As they wind down training camp, the 2021-22 Bruins offer little in the way of lineup intrigue.
With two preseason games left before the Oct. 16 puck drop against Dallas, it’s fair to say no prospects have made enough of a charge to steal the jobs of the veteran players general manager Don Sweeney brought in last summer. No one is pushing Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, Derek Forbort, Tomas Nosek, or Linus Ullmark off the roster. That’s not a surprise, either. It would have been a heavy lift for any prospect to crack this team.
It looks like a B-plus roster: not quite a juggernaut, but strong everywhere, with capable players at every spot, a high-end power-play unit, depth on defense, and netminding that’s plenty good enough.
Stanley Cup favorites? No, but these Bruins should be solidly in the playoff mix, battling with Tampa Bay, Florida, and Toronto for top-four position in the Atlantic Division.
The projected opening night lineup:
▪ Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak.
No worries here. All three have looked more than ready in their limited preseason showings. On Saturday, Marchand was merciless in attacking the Rangers’ JV defenders. It’ll be great theater if Marchand, Bergeron, and Team Canada draw Pastrnak, old pal David Krejci, and the Czechs in an important game in Beijing.
▪ Taylor Hall, Charlie Coyle, and Craig Smith.
This is assuming Coyle, who has yet to play in the preseason after knee surgery, progresses as planned before the opener. If not, Jack Studnicka will remain the No. 2 center. If not, he may begin the year in Providence. Though the Bruins want to keep Studnicka in the middle, he could be first up if a top-nine right wing is injured.
Second-line production is a concern, given how valuable Krejci was to the team. Krejci is lighting it up overseas (7-5—12 in eight Czech league games). Ideally, the Bruins would be wishing him well come the spring, and not pining for a return.
▪ Jake DeBrusk, Erik Haula, and Nick Foligno.
Hard not to like what this trio has shown so far in camp. DeBrusk looks refreshed, Haula is effective in all three zones, and Foligno — on track to play his 1,000th career game in late January — is moving around well and making smart plays. If DeBrusk keeps charging, a 20-goal season is possible even in a third-line role.
Wondering: In two years, when Smith and Foligno’s contracts expire, will Fabian Lysell be waiting?
▪ Trent Frederic, Tomas Nosek, and Curtis Lazar.
Frederic has been lacking this preseason, but the bet here is he gets the message over the next couple weeks and earns coach Bruce Cassidy’s confidence for opening night. If not, Chris Wagner would be raring to go, Nosek would shift to the left side, and Lazar would slide to the middle. No team runs with the same lineup for 82 games. Depth forwards likely to see time this season include Karson Kuhlman, Jakub Lauko, Oskar Steen, Anton Blidh, Cam Hughes, and Jesper Froden.
▪ Derek Forbort and Charlie McAvoy.
Cassidy has flexibility in his pairs. He will help Forbort get comfortable in his new digs by slotting him with one of the best all-around blue liners in the league. They will be deployed against heavier lines, and when a shutdown duo is needed. When the Bruins need offense, McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk roll over the boards. McAvoy should do well as the point man for the No. 1 power-play unit, especially if he finds ways to make opponents respect his shot.
▪ Mike Reilly and Brandon Carlo.
Heady puck-mover with a long, strong defender is a preferable combo for most situations. Carlo pairs with Forbort as the Bruins top penalty-kill duo, which could trim a few minutes off McAvoy’s workload. It’s easy to forecast a strong season from Carlo, who has job security (six-year, $24.6 million contract extension) and is rotating as an alternate captain. Reilly, who re-signed for three years at $3 million per, looks like solid value.
▪ Matt Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton.
Grzelcyk is the offensive driver of this pair, but when he’s with McAvoy and Forbort plays on the third pair, Clifton can be the pace-pusher. John Moore and Jakub Zboril are training as right-side defenders to increase Cassidy’s roster flexibility. The best options in Providence — Urho Vaakanainen, Jack Ahcan, Brady Lyle — are not yet pushing for regular varsity work.
▪ Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark.
After an impressive preseason, Swayman looks like he’ll get the opening-night nod, and play himself into a slight majority of the starts. Ullmark may need a few months to find his game in a new system. If Swayman picks up where he left off, this town will continue to be spoiled by good goaltending.