By Matt Kalman
The days of the Bruins bookending center David Krejci with more than 400 pounds of muscle in the person of Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton or Jarome Iginla are long over.
The NHL is different and the Bruins are attempting to adjust to the increase of speed with the insertion of younger, faster players. That transformation includes the type of wings Krejci needs to succeed.
From the first day of training camp – in the same way Krejci played with Lucic and Horton from the first day of camp in 2010 – 6-foot, 183-pound rookie Jake DeBrusk and lightning fast David Pastrnak have been Krejci’s wings. It appears those three will line up against the Nashville Predators in the season opener on Thursday at TD Garden.
When one thinks of Krejci’s game, thoughts about slowing the play down and then striking quick with a dazzling pass or sneaky quick shot come to mind. Coach Bruce Cassidy said Krejci will still play that way with the youthful duo on his flanks, but that there should be more pace to the Bruins’ second line.
Krejci, 31, expects he’ll be able to keep up with the 20-year-old DeBrusk and 21-year-old Pastrnak and regain his form as a point-producing center again.
“That’s the game, that’s the new NHL, it’s speed,” Krejci said after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Monday. “We all know what Pasta can do, but Jake’s got good speed and he can also win lots of battles down the wall and in the offensive zone. So that really helps my game, so for me I’m just going to keep up. That’s why I worked out the way I did this summer to be able to skate with those guys and it’s been good.”
To watch Krejci skate right now is to witness a rejuvenated player that’s excited about his linemates and the possibility of success for the team for the first time in a couple seasons. Krejci gets a bad rap because he’s not Patrice Bergeron and he’s not a point-per-game performer. He was coming off major hip surgery last season and then was knocked out of the playoffs by a borderline hit, but for some reason Krejci is never afforded the same excuses about health and circumstances as Bergeron.
However, Krejci had 54 points in 82 games last season while centering the likes of a lost David Backes, a struggling Matt Beleskey, rookie Danton Heinen, bottom-six-worthy Tim Schaller and an array of misfits and borderline talents that would never be mistaken for Lucic, Iginla or Horton. Fifty-one of Krejci’s points came in 74 games after a rough start October.
As long as he doesn’t let the magnitude of the moment overwhelm him, DeBrusk should be the perfect complement to the line. He’s proven fearless around the net, even picking up two goaltender interference penalties. More importantly, in keeping with the evolution of the sport, he’s faster than the power forwards of recent days. Heck, everyone coming up through the pipeline around the league seems faster than their forefathers.
The message from Cassidy to DeBrusk is simple.
“He’s going to be expected to use his pace,” the coach said. “We want to be more of a skating team, that’s something he can bring, he has to bring it. If he’s not bringing those elements, then he’s going to have a tough time playing because that’s what the job requires or what he’s legitimately able to bring that we want on that line.”
Natural talent mixed with strong NHL bloodlines mixed with one full year of pro hockey in the AHL seems to have prepared DeBrusk to be more than just a placeholder while the Bruins shop for a top-six left wing.
We know what Pastrnak’s going to provide that line with his speed and his phenomenal shot, in addition to his tireless skating and willingness to throw or take the body. We know what Krejci believes he’ll be able to accomplish on this line and how much he seems to enjoy playing with players a decade younger. If the second half of last season and this year’s preseason are any indication, than DeBrusk is ready to be the third part of the engine that will make Boston’s second line go.
And if Krejci’s new line works out as planned, he’ll produce like the old days and the Bruins will again be a dangerous multi-line team.