LAS VEGAS — How fitting is it that, on a trek down to Las Vegas, the Bruins finally cashed in following a season-long game of roulette at the third-line center position?
A consistent trio in Boston’s bottom six was one of the strengths of a 2017-18 Bruins club that finished just a point out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference, with the group of Danton Heinen, David Backes and Riley Nash combining for 14 5v5 goals scored in just under 332 minutes of ice time together.
But with Nash’s departure in free agency this past summer, Boston opted to enter the 2018-19 campaign with a vacant spot at the pivot — the hope being that the organization’s strong pipeline of young talent would be able to step in and keep that line humming.
It hasn’t gone swimmingly, to say the least.
Numerous skaters on the B’s roster have been given keys to the third line over the year — Sean Kuraly earned the spot out of training camp, David Backes took a few reps at the spot, and then it was on to the young guys. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson earned the call up from Providence, then Colby Cave. Over the last couple of weeks, it’s been Trent Frederic’s turn, with the 20-year-old prospect failing to get on the scoresheet over an 11-game stretch.
Very few combinations on the third line have managed to stick around under Bruce Cassidy’s watch. The one group that gained some traction, with Forsbacka Karlsson in the middle of a young group with Heinen and Ryan Donato, showed some signs of progress, but failed to gain much trust, with just about 10 percent of that line’s zone starts coming in the defensive zone.
Something finally had to give, and at last — Don Sweeney and Bruins front office waved the white flag and looked for outside help. The solution? Local kid Charlie Coyle — who Boston pried out of Minnesota in exchange for Ryan Donato and a conditional 2019 fifth-round pick.
Parting ways with a youngster like Donato — who will join Minnesota for Thursday’s matchup against the Rangers — could be painful down the road, with the Harvard product’s patented, heavy wrister likely setting him up for a couple of 20-goal seasons down the road, especially with added minutes on a soon-to-be rebuilding club like Minnesota.
But when it comes to fixing an immediate need, there’s plenty to like about what Coyle, an East Weymouth native and BU product, can bring to this club.
Entrenching a proven player like Coyle into the lineup puts out plenty of fires for Bruce Cassidy and his staff. While Coyle’s offense numbers may not jump out (10 goals, 18 assists over 60 games played), the forward has been productive during 5v5 play — an area that Boston has labored in all season long.
On a B’s club that ranks 25th in the league with 109 5v5 goals scored, Coyle’s production outside of the man advantage (22 5v5 points — good for 5th on the Bruins) will be a welcome addition. Along with that, Coyle was often a workhorse in Minnesota, averaging 17:03 TOI per game, including over a minute per game on both the power play and penalty kill.
Coyle’s versatility should help stabilize that third line going forward, while also allowing Boston to keep guys like Frederic and Forsbacka Karlsson down in Providence to work on their game, rather than roll them out for limited minutes, as Frederic has dealt with for most of his time up in the NHL so far (9:12 average TOI).
“We do feel that there’s a need