Charlie Coyle will get the first chance to replace David Krejci as the second-line center for the Boston Bruins, coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed Thursday, calling him the obvious choice.
Krejci, who was an unrestricted free agent after 15 seasons with the Bruins, opted to play in his native Czech Republic for HC Olomouc this season instead of returning to Boston. That leaves a void at center, where the Bruins have been anchored by Patrice Bergeron and Krejci since 2007-08.
“I think the obvious choice is Charlie Coyle,” Cassidy said. “He’s the most familiar with our guys. I’m the most familiar with him. [It] allows the other guys to fall into place. … Charlie and Taylor Hall, and [Craig] Smith were on that line last year. If Coyle can bring some of what [Krejci] did, it’ll be a real good line.”
Coyle did not have his best season in 2020-21, scoring 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 51 games after signing a six-year, $31.5 million contract ($5.25 million average annual value) Nov. 27, 2019. He scored 37 points (16 goals, 21 assists) in 70 games in 2019-20. Krejci scored 44 points (eight goals, 36 assists) in 51 games last season.
Cassidy said he is not interested in breaking up the top line of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Given that, Coyle is the logical choice to take Krejci’s spot, at least to start the season.
The Bruins also are trying to gauge where prospect Jack Studnicka would play in the lineup. The 22-year-old played 20 NHL games last season, scoring three points (one goal, two assists).
“How does he fit in? Some of that will depend on his growth,” Cassidy said. “Didn’t get to play a lot of hockey last year, unfortunately. Like a lot of young players, missed some time with COVID restrictions. He’s also in the mix. He looks bigger, going to be really pushing for a spot. Have to include him in that mix as well.”
Cassidy acknowledged that the Bruins are likely to miss Krejci but also said his absence would provide a chance for other players, whether it’s Coyle, Erik Haula or Studnicka. This could be a push for those players — extra minutes, extra responsibility — to play with an elite player like Hall.
“[Bergeron] will still give us high-end minutes. We know that,” Cassidy said. “David is the one that, he played a big role for us, sometimes quietly. Now, all of a sudden, when he’s not here, we’ll probably realize how good a player he was. We all knew it, but now we’re going to live it firsthand without that 1-2 punch.
“But having said that, whoever goes in there — let’s say it’s Haula — these guys are excited to move up in the lineup. This is opportunity, right?”
The Bruins have newcomers Haula, Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek who could audition for a role at center, whether that’s on the second line or in the bottom six. Each signed a two-year contract July 28.
“I think we will be fine up the middle,” Cassidy said. “Talking to previous coaches of these newer players — Haula, Foligno and Nosek — they’re all really good, solid, 200-foot players. They can play in traffic and contribute, so obviously we’re adding from the outside for those guys.
“And then there’s the intangible of a younger guy like a Studnicka. Can he come in and find a place [and] bring some offense? I still think we lose David, but we’ve made enough additions that we should be a solid offensive team.”
Krejci is not the only change. With goalie Tuukka Rask an unrestricted free agent who had hip surgery in July and won’t be ready for the start of the season, the Bruins have turned to Linus Ullmark, who signed a four-year, $20 million contract ($5 million AAV) July 28, and rookie Jeremy Swayman. Ullmark was 9-6-3 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 20 games for the Buffalo Sabres last season. Swayman was 7-3-0 with a 1.50 GAA and .945 save percentage in 10 games for the Bruins.
“We’ve seen it over the years when guys move on that have been here a long time, the Krugs, the Charas, the next guy has to come up and deliver and keep the ball rolling,” Cassidy said, referring to defensemen Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara. “Not only at center, but at the goaltender position, we’re going to have that ask. That’s the exciting part of this year: We’re going to have some new people we’re relying on. We feel they’re up to the task. Time will tell.”