With a game built to thrive in today’s NHL, Matt Grzelcyk can (& should) deliver in top-pairing role for Bruins

(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

It doesn't take a game-theory maven to map out where the pieces on the chess board are set to land when it comes to the Bruins' blue line.

More than a week into the start of free agency, Don Sweeney's moves — outside of trades — are rather limited when it comes to finding avenues to beef up his club's defensive corps.

Gone is Torey Krug, the man-advantage maestro that logged 412 minutes of power-play ice time alongside Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand over the previous three seasons — scoring 82 goals during that extended stretch.

Zdeno Chara's future in Boston also remains murky — with a potential 15th campaign in a black and gold sweater still not set in stone. Even in a diminished role, Chara's presence on this blue line would go a long way towards shoring up what is suddenly a very green group of left-shot D.

But for now, it appears as though most of the responsibilities on that left side — whether it be heavy reps on the man advantage or the lion's share of minutes that come with a top-pairing role — now fall on the shoulders of a 26-year-old blueliner from Charlestown.

Fair or not, such is the multi-faceted role that Matt Grzelcyk will likely be thrust into during the 2021 season — with the BU product looking to make good on the four-year, $14.75 million contract extension he inked with his hometown club this past weekend.

"I think my job is just to come in, in as best shape as possible and I think it’s no secret that we want to – and the defense as a whole, add offensively to our games and that’s something that I take pride in and I want to come back with maybe a new mindset of wanting to initiate more on the offensive side of the puck," Grzelcyk said. "I think we’re going to need to in order to have success. If you want to take that next step as a team, we’re going to need to rely on our D to keep pushing pucks up north and wanting to play offensively. Obviously, there is a little bit of opportunity, but it’s up to me to come back a better player and want to take advantage of that."

Given the current state of Boston's blue line, there are plenty of expanded duties that Grzelcyk will be tasked with carrying out on a regular basis in 2021 and beyond.

A defensive anchor?

Grzelcyk, who already began offseason training more than four weeks ago, can't compare to a defensive stalwart like Chara — both in terms of physical stature (there's a full foot in height difference between the two) and play style. But don't simply chalk Grzelcyk up as just another undersized, puck-moving playmaker. Yes, he may not be clearing bodies out of Grade-A ice with his 5-foot-9 frame, but Grzelcyk has developed a reputation for snuffing out scoring chances and breaking up extended possessions in Boston's zone by way of an active stick and strong transitional play.