Bruins Training Camp Observations: Takeaways, Thoughts After First Week

Plenty to chew on from the first few days of camp

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A few takeaways this Saturday morning as the Boston Bruins get a day off following the first week of training camp.

— Barring a bad few days leading up to Thursday’s opener, it seems five of six roles on defense are set.

Obviously, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are the top two right side guys, and it sure sounds like Kevan Miller is the frontrunner for the spot on the third pairing right side. Matt Grzelcyk looks locked in as Carlo’s partner, with Jeremy Lauzon next to McAvoy.

That pretty much leaves Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen and John Moore as the options with Miller. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has had good things to say about all three in camp thus far.

Moore is the more reliable of the three, but his ceiling is lower than the two prospects. It feels like Zboril is more NHL-ready than Vaakanainen, plus he requires waivers to get sent down.

The reality is that the combinations are going to change periodically. But if the Bruins really are insistent on a youth movement, Zboril should get that final spot Thursday in New Jersey.

— At first, the decision to put Nick Ritchie on the third line and Anders Bjork on the fourth was a tad perplexing. But upon more thought, it makes sense.

Ritchie is more of your prototypical “fourth line player” than Bjork. However, that fourth line vacancy was left by Joakim Nordstrom, a swift skater that could kill penalties. Bjork fits that mold better than Ritchie, plus Bjork, in theory, should offer more on offense than Nordstrom did. Over the last year-plus, Bjork really improved on the defensive end. He should be fine with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner.

As for Ritchie, consider this: His linemates are Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith. When Coyle has the puck, it’s near impossible to get it off his stick. Smith absolutely loves to shoot. If the objective with the other winger spot is to find someone to get to the net and wreak havoc because pucks will be flying in nonstop, Ritchie is a better choice than Bjork.

By all accounts, that third line combination has looked good so far, so the Bruins should see what they have.

— Not totally surprising, but it looks like Jack Studnicka has nailed down David Pastrnak’s spot on the first line while the star winger recovers from offseason hip surgery.

Though he didn’t have much to show for it on the stat sheet, Studnicka was good in the bubble, and he’s a player than can be used in all situations (he had a whopping seven shorthanded goals in Providence last season). Putting him in a position to thrive on the first line seems like the best course for team and player.

— Cassidy didn’t rule out the possibility of Connor Clifton playing on his off side in the event he’s outplayed by Miller but outplaying some of those other bottom-pairing candidates. That seems like a worst-case scenario-type thing, but Clifton probably will see plenty of action this season.

Miller hasn’t played in a game since April 2019. It wouldn’t be wise to bank on him playing all 56 games this season given what his body has been through. That will give Clifton plenty of chances to play and win the spot back.

— Trent Frederic has gotten a few opportunities with Kuraly and Wagner during camp when Bjork has bumped up to the top line.

A lot of fans have clamored to see Frederic in action, and it sounds like he might get an opportunity at some point. He could slot in on the fourth line left wing, or Kuraly can move over there and Frederic can center the unit.

The construction of the fourth line sounds like it’ll be matchup-based this season unless somebody really grabs hold of that spot on the left. So against a team like the Washington Capitals, Frederic’s more brash style of play could fit in nicely.

— Tough breaks for Anton Blidh and Karson Kuhlman. Cassidy alluded to logistical snafus keeping the two off the ice, but both were in positions to stake claim to spots in the bottom six. It’s unclear when either will be back.

Thumbnail photo via Michael Penhollow/The Boston Bruins

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