For most of his rather short NHL career, Jakub Zboril has been used like a fringe defenseman, mainly used on the bottom pairing or as a fill-in due to injuries.
It’s not uncommon for young defensemen to be used that way, but it always seemed like the Bruins looked at Zboril as a “first guy out” kind of player, straddling the line between #6 an #7 defenseman.
Zboril’s game has certainly grown over the last two seasons, and while he may not be a top-pairing guy, he has begun to show signs of fulfilling that first-round potential.
The latest step in the right direction came on Wednesday, when Bruce Cassidy confirmed that recent-scratch Mike Reilly will draw back into the lineup on Saturday night.
In years past, this would likely be the time when Zboril would head back to the press box; instead, Cassidy said that while Reilly would be back, it wouldn’t be at Zboril’s expense.
Instead, it'll be another defenseman (likely Connor Clifton) who sits for Reilly.
Of course, before we get carried away, this doesn’t mean that Zboril has now cemented his status as an NHL regular.
The Bruins will still carry extra defensemen and will still rotate guys in and out as they see fit.
However, it’s hard not to look at this lineup shuffling as a reward for Zboril’s fairly strong play in three games so far this season.
We certainly shouldn’t overreact to three games, but Cassidy must see something he likes in Zboril to keep him in over, say, Connor Clifton.
Of course, the cynics out there could just say that the move says more about Clifton’s play than Zboril’s, and there’d be an element of truth to that.
While he’s benefited from a generous helping of offensive zone starts, Zboril’s possession numbers are much improved this season.
His 58% CF% at even strength is the highest mark of his career, and his CF/60 rate of 67.1 (at even strength) is also far and away the best of his career.
We kind of got the Full Zboril experience against Montreal on Sunday: he used his skating and elusiveness to start the play that led to Charlie McAvoy’s first goal, then whiffed on an attempt at a big hit to lead to Montreal’s second goal.
I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Zboril so far this season — sure, he’s playing sheltered minutes in a way, but you can only play the minutes you’re given.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see the kid end up back out of the lineup sometime relatively soon, but he’s clearly made an impression on his coaches.
By forcing his coach to keep him in the lineup, Zboril should gain another little confidence boost, something that can be huge for a young player.
His coach has given him a temporary stamp of approval. It’s now up to Zboril to make that permanent.