If you watched David Krejci’s 15 years with the Bruins, you know he was a terrific playmaker. His vision, passing and patience with the puck on his stick was pretty easy to see.
If you just look at the numbers, that greatness might not be quite as obvious, at least in the sense that Krejci never led the NHL in assists and rarely even ranked in the top 10 (he did so twice).
But if you dig just a little below the surface, Krejci’s playmaking expertise absolutely does show up in the stats, especially at 5-on-5 play. I want to highlight two seasons, 10 years apart, as examples: 2008-09 and 2018-19. (For further discussion of Krejci’s career, including those two seasons, listen to the latest episode of The Skate Podcast below.)
That 2008-09 season was Krejci’s breakout at 22 years old. He had played six games in 2006-07 before putting up 27 points in 56 games as a rookie in 2007-08. Then in 2008-09, Krejci exploded for 73 points and an NHL-best +37 plus/minus.
Taking ice time into account (Krejci was still playing under 17 minutes per game at that point), Krejci actually led the NHL in 5-on-5 points per 60 minutes that season and ranked second in 5-on-5 assists per 60, right behind Evgeni Malkin (2.10 for Malkin, 2.08 for Krejci).
The next six players behind Krejci in 5-on-5 points per 60 highlight how impressive of an accomplishment that was: Alexander Semin, Sidney Crosby, Daniel Sedin, Malkin, Henrik Sedin, Pavel Datsyuk. Five of those six are either already Hall of Famers or locks to be Hall of Famers. The other, Semin, isn’t a Hall of Famer, but was an elite forward for a few years around this time while playing on a line with Alex Ovechkin.
And Krejci did that at 22 years old while playing mostly on the Bruins’ third line with Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler – good players, but not exactly elite scorers.
Fast forward 10 years. While Krejci had plenty of consistently very good seasons in between – and twice led the NHL in postseason scoring in 2011 and 2013 – it would take until 2018-19 for Krejci to match that career high of 73 points from 2008-09.
Krejci had a career-high 53 assists in 2018-19, including a career-high 35 at 5-on-5 play. He ranked sixth in the NHL in 5-on-5 assists per 60 minutes. The fact that he did that during that 2018-19 season should be remembered as one of his most remarkable accomplishments, simply because of what he had for linemates.
On his left for the vast majority of the season was Jake DeBrusk, then in his second year. He also got Brad Marchand for about a dozen games while Patrice Bergeron was out injured. That’s not the crazy part.
The crazy part was the revolving door he had at right wing, which became a running joke on social media and which the Bruins never figured out, all the way up and through Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
David Pastrnak was actually Krejci’s most common right wing at 296 minutes together, but that was only 25% of Krejci’s 5-on-5 ice time that season. Pastrnak spent the vast majority of the season on the “Perfection Line” with Marchand and Bergeron.
The other 75% of Krejci’s shifts were spent with… well, you’re going to want to take a deep breath before reading this list, because there are 18 forwards Krejci played at least 10 minutes with at 5-on-5 that season:
Jake DeBrusk (717 minutes)
David Pastrnak (296)
Danton Heinen (233)
Joakim Nordstrom (187)
Brad Marchand (167)
Peter Cehlarik (166)
David Backes (91)
Karson Kuhlman (85)
Charlie Coyle (77)
Ryan Donato (68)
Marcus Johansson (53)
Chris Wagner (28)
Anders Bjork (28)
Sean Kuraly (19)
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (19)
Paul Carey (15)
Lee Stempniak (14)
Noel Acciari (11)
Listen, I covered that season and remember the memes, and I still can’t believe that Krejci spent that much time playing with Nordstrom and Cehlarik that year. My Skate Pod partner, Brian DeFelice, thought I must’ve made a mistake when I mentioned Stempniak, whose more notable stint with Boston came three years earlier. Nope. Stempniak actually did come back for two games that season, and – you guessed it – got put on a line with Krejci for those two games.
And yet, despite never having a settled right wing next to him, Krejci just kept setting up goals at a career-best pace. The only players with more 5-on-5 assists per 60 minutes in 2018-19 were Nikita Kucherov, Mitchell Marner, Crosby, Evgeny Kuznetsov (another Ovechkin linemate) and Artemi Panarin. Right behind Krejci were Malkin and Connor McDavid.
You know what those other guys didn’t have to deal with? A revolving door of linemates. Or if they did have one spot unsettled, they at least had another stud they played with consistently (Kuznetsov had Ovechkin, Malkin had Phil Kessel, and McDavid had Leon Draisaitl).
So, there you go. If you look at just the basic counting stats, Krejci’s assist and point totals look very good but not elite. But if you drill down to what Krejci was actually best at – setting up his teammates at 5-on-5 play (he never really racked up a ton of power-play points) – there were absolutely years that he was elite, especially when you take into account his linemates.
Ultimately, Krejci ranked in the top 20 in 5-on-5 assists per 60 minutes seven times, including this past season, when he ranked seventh. That came during a year when he finally did have Pastrnak on his wing for the vast majority of the season, and you’d have to imagine he would’ve ranked that high even more often if there were more years like that.