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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
On Saturday night, Mark Divver of The Providence Journal was first to report that unrestricted free agent centerman Chris Wagner was headed to the Boston Bruins on a two-year, $2.5 million deal.
Wagner is a native of Walpole and will be living his childhood dream of playing for his hometown team the next two seasons.
The 27-year-old Xaverian graduate and product of the South Shore Kings amassed seven goals and nine assists with the Ducks and Islanders in 2017-2018. Like he did with his past clubs in New York and Anaheim, Wagner could serve as either a center or a wing for the Bruins. Last season, Wagner saw top-six minutes with Anaheim when normal top-six centermen Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler went down with injuries. Moral of the story? The Walpole native holds valuable versatility that Don Sweeney and the Bruins plan to put to use.
Outside of his positional versatility, Wagner’s best attribute is his physicality. After a year in which he threw his body around 253 times to finish third in the NHL in hits (79 games played), Wagner will supply balance to Boston’s core of speedy and skilled forwards (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk). After a five-game second-round series defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning this past spring that saw the Bruins get outplayed physically by a large margin, Boston will welcome a player with Wagner’s physical skill set with open arms.
Considering that the Bruins opted to let 2017-2018 fourth-line centerman Tim Schaller walk in free agency, Wagner’s role with the black and gold is likely going to be primarily based on either the third or fourth lines as a center. If the Walpole native is able to earn a spot on the third line, he’ll likely be playing between Ryan Donato and either Danton Heinen or David Backes. The fourth line is a bit more complicated and platoon-based, as players such as Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Anders Bjork, and Joakim Nordstrom are all in the mix. As a fourth liner, Wagner could see time as either a center or wing given that Acciari, Nordstrom and Forsbacka-Karlsson all have experience playing center. Nevertheless, no matter what line Chris Wagner finds himself on, he’ll surely play a significant role and should see a good amount of time on Boston’s penalty kill.
The best part about Wagner signing with the Bruins is that he is not the only local guy on the team. In many cases, being a local kid can bring about a lot of pressure to produce, so at least Wags will have Charlestown native, BU product and defenseman Matt Grzelcyk along with Scituate native and Harvard product Ryan Donato by his side these next two years.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0.