When the news became official before Boston’s meeting with the Ottawa Senators, the entire dressing room seemed excited to know they’d soon be lining up with a future Hall of Famer. For a team that was somewhat scorned just a week earlier by Jarome Iginla, the Bruins were in need of a boost. The energy elating from this move proved infectious throughout the lineup Tuesday night, as evidenced by Boston’s 50 shots on goal.
While most, if not all, of the Bruins were skating with that extra jump in their step based on the enthusiasm of the situation, a few players were undoubtedly giving it all they could in an attempt to retain their spot in the lineup. With Jagr set to join his new teammates for their Thursday night tilt against the New Jersey Devils, where will the 41-year-old offensive juggernaut be slotted in the lineup?
If Jaromir Jagr had been acquired a week earlier, it would seem to be almost a foregone conclusion that the left-handed right winger would have lined up alongside Czech countryman David Krejci, opposite hulking left winger Milan Lucic. That line’s resident right winger, Nathan Horton, has been a very streaky player throughout his career. However, perhaps fueled by his desire to remain on this line, Horton’s production has spiked in recent games.
Horton has potted four goals in the last four games, including the game winner on Tuesday night after cleaning up the rebound on a Lucic shot from the high slot. Even though his scoring is up, firsthand accounts of his game can tell you that Horton is still not where he needs to be. His 12 goals and 21 points in 35 games are respectable, but do not scream top line production. The Bruins simply can’t be sure that they’ll be getting the physical, engaging power forward that was one of the real heroes during their 2011 Stanley Cup run.
Perhaps the Boston line that is most in need of a boost is their third line. The Bruins have notoriously rolled all four lines consistently under Head Coach Claude Julien, but this season’s lack of secondary scoring from their third line has been alarming.
The Bruins began the season with a third line featuring center Chris Kelly, flanked by Rich Peverley and Chris Bourque. That line never really got going, and Bourque was eventually placed on waivers and assigned to Providence (AHL). Around the time that winger Jordan Caron was recalled from Providence to take Bourque’s spot, Kelly went down with a leg injury. The line has since been comprised of an unproductive mash up of Peverley skating down the middle, between Caron and Jay Pandolfo. Since being united, not one of those forwards has scored a goal.
Jagr would certainly provide some offensive punch to this unit, likely in place of Pandolfo, an aging veteran who is better suited for the checking line (if not, the press box). Peverley and Caron have each shown flashes of offensive prowess throughout their Bruins tenures, particularly when playing up with more talented linemates. However, this might not be the best way to get the most production out of Jagr. Number 68 may have flourished this season on a poor Dallas team, but even Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli noted that Jagr has “got a higher line pedigree.”
The Bruins’ other top six unit has been their most productive line this season. The line of Patrice Bergeron centering Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand contains three of the team’s top four scorers in terms of goals and points. Had this line remained healthy, there was no way Julien was breaking them up. Now with Bergeron out for the near future with what Chiarelli relayed as a “moderate” concussion, a slot on this unit has opened up, as well.
Although Seguin played center in juniors and Marchand did so in the AHL, both of them are generally projected to remain on the wing in the NHL. However, if there’s any time to give them some experience playing center at the highest level (particularly for Seguin), now could be a good time to do so. The biggest problem with slotting Seguin in the middle on a line with Jagr isn’t whether or not Jagr can keep up with the speedster, but whether the two can play sound enough defensively to satisfy Julien’s defensive-minded system.
With all that in mind, I’m starting Jagr’s Bruins tenure with him skating on the right wing alongside Lucic and Krejci. Krejci may be a right-handed centerman, but he seemed to have developed a healthy chemistry feeding the puck to the left-handed right wing during the 2010 Olympics. When Lucic plays his game, bruising defensemen and banging home loose pucks, this line could have a similar blend to Jagr’s line with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell for the Philadelphia Flyers last season.
For the time being, this slots the somewhat hot-handed Horton with Seguin and Marchand. If I’m Julien, I’m letting Seguin play the middle as both a future audition and as an insurance policy, so that the youngster has some experience at center should more bodies go down. However, I’ve certainly got checking line center Gregory Campbell ready to go for all defensive zone faceoffs.
From here, it’s up to the players to see how things play out on the ice. You can’t predict the games on paper, just like you can’t always predict how different players will click with each other. Had the Bruins been completely healthy today, I would’ve reunited Bergeron with his linemates, dropping Horton to play with Kelly and Peverley. However, I’m still not satisfied enough with the play of Lucic or Peverley, to this point, to guarantee enough patience with either of these lines. Remember, Carl Soderberg will likely join the Black & Gold soon enough, and having too many goal scorers putting pressure on each other to keep pace is generally a good problem to have.