By Patrick Donnelly
Ask not what the Bruins can do for you. Ask what you can do for the Bruins… Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and the Bruins agreed to a three-year entry-level contract on Sunday afternoon after a huge win against the Chicago Blackhawks. JFK is expected to report to Boston during the week where he will practice prior to Tuesday’s game against Tampa Bay and will be available to make his debut that night, Thursday night against Ottawa, Saturday afternoon against Washington, or maybe even the playoffs. Personally, I cannot wait to see the novel of a last name that is Forsbacka-Karlsson stitched onto a Bruins jersey. Remember how Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s jersey looked when he was with the Red Sox? Yeah, get ready for a new and improved version of that. Great names are just made for Boston.
Initial reports pointed towards JFK leaving BU and turning pro no matter what, but last week’s reports indicated the 6’1” 192 lb righty would return to Comm Ave for his junior season. After meeting with the savvy Swede during the day on Friday, Don Sweeney has convinced Forsbacka-Karlsson to forgo the rest of his college career at BU after two impressive seasons under head coach Dave Quinn.
The Bruins’ second round pick (45th overall) of the 2015 draft, JFK was exceptional in his time at BU, serving as an alternate captain this past season and totaling 63 points (24 goals and 39 assists) in 78 games on Comm Ave. Drawing comparisons to Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews, JFK is extremely reliable in his own zone, an incredibly smart player, a gifted playmaker, a slick skater, and can can put the puck in the net. The newcomer played top power play and penalty kill minutes, blocked the second most shots on the team (35), and was one of the best in the faceoff circle. The signing means that the former BU Terrier will burn the first year of the ELC as it begins in the current 2016-17 season.
It remains to be seen where and when JFK will slot into the lineup, but it is likely a high possibility he makes his NHL debut sometime in these final three games of the regular season or the playoffs. Why? Because you don’t just burn a year of a contract just to not play the kid. The 20 year-old could slide into a bottom-six role either challenging Ryan Spooner at his natural center position or on the wing. If JFK slots in at center, Spooner or Riley Nash would be pushed to the wing while a bottom-six winger (probably not named Dominic Moore, Noel Acciari or Drew Stafford, so I’m looking at you Matt Beleskey/Jimmy Hayes) would become a consistent scratch from the lineup. I will be so bold as to predict a third line combination of Spooner-JFK-Stafford with the fourth line trio of Moore-Nash-Acciari staying the same.
Given Bruce Cassidy’s nature to keep certain pairs together (i.e. David Krejci and David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano), I wouldn’t doubt the possibility of inserting JFK either on the wing alongside the two Davids, the wing next to Spooner and Stafford (while Vatrano is still hurt), or even on the right of Bergeron and Marchand. That last combination is a bit of stretch, but with JFK’s creativity with the puck and solid two-way abilities, he could prove a more than viable option at wing in the short term future. As far as this goes, it may be best to put JFK on the fourth line to give him the easiest transition to wing as he has only played center during his career.
Some may be wondering as to why JFK is with the big club instead of Charlie McAvoy, who has two assists through his first two AHL games. The simplest reason is probably the fact that the Bruins have had next to no production whatsoever from the bottom-six forwards this season, Frank Vatrano is currently on the shelf due to injury, and the defense, which has played fairly well in front during this winning streak, has a clean bill of health. Also, as a forward, the Stockholm native won’t face nearly as big of a learning curve at the NHL level that McAvoy would as a defenseman even if JFK were to have the defensive responsibilities of a center. Since McAvoy has impressed in his first few games with Providence, he may see an ELC and a call to Boston headed his way soon enough as Sweeney was in the building on Sunday to evaluate his coveted prospect. Cassidy could play it safe and not try JFK in the lineup until the Bruins clinch a playoff spot or begin the postseason as the Bruins are still jockeying for a spot; however, Forsbacka-Karlsson may be just what the Bruins need to push them over the brink and into the playoffs.
The Bruins, riding a five-game win streak, currently sit at second in the Atlantic with 92 points and will close the season with a three game homestand starting with the Lightning, followed by the Senators, then the Capitals. Tuesday’s game against the Lightning will be absolutely huge as a win could all but bury Tampa Bay in the playoff race and potentially secure a playoff spot for the B’s. If the playoffs were to start right now, the Bruins would host Toronto in the first round. A win in regulation against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night will clinch a playoff spot for Boston. Yes, playoff hockey looks to be coming back to Causeway Street. Let’s not celebrate too quickly; there are still three games to be played to close the season.