Not all prospects are created equal. While teams and fans would love for all prospects to make it to the NHL as 18-year-olds, capable of contributing in the lineup in one way or another. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works the vast majority of the time.
For most players, varying degrees of development is necessary before a player can even be considered for a spot on an NHL roster. Whether it’s years spent playing in the major-junior ranks, at the collegiate level, overseas or otherwise, the path to the NHL is unique for every player.
When the Bruins selected Jakub Zboril with the 13th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and Trent Frederic with the 29th pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, there was a lot of contention among fans and media.
Though Zboril was considered to be among the best players available at the time, his ties to the three consecutive picks in that draft will forever follow him throughout his career. Frederic, on the other hand, was taken with a player like Alex DeBrincat left on the board. DeBrincat would prove to be an excellent selection for the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, whereas Frederic would be described as a player who the Bruins envisioned as a third-line grinder.
Fast forward to the 2020-21 season and both Zboril and Frederic have carved out roles for themselves as NHL regulars.
Zboril and Frederic Making the Most of Their NHL Opportunities
If we’re being honest, the narrative surrounding the 2015 Draft will never change. It’s also something that the Bruins can’t change now that everything is said and done. It makes more sense, then, to be happy that Zboril is finally starting to flourish as an every-day blueliner for the Bruins.
He’s looking confident and is playing the exact brand of hockey that captivated the Bruins when they scouted him coming out of the QMJHL. Consistency seemed to plague him throughout his tenure in the AHL, but that hasn’t appeared to be an issue yet through six games in the NHL this season. It’s a small sample size, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.
As far as Frederic is concerned, his contributions to the Bruins this season has been far more noticeable due to the role he plays on the team. Similar to the way Brad Marchand endeared himself to Bruins’ fans early in his career, Frederic is playing with a high-motor, creating chances offensively and drawing penalties due to his natural ability to get under his opponent’s skin.
Frederic may only have one assist in six games so far this season, but it’s fair to say that his contributions have been felt well beyond the scoreboard. His instant chemistry alongside Craig Smith and Charlie Coyle has been impossible to ignore and it feels like taking him out of the lineup any time soon would be nothing short of a terrible mistake.
The team has shuffled their lines and split up the Frederic, Smith and Coyle line for the time being due to injury, but that shouldn’t last long.
As is the case with just about every player on the roster, earning minutes will consistently be a factor throughout the season. The Bruins consider themselves to be contenders this season and rightfully so. With that comes the need for competitive players in the lineup each and every night. The scoresheet doesn’t necessarily need to reflect it, but playing with 100% effort and making the most of each shift is crucial to success.
For this reason, neither Frederic or Zboril should be considered as absolute locks for the entirety of the season. Still, it feels like their spots on the team are theirs to lose and if they want them, they can keep them by continuing to play at this level.
Bruins Remain Competitive Despite Injuries and Roster Changes
The Bruins have put together a 4-1-1 record on the season and sit in second place in the East Division. Their nine points are also good for sixth in the NHL standings as a whole, tied with the Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins. Though they had an incredibly slow start to the year, they’ve improved in a major way as of late and seem to finally be finding their stride.
This has also come with injuries to crucial pieces in David Pastrnak, Matt Grzelcyk and Ondrej Kase. That’s not even mentioning the loss of both Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara with both signing elsewhere this offseason. Having players like Frederic and Zboril step up and fill roles on the team is refreshing after both players’ NHL futures didn’t seem certain for so long.
Even when Pastrnak and Kase return to the Bruins’ lineup, it’ll be hard to push Frederic out of the lineup barring some sort of massive fall-off in production. Grzelcyk’s return didn’t knock out Zboril from the lineup either as it was Connor Clifton who came out in his place. The forward position, though, won’t be so cut-and-dry.
As it stands, Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka are both competing with Frederic for spots in the lineup. If Jake DeBrusk’s recent injury doesn’t keep him out for too long, it seems likely that Bjork would be the odd-player-out.
That doesn’t mean Bjork hasn’t been playing well in a bottom-six role this season, but again, playing competitive hockey is important and the Bruins are in a situation where good players will have to sit at times. The same can be said about Clifton, in fact, as he hasn’t looked bad but will be out of the lineup Thursday regardless.
It’s a good problem to have for the Bruins, even if it may be frustrating for young players who feel like they’re playing well and not getting rewarded as a result. Unfortunately, there are only so many spots and only a few players can fill those spots on any given night.