It’s hard to believe the 2019-20 NHL campaign is upon us, but here we are, with the Boston Bruins set to kick off training camp Thursday morning in Brighton.
Every year, there are plenty of notable storylines to follow, and this fall is no different. In fact, some of said storylines are the same ones from previous years (*cough* second-line wing *cough*).
The first preseason game for the B’s will be Monday in New Jersey, and the regular season opener will be Oct. 3 in Dallas. So, as you can see, opening night will be here in the blink of an eye.
To get you ready for camp, let’s take a look at the biggest questions this September.
Just how healthy is everyone?
Here’s a running list of guys who have been said to be dealing with something: Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Matt Grzelcyk, John Moore and Kevan Miller. Moore definitely is out to start the season and Miller likely will be, as well. Chara isn’t certain he’ll be ready to go for opening night, while Bergeron and Grzelcyk are expected to be fine. Then you have the holdouts in Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.
The drawbacks of a lengthy postseason run seem to be popping up for the Bruins, and the way they manage how guys (particularly veterans) play during camp and early on in the regular season will be something to watch. Boston has decent depth, but if injuries really start to pile up, the B’s — like any other team — could find themselves in a tough spot.
When will the RFA situation be resolved?
McAvoy and Carlo remain unsigned (as you probably know by now), and either the Bruins are being really tight-lipped or not much progress has been made in those talks. Presumably, the big problem here is the Bruins have a little north of $8 million in cap space, which might make it tough to get both deals done. Teams are allowed to operate over the cap during training camp, but they have to get under by opening night. The Bruins probably won’t want to operate over the cap all that much, if at all, simply because there’s too much risk.
That said, when might a deal get done? It’s tough to tell. If I had to guess, though, I’d say it’s done before training camp concludes and there won’t be a William Nylander situation.
Also, getting cap relief by putting a player on long-term IR is a hoax, so can we please stop suggesting that? There’s no benefit, so putting either Moore or Miller on there won’t help anybody. Even if it did, it would just create a headache down the road.
Who will join David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on the second line?
Ah, the age-old question.
Here’s who skated with DeBrusk and Krejci on the second line at various points last season: Karson Kuhlman, Joakim Nordstrom, Danton Heinen, David Pastrnak, Peter Cehlarik, David Backes, Marcus Johansson and Ryan Donato. Still, Krejci managed to have one of his best years ever.
Due in part to their limited cap space, the Bruins were unable to get a second-line wing, and they even suffered the loss of Johansson. Because of that, there’s a real chance we could see a revolving door in that spot once again, which, if we’re being honest, is a great disservice to Krejci in particular.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy indicated Brett Ritchie, Kuhlman, Anders Bjork and Cehlarik will be among those who get a crack in that spot.
Ritchie, who the Bruins signed this offseason, had 16 goals a few years ago but hasn’t sniffed anything remotely close since. He should be a bottom-six forward, so putting him on the second line could be a gamble.
Kuhlman thrived at times on the second line, even playing there in the final two Stanley Cup Final games, because he hunts pucks so well and has a nice shot when he uses it. If no one else stands out, he very well could end up winning the job.
The story with Bjork and Cehlarik is similar: They’ve looked good during some stretches, but there are lengthy runs where they are invisible. Bjork’s health problems haven’t helped, but he’s shown enough pop at the NHL level to prove he might be able to thrive in that role if he becomes more consistent. Ceharlik looked great right after getting called up last season, but he flamed out fairly quickly and ended up falling out of favor.
Overall, the position very much is up for grabs.
Which (if any) prospects will make a jump this season?
Here are a few names that come to mind: Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen and Oskar Steen.
With Studnicka, the pathway to the NHL is a bit tough. The organization has made clear they want to keep him as a center, but Bergeron, Krejci, Charlie Coyle and Sean Kuraly might make it challenging for him to get a shot. He has tremendous scoring ability and one day could be a top-six center. If he really shows out in camp, one can’t help but wonder whether he’ll win the third-line center job with Coyle going to the second-line wing.
As for Vaakanainen, it seems like we might see a lot of him this season. He one day could be Chara’s replacement, but a concussion last season in his second NHL game shortened his stint in the top flight. He could get a much longer look in the upcoming season, especially with the potentially thin depth along the blue line due to injuries.
Steen is a relative unknown in North America, but he was a stud in development camp and plays with a ton of energy. On occasion, those relative unknowns will put up a big performance in training camp and end up winning a roster spot. It’s by no means a guarantee Steen will do that this September, but remember his name because we might be seeing him soon.