We know there’s no replacing what he brought to the B’s over the course of 15 years, especially in the playoffs, but the Bruins do have some worthwhile candidates who could fulfill that role when the puck drops Oct. 16 against the Dallas Stars at TD Garden.
Here’s a look at a few candidates:
This probably is the most obvious choice, and head coach Bruce Cassidy has said as much. Coyle knows nothing is guaranteed, though, and will work hard to earn that coveted center position on a line likely to feature Taylor Hall and Craig Smith. Coyle was successful in centering the third line for much of last season, but probably is the most reliable option the Bruins have.
It’s also worth noting Coyle underwent knee surgery in the offseason. He recently revealed that the pain had been bothering him for the last few years, so if he has yet to reach his full potential due to an injury, there may be much more to tap into — especially with more responsibility.
Studnicka has yet to earn a larger role with the Bruins since being drafted in 2017, but that could change come this season. The 22-year-old appears to have bulked up a bit during the offseason, which should play to his advantage with speed already being a skill that helped him in the AHL. There will be plenty of internal competition for a center position, not just on the second line, and Studnicka should get plenty of consideration. It won’t be easy, though, with the offseason additions of Nick Foligno, Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek, but with Krejci probably not coming back this season, you never can have too much depth.
Haula has played a second-line center role during the 2017-18 season with Vegas Golden Knights. He was fairly productive and potted a career-high 29 goals in 76 games, and he did say earlier this summer that his natural position is center. While he probably would be better suited in a bottom-six role, the option will be there to insert him into the lineup should things go awry.
Foligno likely will begin the season as the third-line right winger, but his versatility certainly is ideal and makes him able to slot into the center position if needed. He does have the experience and is a veteran in this league, but he’s probably not looked at as a top-six player, especially on a team like the Bruins. Foligno also has amassed at least 20 assists just once in his last six seasons. Still, should injuries occur he is a viable option.
For even more Bruins, tune into “Bruins: Back To Work” Thursday on NESN at 5 p.m. ET. For the latest updates, view the NESN TV schedule here.