The Boston Bruins are set to begin training camp, well part of it, as the squad that will go to China will report to Brighton on Tuesday, with everyone else starting Thursday.
Coming off a largely successful 2017-18 campaign that had a disappointing end, the Bruins no longer are a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference, but instead are a team to beat. Like any other club, they have plenty of roster battles brewing and open spots for the taking, plus a fair share of question marks.
Here are the six biggest storylines entering training camp.
Which two defensemen will be the odd men out?
The Bruins are in the enviable position of having a logjam at the blue line. They’ll enter camp with eight defensemen more than capable of playing important roles.
Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, John Moore and Matt Grzelcyk all occupy the left side. Grzelcyk for now looks like he’d be the one on the outside looking in, as he has the least amount of NHL service time and doesn’t necessarily provide anything the three others don’t offer in some form or fashion. With that in mind, having Grzelcyk accessible for inevitable injuries is a nice luxury, but that doesn’t mean he won’t make a push in camp. The Bruins clearly like him, as evidenced by the decision to re-sign him this summer, and he hopes he’ll leave head coach Bruce Cassidy with some difficult decisions.
On the right, the Bruins have Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid. Miller and McQuaid have similar skill sets, but Carlo took a step back last season before getting injured. How Carlo bounces back from an ankle injury and improves in his third season remains to be seen, but he has higher upside than veterans like Miller and McQuaid.
Who centers the third line?
Riley Nash had a career year in 2017-18, and the Columbus Blue Jackets rewarded him with a nice contract because of it. That means Nash’s spot centering the third line for the Bruins will be up for grabs.
Boston didn’t go outside the organization for a player that would be a shoo-in for that spot, meaning they like the internal options. Sean Kuraly did a fine job as the fourth-line pivot last season and could slide up, but Ryan Donato, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Jack Studnicka are among the many options, as is Joakim Nordstrom, who was signed as a free agent this offseason.
Will hockey’s best line get broken up?
There’s been talk of David Pastrnak getting moved to the second line so that he can play alongside David Krejci. It would be tough to break up the Pastrnak-Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand combo that shredded opposing teams last season, but there still are benefits to making the move.
Pastrnak will be just fine playing beside Krejci, with whom he has tremendous chemistry, while Bergeron and Marchand can make just about anyone look good playing on a line with them. Could Anders Bjork or Jake DeBrusk find their way to the top line, or will Cassidy avoid breaking up a good thing? There’s really no wrong decision.
Which youngster will step up?
Last year, the Bruins relied heavily on rookies with great regular-season success. Cassidy already indicated he won’t need to lean on the young guns quite so much this time around, but with some vacancies up front, someone could turn heads in training camp and crack the opening night lineup. Studnicka, Trent Frederic and Zach Senyshyn all are names that come to mind.
Will Jaroslav Halak push Tuukka Rask?
The Bruins benefitted heavily from having Anton Khudobin around last season, but he’s with the Dallas Stars now, meaning Jaroslav Halak will be Tuukka Rask’s backup.
Khudobin earned routine starting time last November with Rask struggling, and Rask responded by playing some of the best hockey of his career for week-long stretches. That trend possibly could continue with Halak in Boston, as he’s spent plenty of time in his career as a starter. Rask already said he is embracing the internal competition between him and Halak, and that only means good things for the Bruins.
Will Ryan Donato become a permanent fixture in NHL lineup?
Donato is one of the Bruins’ most exciting prospects. He’s a prolific goal scorer and great on the puck, plus he showed some tremendous skill with the big club during the end of the regular season. But maybe the Bruins would like to see him get a little more seasoning in Providence before relying on him as a full-time NHL player.
The Harvard product has plenty of the necessary attributes to be an NHL mainstay, but whether that becomes his reality this season remains to be seen.
Thumbnail photo via Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports Images