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2021 Player Ratings: An up-and-down season for Matt Grzelcyk

Injuries plagued what could have been Grzelcyk’s breakout year.

Boston Bruins v Washington Capitals - Game Two Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

Reader Rating: 7.2

SCOC Rating: 7.0

Going into the 2021 NHL season, expectations were very high for Matt Grzelcyk — perhaps unfairly high.

With Torey Krug leaving the organization in the off-season, the spotlight was shining brightly on Grzelcyk to fill the void.

Sure, the two defensemen share some of the same attributes and skills, but there are very few d-men in the league that can play the way Krug had played in a Bruins uniform, so it was probably unfair to expect Grzelcyk to live up to those expectations.

Nonetheless, the stage was set for Grzelcyk’s breakout year in Boston.

Unfortunately for Grzelcyk and Bruins fans, this past season was a step forward for Grzelcyk but it didn’t quite go the way they expected.

Right from the start of the season, injury problems plagued Grzelcyk.

In the Bruins’ third game of the season, Grzelcyk got tangled up with the Islanders Jordan Eberle, causing an awkward fall for both players.

Whether this fall was related to future injuries or not, Grzelcyk would deal with nagging lower-body injuries for the majority of the season.

In total, he’d miss 13 games with lower-body injuries. Then on April 10th in a game against the Flyers, he took an inadvertent elbow to the head that would result in him missing 5 more games.

As Bruins fans are painfully aware, the injuries on Boston’s backend didn’t stop with just Grzelcyk, as the Bruins were the only team to have to dress 12 different defenders over the course of the season.

As a result, for Grzelcyk and the rest of the Bruins defensemen, the blueline was a bit of a musical chairs scenario, with seemingly a different set of defense pairings every night.

Undoubtedly this affected the performance of Grzelcyk and the rest of the players on defense.

Speaking of pairings, while the combo of Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy had numerous well-played games together, ultimately the two couldn’t fully gel together and the Bruins had needs elsewhere, resulting in them being split up.

Now that the not great stuff is out of the way, it’s time to focus on the good — and there was plenty of it for Grzelcyk.

With an increase in playing time, his goals/60 and assists/60 were personal bests, and very close to the numbers that Torey Krug would put up with the St. Louis Blues.

On the defensive side of the game, Grzelcyk game also continued to grow. Despite being smaller than most players, he has learned to use his body position much better to win puck battles in corners and in front of his own net.

In addition, he possessed the highest rate of successful controlled exits for all Bruins defensemen at 78 percent, and the lowest number of failed exit attempts per 60 minutes as well.

The playoff series against the Islanders, on the other hand, was not Grzelcyk’s finest moment.

Against a fast and ferocious Islander forecheck, he struggled mightily most of the series, making uncharacteristic turnovers that led to big goals against (including some egregious ones in the B’s Game 6 loss).

As Grzelcyk is one of Boston’s best puck movers and has the skating ability to deal with forecheck pressure, his inability to handle the Isles’ pressure was a significant contributor to Boston’s second round loss (along with injuries, of course).

All too often as of late, fans having been throwing around Matt Grzelcyk’s name as someone who could be traded to create cap space for a second line center; however doing so could be a grave mistake.

If he can stay healthy and have a consistent defense partner, Grzelcyk may still have more to give than he’s shown early in his career.

When healthy this regular season, Grzelcyk showed more often than not that he’s well worth the three-year extension he received last year.

Perhaps Grzelcyk is not a top pairing d-man or capable of truly quarterbacking the #1 power play unit — but he does have the intangibles (speed, puck-handling, vision, high hockey IQ) to be a very effective defenseman for Boston for the foreseeable future.