BRIGHTON, Mass – It has been well-documented that the Bruins are scouring the league for potential left-shot defensemen that could be paired with Charlie McAvoy in a top-4 role this upcoming season in Boston. The free agent supply was scooped up quickly on July 1 before the Black and Gold could close a deal on any of them, and B’s general manager Don Sweeney hasn’t been able to piece together the right trade for a D-man to this point either.
There are internal options within the Bruins organization as well, and one of those potential defenseman candidates is 20-year-old former first round pick Jakub Zboril. The Czech-born defenseman is entering his first full season of pro hockey and wrapping up what he expects will be his final development camp with the Black and Gold this week. Zboril said he was ready for whatever fate is waiting for him at training camp this fall, but he watched with great interest as fellow young B’s D-men Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy both made an impact last season.
Zboril would like to be that guy this season in Boston as more of the B’s youth movement is taking hold with each and every season.
“I’m looking forward to it so much. I’m just going to keep working so hard and I’m going to try to make it. If I go to Providence then I’m going to keep on working hard until the one day that I get that chance to play in that league,” said Zboril. “When I saw Brandon [Carlo] got a chance to play a full season and didn’t even get sent to Providence, I was looking at it like ‘maybe I’ll get that chance too.’ It’s hard work, but maybe if I work hard enough it will pay off.”
The outlook wasn’t quite so rosy for the B’s prospect a year ago as he was coming off a down season in the QMJHL, and some were even throwing around the “bust” word despite Zboril’s youth and clear upside in his game. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder showed something, however, when he bounced back with a strong junior season for the Saint John Sea Dogs while finishing with nine goals and 41 points in 50 games, and then helped lead his club to the Memorial Cup Finals with three goals and seven points in 16 games during the playoffs.
His strong play during both the regular season and playoffs was something the Bruins organization took note of and clearly hope leads to an upward track as he begins his pro career this year. He’s come a long way from a younger player that didn’t always bring the necessary intensity level to past development camps, and needed to show a little more of the pro approach to his craft.
“He’s come in leaps and bounds [in his development], and I think it’s comfort level for him. I think he’s a cautious kid and the maturation process he’s gone through from rookie camp to the end of the year has been fantastic. You can see it in the way he integrates himself into the group here, and the way that he’s become a leader,” said Bruins Player Development Coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner. “I think it comes with getting more comfortable with the language and the culture, and maybe getting to know people a little more before he starts to open up.
“I think you want these guys to go through that process of playing their college hockey or junior hockey, getting some time in Providence learning our system on how to be a Bruin and then getting here as quickly as possible when he’s ready. I think he’s got a lot of natural talent, he plays hard and competes and he’s got a lot of those natural skills.”
As for Zboril himself, he knew there were some questions about his work ethic and commitment level after he showed up in less-than-optimal shape for his very first development camp two years ago. That’s a perception he’s been motivated to change in the last couple of seasons since getting drafted by the Bruins, and it’s something he’s addressed in the best way possible, with his actions rather than his words.
“I am one of the older guys, so I kind of had to change my attitude a little bit to be a good example for the younger guys,” said Zboril. “I try to help them out and show them the way a little bit. When I came here the first time [to development camp] I didn’t know what to expect, and I just thought it was going to be fun. I’m kind of a free-spirited guy and doing jokes and things like that.
“But I’ve tried to let it go and be more serious about it. [This past season] was a much better year for me and I thought I did a good job of adjusting back to the junior level. I think my compete level got really high over the last season. I just want to show that I’ve really matured as a player, and as a guy off the ice as well.”
The proof is in the progress he’s made over the last couple of seasons, and the leadership role he’s taking hold of with the younger prospects at development. The question now is whether Zboril’s package of skating, passing, solid physicality and good offensive instincts can develop quickly enough for him to pop at a time when Boston needs a left-shot defenseman to step up.
The easy answer to this question is a negative one given that Zboril is a work-in-progress and still has some things to prove both mentally and physically before he’s truly in the top-4 circle of trust at the NHL level. It’s nearly impossible to imagine a 20-year-old like Zboril paired with a 20-year-old like McAvoy for anything approaching regular usage at the NHL level, and instead a couple of other options – Kevan Miller swinging from the right side to the left side, or Torey Krug continuing to play up in a top-4 role – would be safer and more prudent for the Bruins.
But the bottom line is this: Zboril could end up being the most talented option the Bruins have in their search a left-shot D-man, and it may just be a matter of time before he fills that void on a much more permanent basis than any of the other stopgap solutions for the B’s.