While the Bruins may be still three weeks away from dropping the puck on their regular season opener in the far-off land of Prague, Czech Republic, Wednesday marks the beginning of the preseason schedule when the B’s head to Montreal to face the Canadiens.
If last week’s rookie games were any indication, New England is ready to get its hockey back. Over 25,000 fans attended those games just to have their hunger for puck satisfied.
After last season’s historic playoff collapse at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bruins set out this offseason to improve as an organization in hopes of avenging last year’s meltdown and erasing those memories.
They’ll get their first chance to do that Wednesday, and plenty of eyes will be on them. Here are the top 10 storylines to watch for as the Bruins kick off the preseason.
Big, Bad Brian?
One player to keep an eye this preseason will be Brian McGrattan. The forward comes in with a limited offensive skill set, but is willing to drop the gloves in the blink of an eye. McGrattan is in Boston for what basically amounts to a preseason tryout. He doesn’t offer much in way of offense (14 points and nearly 30 times as many penalty minutes in 182 career games), but his paycheck is signed for what he can do after the whistle.
He’s a notorious tough guy in the league, and if he’s going to make the team, it’s not going to be a first-line winger. Expect McGrattan to mix it up and expect him to do it early and often. If he wants to give Shawn Thornton a run for his money as this team’s enforcer, he’s going to have to do it by getting his hands dirty — literally.
Getting defensive — getting healthy
It will be interesting to see what kind of defense pairings Claude Julien will run out there, but one thing to really look for is the chemistry that may be built between Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. If the latter is healthy, he should go a long way in providing the Bruins stability on the blue line. The health of both will be something to watch, but if they are both back to 100 percent they will continue to make each other better.
Seidenberg was locked up this season with a contract, so both know there will be stability as long as each remains healthy. A full season of Seidenberg and Chara as the top pairing may have a trickle-down effect for the rest of the unit, so keep an eye on what the pairings will be after the two veterans.
The Young and the Ready
The preseason started early for Bruins prospects, and apparently, the region is excited about what the future holds. The B’s drew 25,000 fans over two nights for two rookie games against the Islanders, where Boston was able to showcase its exciting stable of young talent. Everyone knows about Tyler Seguin and what he may be able to bring the table, but it was Jordan Caron — Boston’s 2009 first-round pick — who stole the show.
It looked like Seguin may be the only prospect that would make the team out of camp, but Caron won’t make things easy for the coaching staff and front office when it comes time to make cuts. Throw in players like Joe Colborne, Jared Knight and Max Suave, and there’s plenty of good young talent to keep an eye this fall.
Change of Scenery
Seguin’s every move will be watched closely this preseason, but it’s safe to assume plenty of eyeballs will be focused on No. 18, Nathan Horton. We’ve heard all about Horton. He’s an offensive threat, a sniper who has “a helluva shot” according to Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. Though there have been questions about the type of player that Horton is between the ears, he’s said all of the right things this offseason and seems to be fitting in well with his new Bruin teammates.
He’s excited to be here, that’s for sure. Who wouldn’t be in his position? He went from a market in South Florida playing for a Panthers team that has an uninspired fan base to arriving in Boston where 14,000 people show up to watch rookies play. We’ll see what kind of motor he really has when he’s playing in front of a likely sold-out Garden crowd this Saturday night in the preseason home opener.
The 2009-10 season could not end any more disappointingly for the Bruins. They made NHL history and in the worst possible way imaginable. We’ve heard the rhetoric all offseason about how the players are determined, hungry and ready to put their historic playoff collapse behind them. Well, that starts in the preseason. The Bruins won’t be able to avenge anything in “meaningless” exhibition games, but they’ll be able to lay the groundwork for the upcoming season.
Expect them to come out looking to make the most out of this preseason. If you learn anything after dropping a three-game series lead, it’s that you shouldn’t take anything for granted. This B’s squad will likely have a hunger and passion all season and it should start in the preseason.
While there is a lot of excitement surrounding the arrivals of players like Nathan Horton and of course, Tyler Seguin, the return of a healthy Milan Lucic is maybe a bit overlooked. Lucic was plagued last year by injuries, and it really showed at times. He was not the same physical force that Bruins fans have come to know and embrace, and that probably took a toll on his all-around game as well. But if he’s fully healthy, he gives the Bruins another dimension as a power forward.
Not only that, those aforementioned offensive additions may make Lucic even better offensively. Either way, the Bruins need a healthy Lucic back. Assuming he is ready to go, he’ll surely be welcomed back as a player ready to take an even bigger role with this team.
The latter part of the preseason will be spent preparing for — and ultimately going to — Europe. The B’s open their regular-season schedule in Prague, but not before playing a game in Belfast and another game in Liberec, Czech Republic. And while the difficulties of such a trip have been documented before not only in regards to the NHL, but other sports in which teams have opened the year abroad, this trip could be a blessing in disguise for this Bruins team.
Maybe this trip will be a good type of change, breaking away from the monotony that is preseason. Mix in the opportunities for them to grow closer as a unit off the ice, and this European trip could be just what the doctor ordered.
Tuukka Rask took the starting goaltending job last year and ran with it. He posted a 22-12-5 record and even more impressively put up a 1.97 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. But there is always the risk of a sophomore slump.
Luckily for the Bruins, though, they have a pretty good contingency plan. If Tim Thomas can prove that he’s fully healthy — he’s sat out some during preseason while recovering from offseason hip injury — he’ll certainly be looked at as a contender for the No. 1 position. He did, after all, just win a Vezina Trophy two short years ago. No matter who’s in the crease for the Bruins, they’ll likely be confident.
The preseason will surely go a long way in determining who will be in there when the regular season starts.
Center of Attention
There’s still some suspense about whether or not Tyler Seguin, the wunderkind, will make the NHL roster. He will. He’s too good not to. But one thing that will likely shake out before the puck drops in Prague is Seguin’s position. He’s a natural center, but he’s open to the move to wing. Early indications are that he’s fitting in well on a line with veterans Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron.
That could be a perfect spot for him. Not only will it get him on ice with the big club, but playing with two established veterans like that — especially with someone who’s been around as long as Recchi — will only help speed up the evolution of the No. 2 overall pick. Of course, Seguin would only be moved to the wing if the Bruins had a full complement of centers. Which, of course, leads us to …
This storyline seems to get more bizarre and less certain seemingly every day. There are so many questions surrounding center Marc Savard that he could have probably warranted his own top 10 list. Will he be traded? How does he really feel about the trade rumors? Have the post-concussion effects subsided? Will he even play this year?
There are questions abound about Savard, but one thing remains true: The Bruins, who struggled last year offensively in his absence, are a better team with him.