For those keeping up with the World Junior Championships, it’s a story line that has been one of the focuses of the tournament. Although the Boston Bruins couldn’t quite match the nine Philadelphia Flyers prospects who made their junior teams and were one of five NHL organizations with five prospects taking part, the Bruins sent a league-high four defensemen to the World Juniors. While many think of the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, or Anaheim Ducks when talking defensive depth, or maybe even the Carolina Hurricanes when considering the whole system, the Bruins have now entered the conversation as having maybe the best defensive depth in the NHL. A team that has struggled in their own end over the past few seasons has turned it around in 2016-17, a top five team in goals against all season, and there’s even more help on the way.
The Bruins do not just have okay defenders playing in the World Juniors, they have future stars. It starts with the United States, where 2016 first-rounder Charlie McAvoy and 2016 second-rounder Ryan Lindgren have been great. McAvoy, a sophomore at Boston University, has a goal and three assists so far in the tournament, which leads all U.S. defensemen and ranks fifth overall on the tourney’s best team so far. This season at BU, the 14th overall pick has 13 points in 17 games and is on pace to crush his freshman year totals. McAvoy projects as an elite puck-mover and play-maker (as well as a crushing open ice hitter) at the next level. Meanwhile, Lindgren is in his freshman year at the University of Minnesota and is developing into more of a shutdown defender. Lindgren has just one assist at the World Juniors, but his defense has drawn rave reviews. His play for the Golden Gophers has been similar – less offensive production and more defensive domination – but the Bruins are always happy to have physicality in their lineup. Besides, they have plenty of offensive defenseman in the system. For example, Canada’s Jeremy Lauzon. Lauzon has a goal and an assist at the World Juniors, and has been nearly a point-per-game player as the captain of the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies this season, despite dealing with injuries. Last year, Lauzon finished the season with 50 points in 46 games for the Huskies and following that performance, nearly made the Boston roster out of camp this season. A late second-round pick in 2015, Lauzon appears to be a steal in the making for the Bruins. A more obvious 2015 selection was 13th overall pick Jakub Zboril, the fourth of the World Junior defenseman, from the Czech Republic. Zboril had somewhat of a down season in 2015-16 with just 20 points in 50 games for the QMJHL’s Saint John’s Sea Dogs. However, after a strong camp in Boston, he’s having a bounce-back year with 18 points already in just 20 games. He’s also added four assists for the Czechs at the World Juniors, good enough to tie for the team lead in points. As of now, Zboril may be the most complete defensive prospect in the Bruins system right now.
Armed with those four top blue line prospects, some of which might fight for a spot as soon as next season and some of whom will be ready in the next few years, the Bruins have some future depth stored up. Yet, they also have future depth on the team right now. Brandon Carlo has been a revelation for Boston in 2015-16. The 2015 second-round selection, the fourth of six picks in the first two rounds that year, is the first to make it to the NHL, and the Bruins are glad that he did. Carlo has stepped in immediately as a top pair defenseman and is quickly establishing himself as a future franchise defender. The 6’5″ 20-year-old is playing alongside veteran star Zdeno Chara, a big man’s perfect mentor, and eating up about 22 minutes per game. The massive American defender has already become a fan favorite in Boston and seems likely to have a long, successful career ahead of him. He won’t be alone either. Teammates Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, and Colin Miller appear to be in it for the long haul as well. Since signing with the Bruins out of Michigan State and having a surprise breakout season in 2013-14, Krug has been a mainstay of the Boston blue line. A consistent 40-point scorer, Krug was rewarded with a four-year, $21MM contract this summer, and has responded with possibly his best season to date. McQuaid, finally healthy after years of struggling with injury, is playing the best hockey of his career this season. A shutdown defender who is never going to put up a lot points, McQuaid has nevertheless taken his game to the next level this season with improved skating and vision. If he can stay healthy, his two years left at $2.75MM may prove to be a good deal after all. Finally, Miller, who has often been found in the dog house of coach Claude Julien, appears to have finally stuck as a starter in Boston. Acquired as part of the Milan Lucic trade, Miller was an AHL superstar who was expected to be a future centerpiece of the Bruins blue line. He’s on his way there, and his raw offensive talent will likely keep him on track. Miller has another year left at just $1MM, and will then be a restricted free agent who the B’s will look to lock up long-term.
With Chara down to just one year remaining on his contract before his likely retirement (and possible number retirement as well), these latter four represent the new core of the Boston defense. The prior four are the future, forming a strong group of eight defensemen for Bruins fans to look foward to. But wait, there’s more. Former college stars Matt Grzelcyk and Rob O’Gara are down in the AHL with the red-hot Providence Bruins and have looked good in their brief Boston appearances this season. Both project to be NHL regulars. Some even hold out hope that press box frequenter and former first-round pick Joe Morrow will be able to make something of his career. And what of free agency? Boston appears to be one of, if not the top destination for one of best available players on the 2017 free agent market, Kevin Shattenkirk. The St. Louis Blues puck-mover has made it known that he wants to be on the East coast, and the city where he played his college hockey at Boston University, which is also just hours from his hometown in Connecticut, seems like his top choice. Don’t look now but 2018 top free agent defenseman John Carlson has also expressed potential interest in returning to the state he grew up in.
The Bruins have not had much to be happy about over the past few years, especially on defense. However, their current and future depth is an embarrassment of riches. They have the potential to almost be too deep on D. The Boston blue line has a very bright future. So there’s something to be happy about.