ blueline.
As mentioned earlier, Krug is gone, and the future of Zdeno Chara in a Bruins uniform (or any uniform) is still very much up in the air. While this is not ideal, the holes on the back end could open up the door for a young d-man like former first-round pick Jakub Zboril.
When speaking of the potential departure of Chara with the NHL Network’s Jamison Coyle, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy hinted that it was time to see if players like Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen are “ready to play or not.”
And while he’s taken his time, it seems like Zboril’s game has finally rounded into form in the AHL and he could be ready to make an impact similar to that of Jeremy Lauzon last season.
When speaking of his improvement, Jay Leach, the P-Bruins head coach, said in May 2020: “The last 12 games or 15 games, [Zboril] became probably our best defenseman overall.”
If we see Zboril in Boston next year, you shouldn’t expect Zboril to contribute much offensively; however, he could play a major role in solidifying the Bruins’ bottom pairing this season, which would definitely make it a breakout year for Zboril.
It may seem strange to see McAvoy on this list, as NHL.com just ranked McAvoy as the 9th best defenseman in the league. But next year could be the year McAvoy becomes elite.
Again, the departure of Krug (and possibly Chara) would provide McAvoy with increased opportunities to shine in Boston next year.
If Grzelcyk is not the answer on the first power play unit, McAvoy could get the call, and with the amount of talent the Bruins ice on that unit, you can expect McAvoy’s offensive numbers to climb next season.
Given the recent departures, McAvoy could also be asked to play a bigger role in the leadership of this team. Players like Bergeron, Marchand and Krejci aren’t always going to be around, and young players will have to look to a player like Charlie McAvoy.
Some other possible breakout candidates:
Dan Vladar - If either Rask or Halak gets injured, Vladar could get the opportunity to show he's the Bruins' goalie of the future.
Anders Bjork - We have been waiting for Bjork's breakout campaign for a while now. With the addition of Craig Smith on the 3rd line, Bjork and Coyle could see an uptick in their offensive production.
Trent Frederic - The 4th line has been a revolving door lately, and Frederic could get the call to join that line next season.
Samuel Asselin (off-the-board pick) - Big dark horse pick, but Asselin should join the P-Bruins this upcoming season, and if the diminutive center plays the way he did in the ECHL (52 points in 53 games with the Atlanta Gladiators), he could get a shot at the big leagues.
Given the Bruins' collective age, they've got to be banking on their young players turning out to be legitimate NHLers sooner than later.
With any luck, one or two of the aforementioned players will take the next step forward in Boston next season.
Which player do you think breaks out next season?