Nick Goss

Bruins' options at center, trade targets after Bergeron, Krejci retire

Losing your top two centers in one offseason is a tough setback, but the Bruins have some options.

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Boston Bruins were very fortunate over the last 15 years to have one of the best 1-2 punches at center in the NHL with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.

But nothing lasts forever, and the day has finally come when the Bruins no longer have that extraordinary luxury at such an important position.

STAY IN THE KNOW

icon

Watch NBC10 Boston news for free, 24/7, wherever you are.

icon

Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.

David Krejci officially announced his retirement Monday morning. His decision comes a couple weeks after Bergeron announced his own retirement.

Losing both of your top-six centers in one offseason is pretty difficult, especially when it happens well after free agency. How do the Bruins manage the center position going forward?

Let's look at the options on the roster right now, the prospects who are on the way, and a few potential trade targets on other teams.

Internal candidates

Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha are the two likeliest candidates to fill the No. 1 and No. 2 center spots, respectively.

Coyle isn't a Selke Trophy-level defensive player like Bergeron, but he's still very solid in his own end and plays with a high hockey IQ. He also protects pucks very well along the boards and in tough areas, while also showing an impressive playmaking ability. Coyle's two-way skill set makes him a solid fit on the first line next to Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk.

Zacha played left wing alongside Krejci and David Pastrnak last season. The three Czech players had tremendous chemistry and formed one of the most productive lines in the entire league. Zacha is a natural center, so the transition to the middle of the ice shouldn't be a difficult one. He set career highs in goals (21) and assists (36) last season, and he still has room for improvement in his game.

No one else on the NHL roster is worthy of a top-six center role. Trent Frederic, Morgan Geekie, Jesper Boqvist and Patrick Brown are best suited in bottom-six roles. All four players can play on the wing, too.

The best outcome for the Bruins at center would be to acquire someone via trade, like Elias Lindholm or Mark Scheifele (more on that below), but if that doesn't happen during the season, Coyle and Zacha are by far the best options for the two top-six center roles. They are the guys unless injury or a surprising drop off in production occurs.

Here's our projected Opening Night forward lineup before training camp begins next month:

Brad Marchand--Charlie Coyle--Jake DeBrusk

James van Riemsdyk--Pavel Zacha--David Pastrnak

Jesper Boqvist--Trent Frederic--Jakub Lauko

Milan Lucic--Morgan Geekie--Patrick Brown

Other options: A.J. Greer, Marc McLaughlin, Fabian Lysell, Johnny Beecher, Georgii Merkulov

Prospects on the way

The center prospect with the best chance of making the team with a strong training camp and preseason is John Beecher. The 2019 first-round draft pick has developed a solid two-way skill set. He has good size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), kills penalties well and is a good skater. His offensive skill set hasn't developed at the rate many expected, but he could definitely fill a third- or fourth-line center role at some point in his career.

Two prospects who are a year or more away are Matthew Poitras and Brett Harrison.

Poitras, who was a 2022 second-round pick, showed impressive improvement last season. He finished the 2022-23 campaign with 95 points (16 goals, 79 assists) in 63 games for the Guelph Storm, which was a 30-point improvement from his scoring output the prior season. His 95 points were the fifth-most in the OHL.

Harrison, a third-round pick in 2021, tallied 69 points (34 goals, 35 assists) in 57 games between the OHL's Oshawa Generals and Windsor Spitfires last season. He has an excellent shot and continues to improve as a playmaker.

Georgii Merkulov, an undrafted free agent signing, led the Providence Bruins with 24 goals and 55 points last season. He played both left wing and center. Merkulov has tremendous offensive potential with an excellent shot, underrated playmaking ability and good speed, but his defensive game needs some work.

Poitras and Merkulov are the best of the center prospects in Boston's system. Merkulov could potentially make his debut during the 2023-24 season, but Poitras likely is headed back to the OHL for one more year. Maybe one of them becomes a No. 2 center at the NHL level, but third-line center is a more realistic expectation. Overall, the Bruins' talent level and depth at center in their prospect pool is below what most teams are able to boast.

Trade targets

Before we get too far into potential trade targets, it should be noted that the Bruins don't have an abundance of quality trade assets. Far from it, actually. Going all in to win the Stanley Cup last season has left the Bruins without many top-tier prospects or early-round draft picks in the near future. Boston's prospect pool is one of the five-worst in the league. The team didn't pick in the first round of the 2023 NHL Draft, and it doesn't have a 2024 first-rounder, either. The Bruins' next second-round pick isn't until 2026. Boston won't pick until the fourth round in the 2024 draft.

The Bruins do have some decent trade assets on the NHL roster. If Jake DeBrusk doesn't re-sign before the trade deadline, he could be a potential trade chip. Matt Grzelcyk and Derek Forbort are capable defensemen on expiring deals. If Jeremy Swayman proves he's the clear-cut No. 1 in net, maybe veteran goalie Linus Ullmark becomes more expendable.

Most teams can beat out the Bruins when constructing quality trade packages, but general manager Don Sweemey does have a few good chips to play with.

Who should Sweeney target on the trade market? The two easiest answers are Elias Lindholm and Mark Scheifele.

Lindholm is a two-way center with the Calgary Flames. Scheifele is a more offensive-minded center for the Winnipeg Jets. Both players are entering the final year of their contracts and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer. If either player isn't willing to re-sign, it makes the most sense to trade them and not risk losing them for nothing as free agents.

Making a trade for one of these centers and signing him to an extension soon after -- like what the New York Islanders did with Bo Horvat last season -- would be a great move for the Bruins.

Lindholm is a more attractive target for a couple reasons. He's a better defensive player than Scheifele and also two years younger. Lindholm doesn't have the same scoring upside, but he has tallied 20-plus goals in four of the last five seasons, including a career high 42 goals in 2021-22.

Scheifele scored a career-high 42 goals last season, and he has averaged 30.4 goals scored over the past eight years. He's also tallied 40-plus assists in four of the past five seasons. But if he's looking for a seven- or eight-year deal, is it a good idea to give a 30-year-old that kind of term? The salary cap is expected to rise significantly in the coming years, and the Bruins could have $30-plus million in cap space next offseason, but a contract of that length for Scheifele would still be somewhat risky.

Auston Matthews also can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, but it would be pretty surprising if he actually hit the market. The Toronto Maple Leafs would be insane not to do whatever it takes to re-sign him. He's a perennial MVP candidate and one of the league's top players.

The most impactful way for the Bruins to bolster their talent at center is by dipping into the trade market. Whether they have the assets to acquire the top centers who might be available is another story. But Sweeney should at least try to make that kind of move because it would help his roster in both the short and long term.

Contact Us