Anderson: Bruins' youth movement could be best thing to happen to David Krejci

Ty Anderson
October 07, 2017 - 3:21 pm

Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

A panting David Krejci, set for his 12th year with the organization, was not shy about how Thursday’s season-opening win felt for him and these new-look, youthful Bruins.

“It was fast,” the now 31-year-old Krejci said.

But it was also a 60-minute throwback of a performance from the Czech center -- which for the second half of the game featured him centering an effective, on-the-spot created line with NHL first-timers Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork -- that told us that these rookies could be the best thing to happen to the second stage of Krejci’s Bruins career.

“I feel good, excited,” Krejci admitted after the game when asked about playing with the B’s young guns. “If you look back a few years ago and now it’s a totally different team. Lots of young guys. So it’s a lot of good, fast players and so it’s fun to play with them.”

Those are not words we’ve used in recent years when it comes to the polarizing No. 46. Some g- and f-words have been used, sure, but certainly not good and fast.

It was sometime last year on WEEI’s Saturday/Skate program (rest in peace, you sweet early-morning child) that I got real angry about Krejci. It wasn’t even necessarily his fault. We were fielding calls about Tuukka Rask allegedly being overpaid and not delivering on his contract when I finally snapped and asked about Krejci, whose $7.25 million cap hit is obviously higher than Rask’s $7 million, failing to do the same.

After losing go-to wingers Milan Lucic and Loui Eriksson in back-to-back years, and with David Pastrnak moved off his line to form an NHL Superline with Brad Marchand and Pastrnak on either side of Patrice Bergeron, it felt as if Krejci’s game was sputtering and that self-pity for his lack of established linemates was creeping into his game.

Of course, it didn’t help that the Bruins were trying to force a square peg into a round hole by demanding David Backes and Krejci find chemistry that quite simply was never there (this was one of the first things that Bruce Cassidy talked about when he took over for the fired Claude Julien last season), but the main point of my argument was that the $7.25 million center shouldn’t need all-world linemates to perform at a capable level.

Krejci’s payday, which was certainly deserved at that time, made him one of the league's highest-paid pivots, came with the expectations that he would be more than a 60-point regular season player (and if he were, that'd mean that he'd be a 20-point playoff performer), and was always one of the reasons why those linemates were no longer in Boston. And his woe-is-me attitude towards the team moving on from linemates he had developed chemistry with undoubtedly appealed to nobody, especially when you looked back on just how good the Bruins had been with him simply destroying defenses en route to Stanley Cup Final runs in 2011 and 2013. (It has never been a coincidence that a healthy and productive Krejci has always led to a deep playoff run in Boston.)

And while Krejci actually finished the year with a career-high in goals (23) and a solid 54 points (third-most on the Bruins), he also saw his even-strength production dip for the second straight season, and down to his lowest full-season mark since 2009-10. Krejci, who has now had multiple hip surgeries, also skated in just three of the B’s six postseason games, and was clearly playing at less than 50 percent.

In a position where he could become an immovable has-been comfortable enough with what he’s done in the past or do his part to make the Bruins a regular fixture on the stage where he’s performed at his best throughout his career (with young linemates, as Cassidy planned in July), Krejci has undeniably shown the signs of opting for the former.

“The game’s changing,” Krejci acknowledged. “Everyone was working on it in the summer to get ready for a high, high paced game. That’s what I did. I feel pretty good [Thursday]. But I’ve got to keep working hard on it all through the season because those guys are pretty fast so I need to keep myself in shape to keep up.”

But these are not just burners that can save a winded Krejci on backchecks.

These kids are proving that they can play, in all ends and situations, and even with different styles. You’ve seen that with the 20-year-old DeBrusk, a greasy scorer who’s just as comfortable battling in the corner as he is parking himself between the circles for deflections, redirects, and any other kind of garbage that can signal a red light. The Bruins want him to play a little like Eriksson, a player that had tremendous chemistry with Krejci, and Krejci himself sees a little Loui in DeBrusk. You’ve also seen the versatility of Bjork, too, whose skating game is out of this world, and forechecking instincts can provide the Krejci line with something their right side has often lacked.

No longer does it feel as if Krejci has to carry an entire line as the team tries to put bandaids on the right and Scotch tape on the left. I know it’s been just one game -- and Krejci was quick to point that out -- but when you watched Krejci weave through a strong, aggressive Nashville defense, you felt as if you had been morphed back to the days when this was the norm of when his all-world cycling ability left defenses scrambling, and with his linemates left open to collect their share of easy goals.

Above all else, Krejci -- likely turned a believer after watching these young players establish themselves through an opportunity-heavy training camp -- has apparently bought in.

“[Krejci] made it easy,” Bjork, who recorded the first point of his career with the secondary assist on DeBrusk’s goal in the winning effort, admitted of his sudden move to Krejci’s line. “He talked a lot on the bench and it made a really easy transition.”

An easy transition for the kids, an easier transition for Krejci into the new, 'fast' NHL, and most importantly, no hard decisions for the Bruins when it comes to their highest-paid forward.