Five Bruins players with a lot to prove entering 2022-23 NHL season

·7 min read

Five Bruins players with a lot to prove entering 2022-23 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins begin training camp later this month, and there will be plenty of competition for ice time at pretty much every position.

This internal competition should be good for the Bruins, especially since the team has failed to integrate quality young talent into the NHL roster over the last few years.

There are plenty of veterans (and younger players with several years of NHL experience) under the microscope entering the new campaign, too. With that in mind, here are five Bruins players with a lot to prove entering the new season.

Trent Frederic

Position: C

Age: 24

2021-22 Stats: 8 G, 10 A in 60 GP

Frederic has underwhelmed as a 2016 first-round pick. He's a natural center but has mostly played wing with the Bruins given the team's depth down the middle. While he did tally career highs in goals and assists last season, the Bruins still need a lot more offensive production if he's going to remain in the lineup long term. Frederic appeared in four of the Bruins' first-round playoff games against the Carolina Hurricanes and was held scoreless with zero shots on net.

Younger players and prospects such as Fabian Lysell, Johnny Beecher, Marc McLaughlin and Georgii Merkulov are all knocking on the door and will compete for ice time at the NHL level in training camp and the preseason.

Frederic has the potential to be a quality bottom-six forward capable of providing much-needed scoring depth, setting a physical tone each shift and agitating opponents. He has a classic power forward-type skill set. What holds him back sometimes are dumb penalties and inconsistent scoring.

Overall, the Bruins need more offense from Frederic if he's going to become a valuable part of this team going forward. Reaching the 30-point mark next season would be a good target for him to set.

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Craig Smith

Position: RW

Age: 32

2021-22 Stats: 16 G, 20 A in 64 GP

Smith tallied 32 points in 54 games for the Bruins in 2020-21 -- his first season with the team after signing as a free agent. He was much less effective offensively last season, scoring 36 points in 74 games. Smith was banged up throughout the year, particularly early in the campaign.

The Bruins need a little more goal scoring from Smith. He scored 20-plus goals five times for the Nashville Predators before joining the B's. Smith's 0.9 goals scored per 60 minutes (all situations) last season was his lowest since 2016-17. Inconsistency was an issue for Smith, too, as he failed to score in any of Boston's final 13 regular season games in 2021-22.

Smith also underwhelmed in the playoffs, where he tallied zero points in seven games versus the 'Canes. He also tallied two or fewer shots on net in four of those seven matchups, including a Game 7 performance when he didn't fire a single shot on goal.

Furthermore, Smith has scored only one goal in his last 14 playoff games since his overtime winner in Game 3 of the 2021 first-round series against the Washington Capitals.

Smith is entering the final season of his three-year contract with the B's. He has all the motivation needed for a bounce-back 2022-23 campaign.

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Mike Reilly

Position: D

Age: 29

2021-22 Stats: 4 G, 13 A in 70 GP

The Bruins have five left-shot defensemen under contract at the NHL level. Someone probably will need to be traded to free up much-needed salary cap space. Reilly is a good candidate as a serviceable veteran player with a manageable $3 million cap hit.

But the Bruins will need him to begin the season with Matt Grzelcyk not expected to be ready for Opening Night.

The 2021-22 season was a tough one for Reilly. He failed to build on the positive momentum from his Bruins debut after they acquired him late in the 2020-21 campaign. Reilly was a healthy scratch several times and did not provide the kind of puck-moving ability and offensive production that Boston really needed from its blue line.

Reilly tallied 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 70 games last season. He posted 27 points (all assists) in 55 games between the Ottawa Senators and Bruins the season before.

Grzelcyk's absence early in the season gives Reilly a tremendous opportunity to showcase his talent, be a more consistent driver of offense and prove that he deserves a spot in the lineup full time -- whether that's in Boston or somewhere else.

Linus Ullmark

Position: G

Age: 29

2021-22 Stats: 26-10-2, 917 SV%, 2.45 GAA

It took a while for Ullmark to find a rhythm with the Bruins, which was to be expected after making the move from an awful Sabres team to an elite defensive club in Boston. Ullmark, to his credit, finished the season strong and outplayed Jeremy Swayman over the final two months.

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This excellent finish was a factor in Ullmark getting the Game 1 start in the playoffs. He started the first two games and gave up eight goals as the B's fell into an 0-2 hole. Ullmark didn't play horribly in those two matchups -- and the Bruins didn't do him any favors defensively -- but he still needed to perform a lot better and make a bunch more timely saves.

Game 2 was Ullmark's last appearance of the season as Swayman started the final five games of the series, including the Game 7 defeat in Raleigh.

Ullmark and Swayman both played 41 regular season games and their stats were pretty identical. It's very much a 1A/1B tandem entering the 2022-23 campaign. The ideal scenario for the B's is one of these goalies stepping up and becoming the clear-cut No. 1 option.

If Swayman becomes "the guy" next season, it's fair to wonder what Ullmark's future in Boston will look like. He has a no-movement clause in his contract for 2022-23, per CapFriendly, but that changes to a modified no-trade clause for the final two years of his deal. Ullmark makes too much money to be a backup, but there's still a strong possibility he could be the team's No. 1 for the next few years. He has to earn it, though, and Swayman will provide plenty of competition.

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Jeremy Swayman

Position: G

Age: 23

2021-22 Stats: 23-14-3, .914 SV%, 2.41 GAA

Swayman becoming the No. 1 goalie is the best-case scenario for the Bruins. He's talented, young and less expensive than Ullmark. He has shown flashes of being a really good starting netminder, but consistency has been an issue at times. Swayman was fantastic in February, going 5-1-1 with a .960 save percentage en route to winning the league's Rookie of the Month award. He was on track to be the playoff starter but, as noted above, struggled mightily in March and April and entered the postseason as the backup.

Swayman got his chance to shine in the playoffs and played well in the final five games of the Hurricanes series. He posted a 3-2-0 record with a .911 save percentage and a 2.63 GAA.

Swayman is entering the final year of his entry-level contract. A quality season, during which he becomes the undisputed top goalie on the team, could land him a contract similar to what Jake Oettinger just signed with the Dallas Stars.

It's hard to overstate the importance of the 2022-23 season for Swayman.