By: Chris Nosek | Follow Me on Twitter: @cnosek6342
As the start of the new hockey season is quickly approaching, it is now time for the questions and speculation about who will be on the roster this year, and who will be the one to beat the odds as a young player and compete for a roster spot on the big club. Two seasons ago, 19-year-old Brandon Carlo came out of nowhere as a 37th-overall draft choice to make the big club and earned a spot on the top pairing with Zdeno Chara. So this season, who will be the big surprise to make the roster? Which youngster will step up and make the team forcing a veteran out of their position?
“Then it’s a matter of the younger guys — can they push one of the more established guys? That’s what it comes down to. That’s when you know your team is good, when the younger guys push the older guys and if they are better, then we make room for them.″ – Bruce Cassidy
Not long ago my colleague, Max (@tkdmaxbjj), posted his thoughts, predictions, and projections for the upcoming season — seen here in his article Mainville’s Full 2018-19 Boston Bruins Predictions. One of his predictions includes his thoughts on the starting line combinations for the upcoming season, and although I agree with him in many areas, there are a few spots where we differ in opinion. Also, with the 20 guys in the lineup each game, who are the three guys that sit each day? One major question for this year is whether or now Sweeney will make the unusual decision to carry eight defensemen on the roster.
Brad Marchand Patrice Bergeron Danton Heinen
Jake DeBrusk David Krejci David Pastrnak
Ryan Donato Jakob Forsbacka- Karlsson Anders Bjork
Joakim Nordstrom Sean Kuraly David Backes
When it comes to the starting 12 forward positions, one of the top units will consist of the second-year left-winger Jake DeBrusk getting paired back with David Krejci as last season they were extremely effective playing together. They will be rejoined by 22-year-old David Pastrnak on the right side as Cassidy has made it known this was a line combination he was anxious to get on the ice at the end of last season, but injuries and poor play altered those plans.
Moving Pastrnak back down with Krejci opens up the wing next to Bergeron and Marchand. Bjork is the plan to put there, however, given the fact that he is still recovering from his injury last season it remains to be seen if he can get out of the gate with enough momentum. I think that Danton Heinen will start off on that unit coming out of camp. Until Bjork hits the ice this preseason, he won’t have done enough to take the top-line wing position while Heinen posted 16 goals and 31 assists last season mostly in a third-line role.
Anders Bjork will have a great shot at taking the top right wing spot from Heinen but will start on the third line until he is able to show he is fully healthy and ready for NHL action. He will find himself on a line with rookie Ryan Donato on the left side as it is becoming more and more clear that the plan is to convert the 19-year-old into a left side winger. The question of who will center this line is completely up in the air and is probably the biggest question on the roster and Cassidy and Sweeney have made it clear they have no one penciled in for this role and that ANYONE can take the opening.
With three of the top young prospects vying for the third line center role, at this point it is almost anyone’s guess as to who will step up and take it. I believe that the current favorite to win the job is the 21year-old Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson. As the only one with NHL experience (albeit only one game), he is entering the final season of his ELC as it officially kicked in when they called him up at the end of the 2016-17 season. As someone who has drawn many comparisons to this team’s top centerman, his skill set will go well with that of Donato and Bjork. I think the biggest threat to Forsbacka-Karlsson taking this role will be Jack Studnicka. The 19-year-old, former 53rd overall draft selection, has averaged just about a point per game at every level he has played, and if that type of production continues, Sweeney would be hard-pressed to send the kid back to Providence.
( Photo Credit: JOHN TLUMACKI / Boston Globe Staff )
I must agree with Max that David Backes will find himself on the fourth line despite his $6 million contract. Coming into camp 10 pounds lighter should help with the speed that was lacking in his game last season, and if he is fully healthy from his colon issue and the concussion from the postseason, then he might have a shot next to Bergeron on the top line. I just don’t see him bouncing back that much, and his presence on the bottom unit will help spread out the leadership through the lineup. His partnership with Sean Kuraly and Joakim Nordstrom will prove to bring a very physical presence with a nice scoring touch. The fourth line with Backes, Nordstrom, and Kuraly could prove to be one of the most effective in the league if everyone stays healthy and plays at the top of their game.
Zdeno Chara Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug Brandon Carlo
John Moore Kevan Miller
Even though he has taken a small step back, Zdeno Chara will not be separated from his current puck-moving partner Charlie McAvoy. The new 1-year contract that Chara signed shows that they are still expecting him to be every bit as good as he was last season. Cassidy does need to look for every opportunity he can find, especially during the beginning part of the season to cut back on Chara’s minutes — which has been said for the past 4-5 seasons. With Carlo and Krug healthy again this season, not only will they be the second pairing as they have since the emergence of McAvoy, they are both going to need to show all they have because both are due for new contracts at season’s end.
The third and final defensive unit has certainly generated the most buzz and has only gotten more interesting since the trade of Adam McQuaid. It would appear that Kevan Miller has played his way into securing the right side of that pairing. After Cassidy took over coaching duties from Claude Julien, Miller’s play improved so significantly that he was chosen to be protected over the younger Colin Miller at the expansion draft. I wish we could see more of him playing with Matt Grzelcyk. However, I think we will have to wait until further in the season to see that. At the beginning of the year, he will be paired with newcomer John Moore, while Grzelcyk will remain the team’s 7th defenseman.
Barring a major shock in camp, Boston will only carry Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak to play between the iron. Although Halak has been a starter before, Rask is the clear starter for this team and Halak is meant to provide a more consistent and reliable backup than was Anton Khudobin. With Malcolm Subban being shipped to Vegas last season and McIntyre taking a step back in his development, Sweeney needed to find a veteran presence to hold down the spot until either Vladar or Swayman prove they are ready to make the big club. Should an injury to Rask or Halak occur, McIntyre is the only one of the three youngsters with NHL experience so he will get the call-up. We can only hope he would be ready by then should it be a long-term injury.
Final Three Spots
Matt Grzelcyk Noel Acciari Chris Wagner
As mentioned above, the team will almost certainly be carrying Matt Grzelcyk as their seventh defender leaving just two more spots open on the 23-man roster. They may opt to send him down to Providence because Zboril or Lauzen — two of the top defensive prospects closest to making the team — don’t have to clear waivers to get back to Providence.
So with two more open spots, who are going to be the ones lucky enough to take these spots? First, there is Noel Acciari. He gets bumped from the starting 20 as Nordstrom has a more natural fit on the left side and he hasn’t done enough to outplay Kuraly for the center position. Acciari’s versatility to play both the wing and center he will certainly be one of the first ones off the bench should an injury occur, or a player requires a day off.
The last roster spot will be given to Chris Wagner (assuming he has a solid camp). First and foremost, he was just brought in on a 2-year contract, and he would require clearing waivers before going down to Providence. Jack Studnick, Trent Frederic, and Peter Cehlárik could all put up a solid fight for the last roster spot, however none of the proven consistency at the NHL level enough to stay, just yet. Cehlárik may be the one who pushes the hardest for it. However, his injury history has really put a damper on his development and a little more time in Providence may be a good thing for him.