When it comes to the 2021-22 Bruins, it’s easy for most of the attention to be focused on the No. 2 center spot or the new goaltending tandem. But the third line is a pretty big question mark in its own right, and an important one at that.
The personnel on the third line doesn’t seem to be much of a mystery. Through two days of training camp, it has consistently been Erik Haula at center with Jake DeBrusk on his left and Nick Foligno on the right. It’s possible Jack Studnicka gets a look somewhere in there later in camp once a still-recovering Charlie Coyle is able to take regular repetitions on the second line, but it’s clear that coach Bruce Cassidy wants to get a good, long look at this trio.
That makes sense, because none of those three have ever played together before. That alone brings a level of uncertainty since there’s never any guarantee that players end up complementing each other the way the team hopes. The more time they get to build chemistry, the better.
Add in that the 33-year-old Foligno’s offensive production has dipped in recent years and that DeBrusk is coming off a massively disappointing season that saw him healthy scratched multiple times, and you get a line that has potential, but that is going to have to prove itself before people really buy in.
DeBrusk may very well be the biggest X-factor, not just on the third line, but on the whole team. Another season like last year will likely mean more disappointment from the Bruins’ bottom six. A real bounce-back, however, could mean a very good third line and the kind of offensive depth the Bruins didn’t have last year.
While acknowledging that it’s only been a few days, Foligno likes what he is seeing from DeBrusk so far, which is a motivated player with high expectations for himself.
“I’ve talked to him a little bit,” Foligno said of DeBrusk. “As we go through camp, I always like to kind of get my own bearings first before I really start to dig in and get to know guys, but I can tell he has a ton of potential and a ton of talent, and he wants to be a great player. I think it’s just a matter of understanding what that takes.
“A lot of times people think it’s just a snap of the fingers and a guy figures it out. Sometimes it takes a little bit of a step back to realize, ‘OK, that’s not the way I want to go about doing things.’ I’m sure he’s hungry to prove to people that he’s the player we all envision and that he envisions.
“He has higher standards for himself than a lot of people realize. So I’m looking forward to helping him in that regard, but also just helping the line and maybe helping him become that player. I think he’s put in the work and he looks good out there. Just excited to get going.”
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said earlier this week that he and DeBrusk had a good talk after last season and were able to find some of the “common ground” he was seeking. It’s very early, and it’s wise to probably temper expectations for a bit, but there does appear to be at least some reason to think a DeBrusk turnaround could be on the way.
As far as the line as a whole goes, Foligno and Haula both see encouraging signs early on.
“Good. I really like our line,” Foligno said. “I think Haula’s just a hard worker and a skilled player and a responsible player. And then Jake’s got that skill, that ability to make plays. You just try to complement that. If that’s one of the groups we go with, I think we can do some damage and be a reliable one. No matter where you are in the lineup, earning the coach’s trust is the most important thing. If we can do the right things and come together as a group and earn that trust, then we’re gonna get out there in certain moments and help our team win, and that’s all you want as players.”
“I feel like me and Nick work really hard. We all have skill,” Haula said. “We’ve all scored some goals in this league, and we also take pride in our own end. Just trying to be an all-around good line, a 200-foot line. Like I said, we’ve got some skill to put the puck in the net. That’s our goal. It’s been fun the first couple days. I feel like we have a little bit of chemistry. It’s been good.”