Could new Boston Bruins defenseman Derek Forbort find himself riding shotgun with Charlie McAvoy to start the 2021-22 regular season?
Training camp is still a month away but Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy already admitted that it’s no guarantee the Terriers connection of Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy remain the Bruins’ top pairing this coming season.
“Did not work out as well as we would have liked. It was a lot of demands on Grizz,” Cassidy said of the former Boston University defensemen pairing together as they did for the Terriers during the 2015-16 season.
That’s why the Boston Bruins bench boss would like to see what the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Forbort could do to help his top defenseman and handle the elevated physical rigors that playing on a top pairing in the NHL brings. No one is questioning that the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Grzelcyk has the skills to play the left side with McAvoy on the right of the top pairing, but his skills may free up more down the lineup.
“Forbort is a bigger, different type of defender than Gryzz,” Cassidy pointed out last week. “So we want to see how that would look with Charlie. Whether we do that every night remains to be seen. That’s a big ask. We know Grizz can slot in there at times. I think you’ll see some toggling.”
Forbort was part of a spree of signings that Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney made on the opening day of NHL Free Agency. Sweeney also signed forwards Erik Haula, Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek, as well as goalie Linus Ullmnark. The 29-year-old rearguard, who was drafted 15th overall by the Los Angeles Kings at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, was signed to a three-year, $9 million contract on July 28.
“Derek was a player we identified through our own scouting staff and analytics staff that would come in and complement our group,” Sweeney said after the free agency frenzy. “He’s played extended minutes, he’s healthier. He had a rebound year [in Winnipeg] from not being healthy the previous season and went in and played a much-elevated role. “[He’s a] primary penalty killer, which is also important. Lauzy [Jeremy Lauzon] and Kevan [Miller] picked up a lot of those details, and Derek was excited in thinking about playing with a couple different partners we have in Charlie [McAvoy] and Brandon [Carlo] from penalty killing to elevated minutes in a shutdown role. We’re going to need him to do that.”
Forbort spent the 2021 NHL season with the Winnipeg Jets on a one-year contract that carried a $1 million cap hit. The new Boston Bruins rearguard had two goals and ten assists in 56 games. Forbort averaged 20:45 TOI per game, had 115 blocked shots and 80 hits. As Shinzawa pointed out, he also averaged 2:43 TOI on the penalty kill. He could definitely fulfill what team President Cam Neely and GM Don Sweeney were looking for after watching their depleted and small blue line get manhandled by the Islanders in the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The expectation, for now, is that if Forbort slots in next to McAvoy, then Grzelcyk will drop down to the third pairing left slot alongside Connor Clifton, while Mike Reilly would play next to Brandon Carlo on the second pairing. For a second straight season, the Boston Bruins blue line appears to be a work in progress.