For the first time in quite a while, the Boston Bruins appeared to be nearing full strength when Nick Foligno returned from injury.
Of course, Foligno has since gone back out with another injury, but his return raised some looming tough decisions about the forward corps once the injury bug decides to vacate Boston’s locker room.
Some decisions are easier than others
Given how the top six forwards have been playing lately, we’ll assume for the sake or argument that the top six will remain intact:
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Craig Smith
Taylor Hall - Erik Haula - David Pastrnak
There may be some juggling between Smith and Pastrnak, or with Haula and another center, but those six skaters are going to be in the mix in some fashion.
The best of the rest
While the top six seems locked up, the bottom six is where things get interesting - especially when it comes to the wings.
Charlie Coyle and Tomas Nosek are pretty well penciled into the 3C and 4C slots, but there’s a revolving door of wings on either side of them.
One of the main factors in what the bottom six looks like at full speed depends on what happens with Jake DeBrusk, who (by all accounts) still wants to be traded.
While DeBrusk continues to be far too inconsistent for a player of his caliber, his six goals and seven assists have at least ensured that the Bruins can keep playing him while they figure out his situation.
At this point, there hasn’t been much indication that DeBrusk will be sticking around, so we should probably assume he’s out of the mix when the team is at full speed.
That’d like give you a third line of Foligno - Coyle - Steen.
Foligno has had a hard time staying healthy and really hasn’t produced on offense, but has brought an element of physicality to the lineup that the Bruins need.
Given that he was just signed this past summer, it’s not likely that the Bruins bail on him when he’s healthy.
Tomas Nosek and Curtis Lazar continue to play decently effective hockey, and given their versatility, they’ll likely remain in the lineup.
Finally, we get to the young(ish) guns.
Oskar Steen has catapulted himself to earning a spot on the NHL roster with his combination of hard skating, willingness to work, and also by impressing on the stat sheet (two goals and four assists in 12 games).
Joining him in the “hard to scratch” department is Anton Blidh, who has brought a bit of sandpaper to the Bruins’ bottom six (obviously he’s hurt now, but remember, this is “everyone’s available” discussion).
Then, we get to Trent Frederic, whose stock has taken a bit of a hit this season.
Expected to make an impact this season, Frederic has struggled with consistency and with walking the line between production and starting trouble.
He’s done a better job of picking his battles, but he still needs to work on embracing the grittier side of his game. He’s not the type of player who will be scoring 20 goals, but he can make a big impact with his physicality on the ice.
Unfortunately for Frederic, I think he is the odd man out — while he and Foligno arguably offer something similar, the Bruins spent too much money on Foligno to have him watching from the ninth floor.
That’d give you a forward group of:
Marchand - Bergeron - Smith
Hall - Haula - Pastrnak
Foligno - Coyle - Steen
Blidh - Nosek - Lazar
Of course, this all goes out the window if the Bruins bring in a forward in a DeBrusk deal or acquire another forward, then we get to do this all over again.
What does your forward group look like if everyone is healthy?