Matt Grzeclyk: Rookie defenseman filling out Bruins' blue line

When the conversation begins about any rookies on the Boston Bruins' blue line, it usually begins and ends with Charlie McAvoy, and for good reason.

The first-year former first-round pick was playing... up until his injury, big minutes on a playoff team and should receive plenty of votes for Rookie of the Year.

McAvoy isn’t the only rookie putting in time on the Bruins' blue line this year, as an injury to Adam McQuaid has opened the door for Matt Grzelcyk to get into some game action in just his second professional season.

Boston, born and bred

Being one of the original six teams, there is a rich hockey tradition in the city of Boston. Plenty of kids have come up from the streets of Boston, and found their way into the NHL.

Grzelcyk is one of those kids, who grew up in the Boston area, and after spending two years with the U.S. National Development Team, returned home to attend Boston University for four years.

In between then, Grzelcyk got to play out every Boston hockey kid’s dream, being selecting by the B’s, going in the third round of the 2012 NHL draft.

Despite being undersized (5'9", 174lbs), his puck movement skills made him an ideal prospect for the early rounds, and he started to prove that while at BU.

In four years, Grzelcyk registered 26 goals, along with 69 assists while serving as the team’s captain as a junior and senior. He also scored the overtime, game-winning goal during the 63rd annual Beanpot Tournament, earning MVP honors in the process.

He also served as an assistant captain for the U.S. team during the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championships.

After his senior year, Grzelcyk signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Bruins.

Turning pro, earning a role

Undersized at 5’9”, Grzelcyk was going to have a difficult time earning a spot in the NHL. While the faster game played these days that’s built upon speed, giving him more of a shot than years before... nothing was certain.

Luckily the Bruins have a player in Torey Krug, built in an almost identical mold, that he can learn from and show it is possible.

For his first full professional season, Grzelcyk played in 70 games at the AHL level, registering six goals and 26 assists (32 points) with the Providence Bruins. He squeezed in two games with Boston but didn’t register a point in either contest.

Due to an injury to McQuaid, Grzelcyk found a way to get into the lineup, and even with the acquisition of Nick Holden, has been able to stay in it.

Grzelcyk has played in 48 games this season, registering 14 points (3 G, 11 A), two of which came in the Bruins’ come-from-behind win over the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night.

He played 19:26 on the night, the fourth-highest total of the season, and the goal and assist gave him his third career multi-point game.

Grzelcyk has been your prototypical bottom-pairing defenseman, sitting at sixth in even strength time on ice per game, all the while playing sheltered minutes. Only Krug has a higher offensive zone start percentage than Grzelcyk.

He has put that extra time in the offensive zone to good use, as Grzelcyk ranks first among Bruins’ defensemen in several metrics, including puck possession (Corsi-For).

Along with puck possession, Grzelcyk also ranks first on the team’s blue line in goals-for percentage (GF%), limiting the oppositions scoring chances, as well as team shooting and save percentage.

Grzelcyk's metrics vs Bruins' blue line
Stat Rank
Corsi-For % (56.48%) 1st
Goals-For % (75%) 1st
Scoring-Chances Against per 60 (21.8) 1st
Team Shooting % (9.73%) 1st
Team Save % (95.26%) 1st
Takeaways per 60 (1.61) 1st

Starting in the offensive zone more, helps skew the shot and scoring chances numbers, but regardless, he has done a good job limiting the opposition when called upon to do so.

This is also reflected in Grzelcyk sporting the best takeaway-per 60 minutes metric on the team, all the while giving away the puck the fourth fewest on the team.

He has also pitched in offensively, currently ranking third on the team in goals and assists-per 60 minutes played.

Some players were just born to play for certain teams. For Grzelcyk, it goes beyond being born and raised in Boston, his father and brother actually work at the Bruins’ home rink, TD Garden.

There is still some room for improvement, as with any 22-year-old defenseman but Grzelcyk has emerged as a key piece to a surprisingly deep Bruins’ defensive group.

With teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Tampa Bay Lightning two of the favorites in the East, who both like to play a speed game and have deep rosters, having a defenseman on the third-pairing that can keep up with them is going to be important come playoff time.

What do you think about Grzelcyk’s game, despite only being a rookie? What kind of upside does he have going forward? Please comment below.