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Bruins' Schaller embraces all roles

The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

October 24. 2017 10:38PM
The Boston Bruins' Tim Schaller, of Merrimack, N.H., fights for the puck in front of the Ottawa net during the playoffs last season. (USA TODAY Sports)

BOSTON — On Saturday night, he was David Krejci.

At practice on Monday, he played the part of Patrice Bergeron.

One of these days, the Bruins hope to let him go back to being the Tim Schaller they know best, but Schaller himself has no problem if he’s asked to play different, higher profile roles.

“It’s a compliment, really, right?” said the 26-year-old forward, of Merrimack, N.H., whom the B’s have lately shifted from left wing because of a shortage of centers.

“The way I take is that I just need to keep playing the same way. ... It’s obviously working because (the Bruins) seem to like it.”

Schaller knows the B’s would like things much more if Krejci wasn’t fighting an upper body injury that kept him out of Saturday’s loss to the Sabres, and if Bergeron didn’t need to take maintenance days off from practice after recovering from a lower body injury that cost him the season’s first five games. (Center Ryan Spooner is also sidelined by a groin injury.) While the Bruins take pains not to use injuries as an excuse, there’s little doubt that a constantly changing lineup has contributed to an inconsistent start (3-3-1).

Coach Bruce Cassidy’s decision to use Schaller over other options when Krejci was a late scratch on Saturday, however, was evidence of a player having proved he can move up and around the depth chart:

In last Thursday’s 6-3 victory over the Canucks, Schaller was an energy line left wing who made a significant contribution by challenging defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a fight, after the latter boarded Schaller’s linemate, Frank Vatrano. By Saturday night, he was in Krejci’s usual spot, between rookie Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak, who scored his first of two goals in the first period, with Schaller drawing the primary assist.

“I don’t know if (Schaller) would be a swing guy every night, but the other night Krejci went out, we had to make a decision, and that’s what we went with,” Cassidy said. “He’s played center before, as a pro, in college (Providence College). He’s familiar with the position, so he’s going to get the opportunity.”

Schaller, after three frustrating seasons in the Sabres system (only 35 NHL appearances), was signed by the B’s as a free agent in the summer of 2016, and earned a role-playing job at an unfamiliar position — left wing. He scored seven goals and 14 points over 59 games, and added a goal in the Bruins’ six-game playoff series against the Senators. The B’s rewarded him with a second one-year contract, and he started this season in an energy role with center Riley Nash and Noel Acciari.

Between Bergeron’s lingering injury and Acciari’s almost immediate exit from the lineup with a fractured finger, Cassidy was forced to change on the fly. Spooner and Nash got cracks at replacing Bergeron; but when Krejci couldn’t go on Saturday, Schaller got the call. He stepped in between Brad Marchand and Anders Bjork on Monday, when Bergeron was given the day off from practice.

Schaller, an undrafted fifth-season pro, has been around long enough not to be intimidated when promoted into the top-six forwards.

“It’s more mental than anything,” said Schaller, who has two goals and an assist through seven games. “Physically, I know I can play with anybody here, so it’s more a mental thing of not trying to be something you’re not. I think I have enough experience now to be able to fit in wherever.”

Bruins/NHL Merrimack