Five questions the Bruins want to answer in training camp
The Bruins won’t look drastically different than the team that limped away from the 2018 playoffs in a second-round defeat in Tampa. Management has faith that forward prospects will become legitimate NHLers, that depth on defense and in net will bolster the club, and that the franchise’s mainstays ward off old age for another year.
All this while the Lightning remain loaded, the team in Toronto added the summer’s biggest free agent to a young and talented bunch, and Florida is quietly building a contender.
The Bruins didn’t change much. Did they get better?
Before a lineup of mostly familiar faces can answer that question, coach Bruce Cassidy must solve a few lineup-related puzzles in training camp. Among them:
■ Who is the No. 2 right wing?
The first two lines have two pairs and two open spots. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand form the top combo. Jake DeBrusk has earned the right to ride with David Krejci on the No. 2 line. Cassidy can complete either duo with David Pastrnak, who has produced 69 goals and 150 points in the last two seasons. The other job will go to players not named Rick Nash (or Ilya Kovalchuk).
Which means one of the kids in question — Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen, or Anders Bjork — must prove worthy of high-test minutes. Next week in China, Cassidy will get a good look at Donato, who is on the roster with Krejci, Marchand, DeBrusk, and Pastrnak. Bjork and Heinen, both of whom had cracks at top-six duty last year, will have to wait until the group returns stateside.
■ Who centers the third line?
Open ice here after the offseason departure of breakout contributor Riley Nash (now with Columbus). It’s another job to be filled in-house. A faster, bolder Sean Kuraly, who last year centered a quality fourth line with Noel Acciari and Tim Schaller (Vancouver), could climb a rung. Increased ice time would inflate his 6-8--14 totals from last season. Getting anything close to Nash’s 15-26--41 line would be a coup for the Bruins.
Three first-year pivots — Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, and Jack Studnicka — will travel to China. This is not by accident. Of the three, Forsbacka Karlsson has the most experience (58 games in Providence last year, one in Boston the year before) and plays a responsible game with flashes of high-end skill. Frederic is a moose on skates. Studnicka has the best wheels and offensive upside, but needs to fill out.
■ What will the defense look like?
The sun is rising on Charlie McAvoy and setting on Zdeno Chara, but both are stars. Torey Krug is an elite power-play quarterback. The Bruins didn’t sign John Moore, a 27-year-old lefty with size (6 feet 2 inches, 210 pounds) and speed, to make him a healthy scratch.
Of the Bruins’ eight NHL-caliber defensemen, those four seem most likely to play. If all are healthy, Cassidy and defense-minded assistant Kevin Dean must determine who fits and who sits.
Brandon Carlo, like Krug returning from a broken ankle, was coming on before his March 31 injury. Matt Grzelcyk and Kevan Miller had little trouble against third- and fourth-line competition. Adam McQuaid’s ruggedness is a desirable quality.
Chara-McAvoy, Krug-Carlo, and Moore-Miller could be balanced pairs. Grzelcyk and McQuaid prefer not to be spares.
Two of those eight will not be happy on opening night.
■ Who is worthy of power-play time?
The top five was potent. Pastrnak’s one-timer from the circle, Bergeron in the bumper position, Marchand buzzing around: all dangerous options, set up by point men Krejci and Krug. In the regular season, the group finished fourth in PP scoring (23.64 percent).
The second unit loses Rick Nash, unsigned and uncertain about continuing his career. McAvoy will run the point. DeBrusk and Donato, who became a PP regular after arriving from Harvard late last season, are in line for jobs. Bjork and Heinen could be in the mix.
A lighter, healthier David Backes could be an improved net-front presence, tipping pucks and cleaning up rebounds.
■ Who are the penalty-killers?
The league’s third-best PK (83.67 percent) has work to do to maintain that standard. Riley Nash and Schaller (three shorthanded goals) were reliable replacements when Marchand and Bergeron finished their shifts. Kuraly, Acciari, and two free agent signees, Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom, will pick up the slack.
On the back end, Chara will remain a PK bedrock, possibly until the end of time. Carlo spent last year as his partner. Miller, McQuaid, and Moore are candidates for the second pair.
Expect a bit of tinkering in these five areas until Oct. 3 in Washington. That’s when the Bruins will begin to see just how well they have developed, or if outside help is needed.