In the offseason, Peter Chiarelli said he felt the Bruins had nine NHL-caliber defensemen. A 10th, he would later say, was close in Zach Trotman. It was hard to disagree.
Then the B’s traded Johnny Boychuk. Then Kevan Miller dislocated his right shoulder in a fight Saturday night, leaving him out indefinitely.
You can bet that all the defensive depth you’ve heard about will be put to the test now.
The obvious replacement with Miller out of the lineup is Matt Bartkowski. The Bruins would take turns sitting guys to find ways to get him in the lineup last season before Dennis Seidenberg‘s knee injury gave him a full-time job. With a healthier group this season, Bartkowski has been limited to just one game.
After that, David Warsofsky is the only remaining blueliner from the summer’s advertised group not on the roster. The B’s had to put him on waivers in order to send him to Providence at the end of training camp, but nobody claimed him. In five AHL games this season, the 24-year-old Warsofsky has no points and a minus-5 rating.
The thing with both Bartkowski and Warsofsky is that they are both left shots, while Miller is a righty. The Bruins, as you’ve probably noticed by now, like to play with a lefty on the left and a righty on the right unless it’s a Zdeno Chara-Dennis Seidenberg (both lefties) type of pairing.
There have been other exceptions to the lefty-righty rule, as Torey Krug played a bit on the right side down the stretch last season and Seidenberg has played on the left when paired with Bartkowski. It’s worth noting that the Bartkowski-Seidenberg pairing has struggled when used in games dating back to last season before Seidenberg’s injury.
If the Bruins want to keep their defense the way it’s been, with Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton on the top pairing and Seidenberg-McQuaid rounding out the top-4, they could look to Trotman, a 6-foot-3, 219-pound right-shooting defenseman to play alongside Krug. Trotman, who played a pair of games for Boston last season, has a pair of assists and a minus-4 rating thus far in five games for Providence.
After those guys, the Bruins have more young defensemen stewing in Providence. With no disrespect intended towards the others, Chris Casto was quite possibly the only impressive defensemen in August’s rookie tournament between prospects from the Bruins, Lightning, Panthers and Predators.
Chris Breen is a slightly older player (25 years old) signed in the offseason. Joe Morrow, the Penguins‘ first-round pick in the 2011 draft, is in his second season with Providence after being traded to the Stars for Brenden Morrow and then to the B’s in the Tyler Seguin trade.
Before the Boychuk trade, it was known that not all of these guys would be here, but the assumption wasn’t always that it would be Boychuk who was moved. Chiarelli hinted throughout the offseason that he might move a defenseman and then said close to definitively at the rookie tournament that he would.
Given that Torey Krug is a more experienced version of Warsofsky, it seemed Warsofsky could be a possibility to be moved. Same went for Bartkowski, who was fine for the Bruins last regular season before missing time with an illness early in the postseason and struggling against the Canadiens. Adam McQuaid needed to play games before a trade value could be established.
Remember, a big part of last season’s demise was that the team didn’t end up being able to patch up their back end with young blueliners as successfully as they thought they could. Those players are a season older and a season more experienced. Experience might be the most important factor in a young player’s development.
All that depth sounded nice because it didn’t seem set in stone that the Bruins would actually have to find out whether it really existed. The jury is still out on Boston’s young defensemen, and the Boychuk trade and Miller’s injury mean the team will start finding out on these guys soon enough.