We are mere days away from the start of Boston Bruins training camp, and the B’s will just barely have 10 days to get ready for game action.
In that stretch, a number of questions will have to be answered, so let’s just dive right into the storylines we’ll be watching this January ahead of the B’s opener on the 14th of the month.
After all, we’re short on time.
Who will make up the first line?
Before you roast us for not saying Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron, remember the two wingers are recovering from offseason surgery.
Pastrnak likely won’t be ready until at least February, while Marchand’s initial timetable put him at a return in mid-January (though Cam neely said the winger has skated a few times, which always is a promising sign). That means the Bruins could be without both to begin the campaign.
We think the solution here is to leave the middle six largely untouched, and give some youngsters an opportunity. Put Anders Bjork on the left and Jack Studnicka on the right. They’ll never play with a better center, plus each has the playmaking ability to potentially keep the top unit’s metaphorical head above water.
Which NHL-ready prospects will make the jump?
We mentioned Studnicka above, but he’s not alone.
There’s a job up for grabs, in theory, on the fourth line following the departure of Joakim Nordstrom. Could this be the year Trent Frederic finally becomes an NHL mainstay? Possibly.
This also is a big year for Jakub Zboril, who was re-signed as an RFA this offseason. He never became a staple on the NHL blueline, but he was regarded by Providence head coach Jay Leach as one of the AHL Bruins’ best defensemen at the time the season paused back in March. Depending on how the Zdeno Chara situation shakes out, this could be a big year for Zboril.
How will last season’s trade deadline acquisitions fit in?
Things never quite worked with Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie in their first twirl with the Bruins, but increased opportunity should help change that.
Snakebitten as he might’ve been from a goal-scoring standpoint, Kase showed promise in the bubble. Since landing in Boston he’s been pinpointed as the solution on David Krejci’s right, and if he finds his scoring touch it could be a big plus.
Ritchie is a bit more interesting of a case. He basically was used for his snarl, but he’s historically been good for putting up north of 20 points a season. Is he best suited on the fourth line, or should he get a shot with Charlie Coyle again on the third? He ended last season as an occasional healthy scratch in the bubble, so any contributions at this point would be a plus.
Who is going to land on what defensive pairing?
Again, a lot of this is predicated on what happens with Chara.
Nevertheless, Torey Krug is gone, so the Bruins have at least one gap to fill. Does John Moore, in Year 3 of a five-year pact, snag a role as a bottom-four defenseman, or do Zboril and/or Jeremy Lauzon force him out?
There’s also a brewing logjam on the right side, seeing as Kevan Miller is expected to be fully healthy in time for this season, meaning Connor Clifton is going to have some added competition for one of the final spots. You can throw Steven Kampfer into the mix if you want to, as well.
Lauzon can play comfortably on the right side, and Zboril did a bit too in the minors. If need be, the left-shot Moore can play on his off side, as well. That means there could be as many as five NHL-level guys duking it out for two spots.
Not a bad problem to have.
What will the third goalie situation look like?
There’s a bigger conversation to be had here, but here’s the SparkNotes version. Teams have to carry at least three goalies this season at all times, two on the active roster and one on the taxi squad.
Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak obviously will be the active ones, but who gets the spare role? Kyle Keyser had his first pro season marred by a concussion, and Jeremy Swayman is about to enter his professional campaign. Both seem like longshots. Dan Vladar appears to be the likely third guy, but would he benefit from playing more in the AHL instead of just traveling and practicing with Boston but never getting into games?
The Bruins did sign Callum Booth this offseason, but he’s barely even played in the AHL, never mind the NHL. The Bruins have less developmental stake in him, so maybe they bring him in just for a hopefully unlikely break glass situation. There’s also the possibility they sign a veteran free agent netminder — after all, taxi squad guys don’t count against the salary cap.