By Mike Cratty | Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Cratty
This kind of thing is fun. Trying to forecast what a team could look like down the road. Mind you, this projection won’t factor in future potential draft picks or free-agent signings. It will also not factor in any potential trades that could go down between now and then. This will include players currently apart of the organization in some fashion. Here’s my shot at projecting the 2023-2024 Bruins.
First line: Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
I see Bergeron still playing at a high level at age 38. His contract expires after the 2022-2023 season, but I think the Bruins will keep him around as long as he is productive. He is showing no signs of slowing down in my eyes, I don’t see that happening much in the next three years. Marchand and Pastrnak aren’t going anywhere.
Second line: John Beecher – Jack Studnicka – Ondrej Kase
While Beecher was drafted as a center, he has played the left-wing at times at the University of Michigan, as well as with team USA in the World Juniors. With the structure of this roster, I think he fits in better as a winger. Having that kind of speed and size on the wing isn’t a bad thing. Given the fact that he will still be developing at this time, he might still be earning his keep to start the 2023-2024 season, but Beecher projects as a surefire NHL player down the road, in my eyes.
At this point in time, I definitely think Jack Studnicka will be entrenched in a full-time NHL role. I think a player of his caliber would complement the skillsets of both Beecher and Kase pretty well. Kase’s current contract expires following the 2021-2022 season, but unless he struggles to contribute, I think he will be retained for the foreseeable future.
Third line: Jake DeBrusk – Charlie Coyle – Anders Bjork
I have made it clear that I like this line in the past, and given the makeup of this roster, they should stay together. DeBrusk and Bjork’s contracts both expire following this season, so their next contracts will tell us more about their future with the Bruins when they receive them. I see no reason to let either of them go at the moment, and think they both have the potential to be productive players on the team for a while.
Fourth line: Trent Frederic – Sean Kuraly – Jakub Lauko
Extra forward: Karson Kuhlman
This would be a very interesting fourth line. Frederic could find himself in a situation like Beecher where he shifts to the wing. A player with his physical nature and tenacity should do fine on the wing. He has played both on the wing and center in the past in Providence. Kuraly is a perfect fourth-line center, and I see him sticking around for a while, even after his contract expires following the 2021-2022 season.
Jakub Lauko’s blend of offensive skill and tenacity makes him a great fit for the fourth line in the early stages of his potential NHL career. This line could create some serious hell on the forecheck and keep the trend of great Bruins fourth lines going. Having a player of Kuhlman’s caliber as an extra forward in this case is a nice luxury to have.
First defensive pair: Urho Vaakanainen – Charlie McAvoy
Zdeno Chara isn’t going to be around forever, and Vaakanainen has the best shot to fill his shoes, in my opinion. Despite having what some saw as a rough season this past year in Providence, I still think Vaakanainen has top-pairing defenseman potential. Charlie McAvoy isn’t going anywhere and could be a lethal defensive partner for Vaakanainen.
Second defensive pair: Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
I think Torey Krug will re-sign with the Bruins, meaning there’s no reason to break up this defensive pair. They’ve proven to work well together in the past, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Third defensive pair: Matt Grzelcyk – Jeremy Lauzon
Extra defenseman: Connor Clifton
While both Grzelcyk and Lauzon are candidates to be plucked away by Seattle in the expansion draft, I’m putting them in this projection because that hasn’t happened yet. Grzelcyk has established himself enough to be a mainstay on the third pairing, and Lauzon is on his way to doing so as well. Like Kuhlman as a forward, having a player like Clifton as an extra defenseman is a nice luxury to have.
Goalies: Tuukka Rask and Jeremy Swayman
At age 33 with an expiring contract following next season, it’s hard to say whether Rask will be around or not, but if he is still serviceable as a goaltender, there’s no reason to let him go. Unless of course, a prospect like Swayman or Vladar were to emerge as a starting-caliber goaltender to take his place. I see Rask still starting in goal for the Bruins in the 2023-2024 season unless he is let go and/or falls out of favor somehow.
Jeremy Swayman is too skilled and athletic in the crease to not have an NHL job in some capacity come 2023. This would make him an ideal candidate to learn from Rask for a while and perhaps take over as the starting goaltender whenever Rask decides to call it a career. This could be a really solid goaltending tandem.
Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
Beecher – Studnicka – Kase
DeBrusk – Coyle – Bjork
Frederic – Kuraly – Lauko
Vaakanainen – McAvoy
Krug – Carlo
Grzelcyk – Lauzon
Let’s see how this holds up three years from now. If it does, I think this team could still be competing for the Stanley Cup. It projects to be a pretty deep team. The projection could be spot on, or not even close, we’ll have to wait and see.