Way-Too-Early Bruins Opening Night Lineup Projection Under Rumored Roster Rules

How does a Bjork-Bergeron-Studnicka first line sound?

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Here’s what we do know: The NHL and NHLPA have an agreed upon a deal for a 56-game 2021 season.

Here’s what we don’t know: A lot of things beyond that.

Reason being, nothing is official. Plenty is rumored and certainly can be trusted based on who the info is coming from, but until documents are signed and training camps commence, it’s tough to be certain about anything.

But what else is someone who writes a lot about hockey supposed to do when it’s Dec. 19th and there’s no hockey.

Well, write about hockey.

So, let’s take a crack at an opening night roster projection.

The latest report is that teams will carry a normal 23-man active roster, with all of them counting against the $81.5 million salary cap. Then, teams can have a four-to-six man taxi squad. A third goalie must be included in this group, which will be paid an AHL salary but will travel, practice and, when needed, play with the NHL team. They won’t however, count against the cap.

Two brief notes: We’re only including who’s on the actual roster for this exercise. No Zdeno Chara, no Mike Hoffman, etc.

Also, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are recovering from offseason procedures. Pastrnak isn’t supposed to be ready until February, while Marchand could be ready by mid-January. For the purpose of this exercise, we’re going to put both on IR since the season is scheduled to start Jan. 13.

Away we go.

FORWARDS
Anders Bjork–Patrice Bergeron–Jack Studnicka
Jake DeBrusk–David Krejci–Ondrej Kase
Nick Ritchie–Charlie Coyle–Craig Smith
Sean Kuraly–Trent Frederic–Chris Wagner

Scratched: Par Lindholm

Taxi squad: Greg McKegg, Karson Kuhlman

IR: Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak

Thoughts: The Bruins will have to get creative on the top line with the two usual wingers out. This could be a good spot to give some young forwards with upside the chance to play alongside maybe the best pivot they’ll ever play with.

There’s temptation to move Kase up, but the goal with everyone healthy is for Kase to be the guy that finally provides stability to Krejci’s right. It makes more sense to roll with that second line right from the beginning, especially if Studnicka and Bjork can hack it with Bergeron.

No real surprises on the third line, then we toyed with the idea of moving Kuraly to the left wing and giving Trent Frederic a chance to center the fourth line since he appears ready for a real shot in the NHL. A bottom six with Ritchie, Frederic and Wagner should provide plenty of sandpaper.

Lindholm did a nice job last season as the spare forward, and that’s a role that could be pushed from by McKegg. Basically, those two are interchangable.

We were torn between Kuhlman and Anton Blidh for the other forward taxi squad spot. But Kuhlman won the battle in July camp over Blidh, and Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy trusts Kuhlman on just about any line, something we can’t say for Blidh. That gives Kuhlman the edge.

And we’ll address here that we only put four guys on the taxi squad to start the season so that no one would have to get sent down to the minors when Pastrnak and Marchand are healthy.

DEFENSE
Matt Grzelcyk–Charlie McAvoy
Jeremy Lauzon–Brandon Carlo
John Moore–Kevan Miller

Scratched: Jakub Zboril, Connor Clifton

Taxi squad: Steven Kampfer

Thoughts: Grzelcyk and McAvoy are the most reliable blueliners on their respective side, so it seems like a forgone conclusion they end up together.

Then, it comes down to piecing together the bottom four. Putting Lauzon and Carlo together gives the Bruins a real shutdown pair, though with little offense. If Clifton cracks the lineup, it seems likely he’d end up with Lauzon.

But we have Miller, who insists he’s healthy, getting the spot on the third pairing right side. That feels like a little bit of a risk, so we’ll add the stability of Moore alongside him, even if Moore’s ceiling is lower than Zboril’s.

But don’t rule out Zboril giving Moore a real push for a spot in the lineup. Same goes for Clifton and Miller.

We have Kampfer on the taxi squad because he’ll be plenty fine just practicing with the Bruins and not playing in games in Providence. But if he opts out of this season (like he did the bubble), then the Bruins probably roll with a prospect like Urho Vaakanainen here. If they want Vaakanainen to play regularly in Providence, then maybe they don’t carry any defensemen on the taxi squad and just add another forward, like Blidh or Zach Senyshyn.

GOALIES
Tuukka Rask
Jaroslav Halak

Taxi squad: Dan Vladar

Thoughts: Raks and Halak aren’t surprises, but it does get challenging with the spare.

The obvious answer is Vladar. Jeremy Swayman is about to enter his first professional season, and Kyle Keyser had his first year marred by a concussion. Both need more time in the minors and aren’t nearly as NHL-ready as Vladar.

But then the question becomes: Is it better for Vladar to be in the minors where he can play more often instead of solely practicing with the NHL club but never getting into games? Possibly.

If you want to get wild, the Bruins did sign 23-year-old Callum Booth this offseason to a one-year deal. Maybe since his ceiling is capped below Vladar, Swayman and Keyser, the Bruins have him on the taxi squad for an absolutely nuclear situation.

The clear downside is Booth only has played 15 games in the AHL, while appearing in 60 in the ECHL. In other words, he’s not ready for the NHL, and it could be a mess if he got into a game. For that reason, we’ll say the Bruins go with the simple choice in Vladar.

Overall though, a lot remains up in the air, and things could change in the coming weeks.

But hey, it seems like we’ll be getting hockey soon. Good stuff.

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