By: Lucas Pearson | Follow Me On Twitter @LucasPearson_
Hockey is oh so close to being back. The Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo contracts have been signed, and the Bruins are beginning to play actual hockey again. But even with the regular season less than two weeks away, many questions still face the Bruins entering the year.
How Healthy Is The Team Going to Be?
It seems like the Bruins, and the injury bug are becoming synonymous terms. Following the long and grueling playoffs, it’s not a major surprise that health is a concern, but the Bruins already have multiple regulars that are questionable to begin the year healthy. On the back-end, John Moore and Kevan Miller are already confirmed to be out for the season opener, and Zdeno Chara is questionable for the opener due to the jaw injury he suffered in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Patrice Bergeron has been practicing in a non-contact sweater and is also questionable for the opener. Luckily depth on defense isn’t a real issue for the Bs, but if the Bergeron and Chara injuries take a wrong turn, the Bruins may be in trouble.
What Kids Can Make The Team?
The Bruins have a plethora of NHL-ready prospects that are fighting for a spot on the team. They have talented players like Jack Studnicka, Oskar Steen and Zach Senyshyn looking for their first extended looks in the NHL as well as Anders Bjork, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman who are looking to add to their previous stints in the big-leagues. Obviously, the Bs just don’t have room for all of these guys with their already impressive roster, but I would not be surprised to see two or three cracks the opening night roster (as you will see me get more into later).
On defense, it’s unlikely that any youngsters can have an extended stay, but if Chara does end up missing some time, we may get to see a few games. Urho Vaakanainen has looked very comfortable in the pre-season and seems to be NHL ready. Jeremy Lauzon is another NHL ready defenseman we got to see last year and again, looked very comfortable in his 16 game stint last year.
Who Starts To Krejci’s Right?
So it seems Bruce Cassidy is sticking to his guns and keeping the top line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Bergeron together so we should see a revolving door of players auditioning on that second line. Cassidy has said that Brett Ritchie, David Backes, Anders Bjork, and Danton Heinen will all get looks on the line, but it seems that Karson Kuhlman, who had some success with the duo of Krejci and Jake Debrusk in the playoffs, may get the nod to begin the year. After four seasons (and one championship win) at Minnesota Duluth, Kuhlman was a bit of a surprise call-up last season but had a good amount of success in both the regular season and the playoffs.
How Does the Bottom Six Shake-Up?
The trio of Anders Bjork, Charlie Coyle, and Danton Heinen have played together in this pre-season and looked to already have developed some chemistry (all three tallied a point in the game). Albeit a very small sample size, but if the group continue to play well, they are a very strong candidate to begin the season as the third line. If Kuhlman ends up on line two and line three stays as it looks to be, that leaves a sea of players still vying for 4th line roles.
If previously mentioned young players like Frederic, Senyshyn, and Steen can’t crack the top nine, I see no reason to give them minimal minutes on the 4th line, eating up a lot of minutes in the AHL would be a far better alternative. The one kid that is the biggest wildcard is Peter Cehlarik. Unlike the other fringe-NHL prospects, Cehlarik is the only player that is not waiver exempt, meaning that if the Bruins want to send him to the AHL, he would need to pass through waivers. While he isn’t a game-changer, losing a guy with the skill and size for Cehlarik for nothing would hurt. Maybe that pushes him over the edge over players like Kuhlman or Bjork who don’t have to go through waivers but all we can do it wait and see.
That leaves David Backes, Brett Ritchie, Joakim Nordstrom, Chris Wagner Sean Kuraly and Par Lindholm all looking for 4th line minutes. Nordstrom, Kuraly, and Wagner partnered up to be one of the most effective 4th lines in the entire league last year, and are certainly a very good bet to start the season as the line.
Ritchie and Lindholm were both brought in this offseason as low risk, high(ish) reward players. Ritchie is a former 16 goal scorer and will certainly look to return to that form after two very lack-luster seasons. Lindholm was just under a point-per-game in his final season the SHL and will look to replicate that after a solid rookie year in the NHL.
Finally, we have David Backes, who I really think will come back and have a solid year. He’s obviously not the player he used to be in St. Louis. He is still an outstanding veteran presence with a lot to prove this season after the disappointing end of the playoffs. Both Bruce Cassidy and Don Sweeney still have their work cut out for them.