Soon comes opportunity.
The Bruins’ exhibition slate, which begins Monday night in Newark, N.J., against the Devils, is a prime chance for a half-dozen or more hopefuls to secure the few open spots on the wings.
Or, reshape the lineup from the middle on out.
With the departures of third-liner Marcus Johansson (Buffalo) and fourth-liner Noel Acciari (Florida), the Bruins have at least two open wing spots in the bottom six. But coach Bruce Cassidy is open to the possibility of position changes, as newcomers make their cases.
Karson Kuhlman, who pushed David Backes out of the lineup in the Stanley Cup Final, opened camp as the No. 2 right wing, and has remained with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk through two days of on-ice work. Assuming he maintains his grip — not guaranteed in the course of a six-game preseason, but so far he looks the part — the Bruins’ top six could carry over from the end of last postseason: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak , followed by DeBrusk, Krejci, and Kuhlman.
The rest will be revealed in games, that being what the Bruins have in free agent signees Brett Ritchie, the big (6-4, 220) right winger from Dallas, and former Winnipeg/Toronto center Par Lindholm (6-0, 183), who plays left wing. Lindholm has started off centering a bottom trio of left wing Jakub Lauko and right wing Chris Wagner, while Ritchie has opened camp on the right side of third-line center Charlie Coyle, with Anders Bjork on the left.
“I actually like that line. They’ve been good,” Cassidy said Saturday of the latter three, praising Ritchie’s size and strength on the puck, and the mental improvements made by the speedy Bjork, who has had a run of shoulder injuries the last two years. “He seems to have better awareness with the puck,” Cassidy said, “how he can hold onto it, where to go, give and go, that kind of thing.”
He may be better served developing in Providence. Danton Heinen, who played nearly every possible wing spot last year, has a leg up on Bjork because of his experience (162 NHL games to 50) and versatility.
In his lineup machinations, the left-shot Heinen is a “moving part because he can be a moving part,” Cassidy said. “We want to see how it shakes out with Krejci and DeBrusk. We want to see how does Lindholm play, does that allow us to move [fourth-line center Sean] Kuraly to a wing, or Coyle? How does Ritchie fit in, how does [David] Backes? Where do all the pieces go? Danton will end up in there somewhere.”
Speedy rookie Zach Senyshyn, whom Cassidy said is “taking the puck to the net well,” veteran Paul Carey, and 35-year-old Backes are less secure. Backes, a healthy scratch the last two games of the Cup Final, carries a $6 million cap hit and would give the Bruins $1.075 million in cap relief if stashed in the AHL.
Grzelcyk eager to go on
He was a hometown kid who scored in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, wearing his favorite team’s jersey on the biggest stage in hockey, in a rink a mile away from his childhood home.
He barely celebrated. He didn’t smile.
Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk shrugged Saturday when recalling his tumbling wrister from inside the left circle, which eluded St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington and made it 4-1 with 2:10 left on that fateful night.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Grzelcyk said. “It’s your dream to play in that game. It’s the exact scenario you dream of.”
More than three months later, his friends and family still don’t talk about it.
“They don’t want to bring it up, the game, because they don’t know how I’m going to react to it,” he said. “I just try to be up-front. It’s in the past at this point. There’s a lot to look forward to. It’s still early in my career.”
Grzelcyk, who has been dealing with an undisclosed injury, hurt himself in the gym early this summer. He is being monitored, and is unlikely to play in the first exhibition game as the Bruins are certain to need his services come opening night, Oct. 3 in Dallas.
Like the rest of the returning Bruins, he’s eager to get there.
“First couple weeks I didn’t think about anything at all,” he reflected on the post-Final nadir. “Anytime it was on . . . it’s inevitable to see things on social media, but I scrolled right past it. I feel I’m at the point now where I can relive it a little bit, look at it. It’s always going to be a sore subject, no matter what, but there’s a lot to be proud of.
“I think now the focus is challenging ourselves, because I’m sure a lot of people have their doubts, thinking we’re going to burn out or not be ready for the season. I think that’s what motivates everyone, especially the older guys who have gone through this process before.”
Nordstrom joins group
Joakim Nordstrom, rehabbing from a foot injury, joined the main group for the first time. He wore a red no-contact jersey and did not participate in an extended session of battle drills. “Step one for me today, just being back with the group a little bit,” he said. “Hopefully I wake up tomorrow still feeling good.” . . . Trent Frederic (undisclosed lower-body injury) also practiced with the main group . . . Bergeron (groin) continues to skate with skills coach Kim Brandvold . . . Zdeno Chara (jaw, elbow) went through a full, hard practice . . . Unsigned restricted free agent defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo missed their third day of camp.
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports