The ratings have fallen for Boston Bruins defensemen and goaltenders as we head into the midpoint of the NHL season. Before we dive any further, check out Tim Rosenthal’s assessment of the Bruins forwards.
Now let’s move on to the notes for Part 2 of our Mid-Season Report Cards.
Let’s start with an easy one.
Charlie McAvoy’s status as Boston’s top defenseman is beyond doubt. The fifth-year professional is currently fifth on the team in points (28 points), logs more ice time than any other Bruins skater (average time on ice of 24:24) and is the fourth-best quarterback NHL powerplay (26 percent).
The Long Beach, New York native has his sights set on a career season. He has already tied his season high with seven goals and is four points off his career high with half the season to go.
Standing 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds, McAvoy also knows how to use his body and has already demonstrated the ability to land thunderous punches a few times this season.
A brief stint on injured reserve in January left McAvoy a bit rusty for a few games after his return, but the 2016 first-round pick has settled in nicely since then.
Grzelcyk is a very good defender who often gets overlooked because his style doesn’t produce crazy attacking numbers.
More of a puck-moving defenseman, Grzelcyk can easily find teammates in transition and is better than any Bruins defenseman at getting out of high-pressure situations.
At his best when paired with McAvoy in the top unit, the former Boston University captain has bounced back in the backend this season. Regardless of his role, Grzelcyk still found consistency at both ends of the rink.
Grzelcyk’s highlight in the first half of the season came on Jan. 10 when he became the first Boston defenseman since Ray Bourque in 1994 to score five points in a game.
Standing at 5ft 9in, Grzelcyk hardly makes a physical impact. However, his quickness and high hockey IQ make him the Bruins’ second most important defenseman.
Recency bias may play into this rating a bit more than most, but Carlo hasn’t looked the best lately.
Boston’s tallest defenseman (6-foot-6) hasn’t seemed comfortable with the second unit this season. He struggled in the last three games leading up to the All-Star break, going minus-1 in every outing.
The Bruins rely on Carlo to be a threat in the defensive zone and keep opposing forwards from getting comfortable in front of the net. There are times when the Colorado Springs native personifies that rugged style, but it seems like that should happen more for a guy his size.
Offensively, Carlo has six points in 41 games. However, he’s not asked to contribute to the scoresheet nearly as often as other defenders, so his numbers aren’t that problematic.
Cleaning up his game in the defensive zone is probably Carlo’s top priority in the second half.
Reilly burst onto the scene in Boston last season when his mobility and offensive instinct seemed to complement the Bruins’ style well. Fast forward to this year and Reilly’s offense continues to move in the right direction with a career-high four goals to his name.
Although he’s a solid player, it sometimes seems like the Bruins are asking too much of Reilly. The 28-year-old is not the most reliable product in the defensive zone. As the skater getting the fifth ice time, you would like to see a little more consistency.
It also doesn’t help that Reilly didn’t stay with just one couple. Initially, Bruce Cassidy and the coaching staff thought Reilly and Carlo would make up the second unit. But Derek Forbort and Urho Vaakanainen each spent time there, forcing Reilly to drop down the defensive depth chart or retire from the lineup altogether.
Reilly would likely thrive in a third pair role with fairly low expectations. But since he’s most often asked to perform top four tasks, other teams eventually figure out how to expose his weaknesses.
At the start of the season, the Forbort experiment looked like a failure. The offseason free agent signee didn’t adjust well and, quite simply, looked lost alongside McAvoy in the first pairing.
Over time, however, the seven-year-old pro settled in and carved out a vital role on Boston’s blue line. Now that he doesn’t see the best of the opposition as much, Forbort has simplified his game and it’s paying off.
Third on the team in blocked shots (48), Forbort made some key changes late in the game and seems to be earning Cassidy’s trust in that regard. The 6-foot-4, 219-pounder is also on pace for a career-high 18 points and eight goals.
Vaakananien has left a lasting impression despite only playing 13 games this season.
Drafted with the 18th overall pick in 2017, Vaakananien has been slow to gain confidence in the minors, but the Finnish defenseman looks set for a full-time NHL role.
Like Grzelcyk, Vaakananien skates well and makes excellent passes out in transition. Still looking for his first NHL goal, the rookie defenseman impressed on the defensive end, forcing Cassidy to keep him in the lineup.
Unfortunately, the 23-year-old left Tuesday night’s game with the Seattle Kraken following a Yanni Gourde hit. Cassidy didn’t provide any further updates after Boston’s 3-2 win.
Unrated: Connor Clifton, Jakub Zboril
In hindsight, the Bruins should have brought Rask back into the fold better than they did.
Granted, they signed Rask to a PTO with the intention of having him start at least one game for the Providence Bruins before COVID shuts down that opportunity. Still, recent events have proven the Bruins have been rushing Rask over the past two weeks.
In four starts this season, Rask is 2-2 with a 4.28 goals-against average and .844 save percentage — not great. Add to that Rask is currently nursing a minor injury and things haven’t exactly gone to plan since he signed a contract in January.
Rask followed up his wins over the Philadelphia Flyers and Winnipeg Jets with nasty outings against the Carolina Hurricanes and Anaheim Ducks, during which he allowed five goals in each game.
Clearly, Vezina’s 2014 winner has some catching up to do, but the Bruins are better off with Rask in the fold because he’s the only goaltender with playoff experience. But the Bruins will likely rely on Rask again once the playoffs are over if the 34-year-old returns to his usual self.
A stellar January signified Ullmark’s value to this year’s Bruins team. The lanky goalie posted a 9-1-1 record after picking up seven wins in the first three months of the season.
The old Buffalo Saber is a little erratic in the crease. One minute he seems calm, cool and collected, and the next he’s fidgeting. Still, his unique style has worked for the most part so far.
Given Rask’s rocky comeback, Ullmark provided a much-needed stabilizing presence in the net, keeping the Bruins in a comfortable position in the Eastern Conference playoff table.
Ullmark posted a 16-6-1 record with a 2.64 GAA and 0.913 SV % in 24 appearances.
Swayman became the odd man out after Boston’s winningest goaltender returned mid-season.
The young gun looked really comfortable between the pipes for the Bruins this season, but he was assigned to Providence last month to make room for Rask’s return.
Swayman is 16-8-2 with a 2.31 GAA and .916 SV percentage and is Boston’s only goaltender to record a shutout this season. Coming off a strong 2020-21 campaign, the former Maine backstopper has only lost back-to-back starts once and has chained four straight wins in November.
Regardless of what happens this season, Swayman has provided a bright glimpse into the Bruins’ future in goal.
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