The Boston Bruins’ forward corps possesses plenty of star power. Center Marc Savard will head to his second career NHL All-Star Game later this month and he currently sits fourth in the NHL with 52 points (14 goals). His right winger Phil Kessel sits fourth in goals with 24. And Savard, Blake Wheeler and David Krejci are all in the top five in the league in plus/minus.
But the Bruins didn’t build their 30-7-4 record by relying on just one line or a quintet of forwards. Their offense is third at 3.58 goals per game and their power play is third at 23.9 percent.
All four lines have contributed at one point or another during the season’s first half, and each group has held its own in the defensive end, despite injuries to some key players.
So here it is, my midseason player-by-player grades for the Bruins’ forwards:
Marc Savard: A
While his projected chemistry with Michael Ryder didn’t work out, he’s found a sixth sense with Kessel and the duo have become one of the most feared in the league. Savard’s managed to rack up points despite a rotating group of left wingers that’s included Milan Lucic and P.J. Axelsson. His league-best plus-28 rating proves that the one-dimensional Savard who landed in Boston in ’06 is a distant memory.
David Krejci: A-minus
Second on the club with 43 points (and tied for second with 15 goals), the second-year pivot has challenged Savard all season for the title of first-line center. His chemistry with Wheeler has been uncanny and his ability to seemingly make plays out of nothing has proven the Bruins correct for banking on his development. He’s shown a tendency to lose focus and intensity for a game or two at a time, but with one year of NHL hockey under his belt he’s gotten better at getting back on track and making sure the word ‘slumping’ never precedes his name.
Phil Kessel: A-minus
The maturity and hockey sense have finally caught up to the speed and skill with the third-year winger, and they’ve combined to give the Bruins the sniper they’d hoped they’d someday have when they used draft pick No. 5 on Kessel in ’06. Sometimes he can still get pushed around and he’ll try to take on the world on his way to the offensive zone, but his play at the defensive end and his extraordinary ability to use his speed to cover up on the backcheck have made Kessel an all-around threat — and they’ll make him a rich man as an RFA this summer.
Michael Ryder: B-plus
With just two goals through the first month of the season and three on his ledger through Nov. 17, Ryder looked like a possible free-agent bust, despite his solid defensive play and his ability to wreak havoc on the power play. He was brought here to score goals, and once he settled in and gained some confidence he became everything the Bruins hoped he’d be. Of his 15 goals, seven have been game-winners (leading the league). And those media naysayers that railed against the Ryder signing have been silenced.
Milan Lucic: B
The team leader in hits with 154, Lucic probably still hasn’t found his stride offensively — and that might still be a season or two away. But his early-season hat trick gave everyone a hint of the type of scorer he could be down the road. And his ability to hold his own on the Bruins’ top line for the bulk of the first half proved that he’s matured in Year 2 of his NHL career. A recent slump both in scoring and plus/minus before his injury absence lowered his grade.
Blake Wheeler: A-minus
Only a tendency to sometimes show off his puck-handling moves rather than get the simple shot on net cost the Bruins rookie the perfect grade. No one realistically could’ve predicted 13-12-25 totals and a plus-25 rating through the first half of the season when the first-year pro first showed up for training camp last fall. If Wheeler keeps his stick to himself defensively and continues to progress and use his size, the second half will be a full-blown Calder Trophy drive.
Chuck Kobasew: B-minus
Maybe the recent shift to the first line will get the former Boston College standout going. But after getting back from injury in early November and consistently contributing on the offensive end for a few weeks, December was a dry month for the winger. Always a threat on the forecheck and solid in his own end, Kobasew has to pick it up in the second half to keep the Bruins, as presently constituted, among the upper echelon of the NHL.
Patrice Bergeron: B-minus
He was starting to pick it up just as he suffered his second concussion in 14 months. But Bergeron struggled up until the week of his injury, especially in the offensive end, where he just lacked finish (only four goals in 31 games). At least he was clicking at a 57-percent rate in the faceoff dot and settling in as a distributor on the power play. Bergeron’s second half, however, will be more about comebacks than goals and assists.
P.J. Axelsson: B
The player Bruins fans love to hate when they’re not loving him, the defensive-minded winger has been his normally solid self on the PK and in the Bruins’ end. His ability to find the open man on the PP has been a pleasant surprise, but his lack of finish can be so frustrating (two of his three goals have been empty-netters).
Marco Sturm: Incomplete
The streaky winger was probably headed to a B-minus before a neck injury and a knee injury side tracked his season.
Stephane Yelle: B
The quiet third-liner needs to improve on his 50.6 faceoff percentage — one of the reasons he was brought to Boston. Yelle has been solid on the PK (the other key for the Bruins signing him) and chipped in here on there on offense. Without Bergeron, the Bruins will expect more in the second half from Yelle.
Shawn Thornton: B-plus
It’s hard to criticize a lack of finish from a fourth-line winger. However, three goals on a 67 shots is a little disappointing. Nonetheless, Thornton has taken on all comers of all sizes with his gloves off, and he’s helped make the Bruins’ line-up the most balanced offensively in the league. And his high-power forechecking has probably left its mark on its share of puck-carriers this season.
Petteri Nokelainen: B
With his physical play and ability to keep possesion of the puck regardless of the player checking him, Nokelainen is a big reason for the fourth line’s offensive dimension. He draws penalties better than almost every player on the Bruins. Just a little more finish could make Nokelainen a legit top-nine performer.
Vladimir Sobotka & Martin St. Pierre: Incomplete
Both have been solid fourth-line contributors when given a shot, but neither has played enough games to earn a grade.