The Bruins were a quality team last year, as new coach Jim Montgomery has reminded us a few times.
But to keep pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference — especially with key drivers Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk out until the leaves have been raked and bagged — the Bruins will need significant contributions from young players.
This isn’t to say that Saturday’s preseason opener at Philadelphia (7 p.m., NESN, 98.5 The Sports Hub) is itself a make-or-break opportunity. Some of these players may not even be in the lineup. Montgomery hadn’t announced his lines as of press time Friday night.
But here’s five 25-and-under skaters who will likely be under Montgomery’s microscope during these next half-dozen preseason games, players who could make cases to suit up opening night:
Jack Studnicka, C/RW, age 23
The pressure on Studnicka, and fellow right-shot forward Oskar Steen, is real. But it could be freeing for both of them.
The second-round pick (53rd overall in 2017) is out of options, and would need to pass through waivers to be sent to Providence. He was demoted at least seven times last year, putting up three assists in 15 games, and was left off the postseason roster.
Studnicka, who signed a two-year, one-way contract (average annual value: $762,000) last July, will have to stick. Or start anew elsewhere.
“Maybe the fact that he’s showcasing himself for us, this team — because that’s where he wants to play — but he’s also showcasing himself around the league,” general manager Don Sweeney said of the forward, who posted a 10-25—35 line in 41 AHL games. “He wants to prove he’s an NHL player. Ultimately, he does have to relax and play to the level he’s capable of.
“For the most part, he’s a confident kid. But when you don’t have the production relative to a couple years, your confidence can take a hit. He’s gone through some ups and downs associated with that.
“My conversation with him and how he’s presented himself here, he looks ready to go and ready to take a spot. He’ll get a good opportunity.”
Fabian Lysell, RW, age 19
If Lysell starts lighting up the preseason, there will be calls for him to skate on a scoring line. Wait and see. The preseason is an uneven affair, and players with Lysell’s skating ability and scoring touch can leave fans salivating.
In Montgomery’s view, the 5-foot-10-inch, 176-pounder has shown an “attack mentality” this camp, while skating on a line with Pavel Zacha (LW) and Patrice Bergeron (C). A good start, but he’ll need to show he can win his share of puck battles. His two linemates, both accomplished three-zone players, will help guide him.
If Lysell or Studnicka are the goods, it could make a right wing like Craig Smith (expiring $3.1 million) expendable. That could give the Bruins a little extra change to throw at David Pastrnak.
John Beecher, C, age 21
Did you forget he was only 21? Last week, Beecher and Sweeney took the opportunity to mention the big (6-3, 215) pivot’s lack of pro experience (2-3—5 in seven AHL games last year). Everyone seems content to wait for the 30th overall pick (2020) to arrive, but the left-shooting Beecher could make Montgomery’s 23-man roster if he pushes.
Jakub Zboril, LD/RD, age 25
Zboril, who ended last season rehabbing an ACL he tore in December, can play the left or right side. That’ll help with McAvoy (right shot) and Grzelcyk (left) on the mend. The left-shooting 13th overall pick in the 2015 draft signed a two-year extension worth $1.1375 million per.
Oskar Steen, RW, age 22
Steen, making slightly more coin than Studnicka (two years, one-way, $800,000 per), has a different role. The fourth-liner is eager and can make plays, though his frame (a rock-solid 5-9) puts him at a disadvantage. If he passes through waivers, the Bruins would be delighted.
Matt Porter can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.