Five forwards Bruins should pursue as rumors swirl

Bruins trade targets: Five forwards Boston should pursue ahead of deadline originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins are on pace to set the NHL record for most points and most wins by a single team in regular season history.

This team has all the makings of a special group, so even though there are no glaring weaknesses for general manager Don Sweeney to address before the March 3 trade deadline, standing pat would be foolish.

Sweeney has acquired several forwards in-season since taking over as GM in the summer of 2015.

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He acquired Taylor Hall from the Buffalo Sabers before the 2021 trade deadline. He traded for Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase in 2020. The additions of Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson in 2019 helped Boston reach the Stanley Cup Final that year. Sweeney made a huge swing for Rick Nash in 2018. Lee Stempniak was brought in before the 2016 trade deadline.

The Bruins rank No. 1 in goals scored with 179 (tied with the Sabres). They are No. 2 in 5-on-5 goals scored with 114. However, you can’t have enough scoring depth entering the playoffs. Injuries will eventually become a factor and players will go through slumps. Scoring depth was a fatal weakness in some recent playoff runs for the Bruins, and they cannot afford for that to be the case again.

Here are five forwards the Bruins should consider pursuing before the trade deadline (all salary information via CapFriendly).

Bo Horvat, Canucks

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Age: 27

Position: C

Contract: $5.5 million cap hit, UFA in 2023

We had to start with Horvat.

He would be a tremendous fit in Boston for a few reasons. For starters, he can play on the wing, which is important right now because Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Charlie Coyle are firmly entrenched as the top three centers. Bergeron and Krejci won’t play forever, though, and the Bruins don’t have a young center to star in a top-six role when that time comes. Center is one position the B’s have failed to draft and develop in for many years. Horvat is 27 years old and could lead the next generation of Bruins stars with David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy.

Horvat is enjoying the best season of his career offensively with 49 points (30 goals, 19 assists) in 47 games. He’s one goal shy of his career 31 set last season. He’s a good defensive player with a strong two-way skill set and wins an impressive 56.1 percent of his faceoffs.

Despite the good fit, actually acquiring Horvat would likely be a challenge for the Bruins. For starters, they don’t have a ton of salary cap space. Horvat has a $5.5 million cap hit, and even if the Canucks retain salary, signing him long term would still be a tough task. And there’s little reason to acquire Horvat if the deal isn’t followed with an extension soon after. Giving up prime assets for a rental is not what Boston should be doing.

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Could the Bruins realistically re-sign Horvat?

Well, they are projected to have around $23 million in salary coming off the books this summer. A total of 11 players on the current roster are eligible for free agency in the offseason. That includes Pastrnak, who could take up around half of the team’s projected cap space with a new extension (assuming he re-signs in Boston). The Bruins would likely have to move out some salary — Mike Reilly perhaps? — to make extending Horvat a real possibility. Jeremy Swayman and Trent Frederic are restricted free agents due for nice raises this summer.

What would the B’s need to give up for Horvat? It’s difficult to imagine a deal happening without right wing Fabian Lysell or defenseman Mason Lohrei being involved. They are easily Boston’s top two prospects. After that, the talent level drops off quite a bit. In fact, The Athletic’s new prospect pool rankings had the Bruins 30th out of 32 teams. The B’s are also without their 2023 and 2024 second-round picks. Would a package of Lysell, a 2023 first-rounder, an NHLer (Frederic maybe?) and another draft pick or prospect get it done? Other contenders have better assets to offer the Canucks.

As fun as it would be to see Horvat chase a Stanley Cup in Boston, this scenario seems pretty unlikely.

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Age: 30

Position: C, RW

Contract: $900,000 cap hit, UFA in 2023

Any team looking for size and versatility in their bottom six should have a look at Bjugstad. At 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, Bjugstad is a big, strong, two-way forward who can play center or right wing. He’s also having one of his best offensive seasons in recent memory. Bjugstad has tallied 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in 47 games. He posted just 30 points in the last two seasons combined. If Tomas Nosek continues to be bothered by injury, Bjugstad could get reps in the fourth-line center role and kill penalties.

Bjugstad wouldn’t come in and play a huge role for the Bruins, but he would provide solid depth, size, and penalty killing.

Ivan Barbashev, Blues

Age: 27

Position: C, LW, RW

Contract: $2.25 million cap hit, UFA in 2023

One common theme among the players on this list is versatility, and that certainly applies to Barbashev. He can play center or both wing spots. Barbashev plays a power forward-style of hockey, which B’s fans love. He’s not afraid to mix it up and won’t shy away from the front of the net or puck battles in the corners.

Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery also should know Barbashev’s game pretty well. Montgomery was an assistant on the Blues coaching staff each of the last two seasons, including the 2021-22 campaign when Barbashev tallied a career-high 60 points (26 goals, 34 assists) in 81 games. Therefore, Montgomery likely would know how to best use the veteran forward and unlock his true potential in Boston. Barbashev has not been as productive offensively this season with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 47 games.

He also could be a left-handed center, which the Bruins need. Boston’s top three centers — Bergeron, Krejci and Coyle — are all right-handed.

It should also be noted that Barbashev has 50 games of postseason experience and was part of the Blues team that beat the Bruins in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Gustav Nyquist, Blue Jackets

Age: 33

Position: LW, RW

Contract: $5.5 million cap hit, UFA in 2023

Nyquist is likely to hit the 40-point mark for the ninth consecutive season. He doesn’t put up gaudy numbers but he’s a consistent producer of offense, and that’s important for a team like the Bruins that expects to go on a deep playoff run. Nyquist also has 65 games of playoff experience, and he was a key bottom-six contributor to the San Jose Sharks’ run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final with 11 points in 21 games. Could he play a similar role for Boston in 2023? In addition to his consistent scoring, Nyquist is also capable of playing both left and right wing, as well as on the power play. Right wing is a position the Bruins need to bolster before the trade deadline. Craig Smith has been a massive disappointment this season. Nyquist could play right wing.

A versatile, veteran forward like Nyquist would be a nice addition for the B’s.

Age: 28

Position: LW, C

Contract: $3 million cap hit, UFA in 2023

Bruins fans will likely remember Domi quite well. He scored two goals and picked up an assist in the Hurricanes’ 3-2 win over the B’s in Game 7 of their first-round series last season.

Domi is having a tremendous year with the Blackhawks, tallying 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) in 45 games. He posted 49 points in 72 games last season.

Domi would provide the Bruins with valuable scoring depth, another power play option (seven goals and seven assists this season), versatility with his ability to play left wing and center, and also some grit. He’s a scrappy player who gets under opponents’ skin.

The Blackhawks are in full rebuild mode and could be one of the busiest teams at the trade deadline. Blackhawks legends Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are understandably getting most of the attention among Chicago’s notable trade targets, but don’t look past Domi. He’s the kind of middle-six forward who would fit nicely on a contender like the Bruins.

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