With Torey Krug now calling St. Louis home, and no additional bodies brought in to bolster the left side of the Bruins blue line, an increased role for Matt Grzelcyk is on tap.
The Bruins showed their faith in Grzelcyk on Saturday by signing the 26-year old to a four-year $14.75 million extension, avoiding arbitration with the Charlestown, Mass native.
“I think I definitely wanted to avoid arbitration. I think both sides had that in common and just about finding middle ground and wanting to find a fair deal for both sides and I feel like it moved pretty swiftly,” Grzelcyk said Monday morning. “I definitely want to thank Don Sweeney and the Jacobs family, the coaching staff, my teammates, for helping me along to be in this position. I’m certainly grateful that things worked out.”
Like the money now paid to Grzelcyk, his expectations are now going to grow. He is likely to be given the first chance to replace Krug on the Bruins top power play unit as the team’s top power-play quarterback.
And should captain Zdeno Chara not be back on another likely one-year contract, Grzelcyk will likely be the one replacing Chara on the Bruins top defensive unit alongside fellow Boston University alumni Charlie McAvoy.
Whether it’s running PP1 or PP2 or landing on the Bruins top defensive pair, all Grzelcyk wants to do is take that next step forward in his development.
He’s going to get every chance to do so.
“That’s the goal, for sure. I think obviously, every offseason you’re trying to improve your game. For me, I‘m in a good spot right now,” he said. “I feel like I’m pretty healthy. Probably the healthiest I’ve been in a couple years. I feel like I’m starting to really be in prime in terms of my body and where it’s at and wanting to put on size and strength. I think that’s always the focus.”
At 5-foot-9, Grzelcyk is not going to use his size to thwart the opposing rush. But while he lacks size, he makes up for it with a smart stick, speed and a hockey sense that has only improved during his time in Boston.
The Bruins are looking for their defenseman to be more involved in the game offensively. Whether that’s being better at getting pucks through, jumping up into the play more frequently, or chipping in more from a goals standpoint, Grzelcyk is focused on being a big part of that involvement.
“I think now I want to add to my game offensively and grow my confidence that way. Like I said, there definitely is opportunity there,” Grzelcyk said. "I want to make sure that when I go into training camp at the beginning of the season that I’m in a good position to take advantage of that just want to improve my overall game.”
Where Grzelcyk goes with his game from here is anyone’s guess. The Bruins hope he takes the opportunity that is given to him and runs with it.
“As far as Matt’s ceiling, I think It’s a little bit to be determined, because of the opportunity and how well he plays. Obviously, there is a vacancy – in seeing, allowing his offensive game to continue to grow, potentially and with a little more power play opportunity and again, its player driven," Sweeney said over the weekend.
“I had a lot of conversations with our coaching staff about where they see the player fitting in and how he affects our transition game, his ability to move the puck and our D-zone exits. And the rest is up to Matt to take advantage of a pretty good opportunity for him moving forward.”
By not bringing in any help to date on the Bruins left side of their blue line, Sweeney and company are putting a lot of faith in their youngsters.
Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen and the veteran John Moore round out the Bruins NHL-ready depth on the left side.
Although the offensive side of things is Grzelcyk’s bread and butter, he understands that there’s a lot of work to be done on the defensive side of things, especially if he’s to maintain success in a potential top-four role.
“I think each year I’ve gotten better and improved my overall game to not only want to initiate more offensively but also to accept more defensive responsibility in the defensive end by using my smarts, using my skating ability to my advantage,” Grzelcyk said. “Just trying to break pucks out so that we can get going the other way.”
While the Bruins await a decision on what Chara’s future looks like, Grzelcyk certainly hopes Big Z is back in Boston next season.
“I would love to have Zdeno back. He’s an unbelievable teammate, he’s an unbelievable person. I feel like he still has got a lot of game left and has a lot of hunger to keep playing and keep pushing. It’s awesome to see first-hand his ability to lead and the example that he sets forth for the entire team,” he said.
“Not sure how it’s going to work out but like I said, I think it’s more about wanting to come in, in as good of shape as possible and take advantage of any opportunity that comes my way.”
Depending on how much of an advantage Grzelcyk takes with the opportunity that comes his way, the Grzelcyk contract could turn out to be another steal for Sweeney and the Bruins.