Lost in the disappointment of coming up short in the John Tavares sweepstakes the Bruin suffered another, smaller defeat on a crazy first day of free agency when center Riley Nash signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Not a huge surprise that the Bruins let Nash walk but it begs the question, who will center the third line?
“It’s likely internal at this point, yes, and we have some very strong candidates,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney on the vacant third line center position. “We have some young players that certainly want that slot, and we have a couple of guys internally that I think can move up and play that slot.”
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— Boston Bruins on CLNS (@BruinsCLNS) July 2, 2018
“At times when Anaheim was really injured at the first part of the year, Chris Wagner played in third-line roles, more of shutdown situations, which we’ve used our players as,” said Sweeney. “Sean Kuraly is certainly a player that wants to have a bigger role.”
Both are solid options to replace Nash. Wagner and Kuraly are both great forecheckers who proved their staying-power in the league last season. Wagner finished two points higher than Kuraly at 16.
Though Sweeney didn’t mention him by name another internal candidate the B’s could and possibly should consider is Ryan Donato.
Donato has always been a center but played wing after joining the B’s late last season because there was a log-jam down the middle.
Donato is a proven goal scorer and playmaker with top-six potential. He rode the pine for most of the playoffs because he was looked at as a defensive liability. The third line would give him a chance to change that as well as some motivation to move into the top-six.
Since Rick Nash may not return to hockey, Ilya Kovalchuk went to the Los Angeles Kings, and James van Riemsdyk went to the Philadelphia Flyers, some believe the obvious response to that for the Bruins would be to slot Donato next to David Krejci on the second line.
#NHLBruins GM Don Sweeney acknowledged he is and will still explore trade options for top 6 winger. Makes sense then that a source is telling me just now, B's in on #Panarin and #Skinner. They also explored #Neal but term/$$ too much right now.
— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) July 1, 2018
If the Bruins would like to keep up with the current arms race in the Atlantic Division, they’ll trade for a more proven right-winger next to Krejci and put Donato at center of the third line.
It’s better for the now, it’s better for the future, and it’s cheaper. That’s pretty much all you can ask for.