By: Andrew Lindroth | Follow me on Twitter! @andrewlindrothh
While the Boston Bruins continue the quest for the Stanley Cup, this will also be the chance for head coach Bruce Cassidy to see who will fit in the lineup next season. Although the pandemic forced the NHL to have a five-month pause and the 2020 playoffs to be held in a bubble with no fans present, that will be no excuse for Cassidy to see which players stayed in game-shape and adapted to the adversity. With the Bruins currently down in their series against Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1, questions are already being answered about who will be ready for a full-time role in the lineup next season. First, let’s start with the obvious, which are the top-six forwards.
To no one’s surprise, the perfection line will be representing the Bruins top scoring line next season. The big question mark for the past few seasons has been finding Krejci a right-winger, and although Cassidy occasionally slots Pastrnak onto that line, it seems as if the Bruins may have found the answer with Ondrej Kase.
Kase wasn’t precisely overwhelming during his first few appearances with the Bruins before the regular season came to a screeching halt. With Kase also missing most of camp due to being “unfit to play,” it didn’t look very positive for the Czech winger. Through ten playoff games, he has been able to produce a career-high four points and has seemed to develop steady chemistry with DeBrusk and Krejci.
If Krejci’s’ line can continue being this productive throughout the playoffs and find opportunities to score against Tampa, they will give the Bruins’ the best chance possible at winning the Stanley Cup. If Kase can maintain being healthy throughout the season, expect to see him on Krejci’s’ wing all season long. Now let’s take a look at what will be looking different next season; the bottom-six forwards.
The bottom-six core will change quite a bit, and knowing Cassidy’s coaching style, I could see many of these players mentioned above being slotted in and out of the lineup depending on who the Bruins play. It’s undeniable in the current series against Tampa that the Bruins lack secondary scoring, the very factor that gave the Bruins a push to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. At this moment, I do not see Nick Ritchie fitting in the lineup full-time, so I imagine he will be utilized when playing heavier teams, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is dealt to another team before next season starts.
I predict Karson Kuhlman will come to terms with the Bruins this off-season but has not impressed enough to earn the trust of a full-time position in the lineup. The right-winger does have an impressive motor and wrist shot, so he is an excellent player to slot into any line when an injury occurs, and players like that do not grow on trees. He will be a quiet but essential depth piece. Par Lindholm is my final scratch listed, with one year left with the Bruins, he will also be looked at as a vital depth piece to slot in the lineup when facing faster teams.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzQ0m0h_VnU&w=560&h=315]
For the 2020-2021 season, I imagine you’ll see Coyle with two young players who have a lot to prove, Bjork and Studnicka. Bjork recently re-signed with the Bruins on a three-year term with $1.6M a year, so there is no doubt the Bruins organization finds Bjork to be an essential piece to this club.
Studnicka led the Providence Bruins (AHL) in scoring this past season with 23 goals and 49 points, as well as leading the AHL with seven short-handed goals. Studnicka debuted with Coyle and Bjork during the Carolina Hurricanes playoff series. There is a lot of potential with that line if Bjork and Studnicka can create consistent chemistry with Coyle.
For the fourth-line, you will, of course, see Chris Wagner on the right-wing and Sean Kuraly at center, but I believe Trent Fredric will break into a full-time role. Although he is a natural center, the Bruins have placed him on the wing during his NHL appearances so far, so I see him playing on the left-wing. Joakim Nordstrom will become a UFA at the end of the post-season, and I do not predict the Bruins will re-sign him. Now, lets take a look at what the defensive pairs could look like next season.
As you may notice, these are the current defensive pairings playing in the 2020 playoffs, and although Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Matt Grzelcyk have contracts expiring soon, I believe all three players will re-sign with the Bruins. To save time, I wrote an article recently that has my predictions about who will and will not re-sign with the Bruins this off-season, and you can view that here.
Suppose Krug decides to test the free-agent market. In that case, I believe Grzelcyk will pair with Brandon Carlo, quarter-back the primary power-play unit, and have Jeremy Lauzon, John Moore, or Jakub Zboril slot in and out of the third defensive pairing with Connor Clifton. With now two strong post-season performances under his belt, I believe Clifton will be trusted with a full-time position on the third defensive pairing.
With young emerging talent such as; Lauzon, Clifton, Zboril, and Urho Vaakanainen, the Bruins may look to clear more cap space and trade Moore, a smart move in my opinion. The only other factor I see changing next season is what we started seeing in the current series against the Lightning. Chara will be playing less 5-on-5 minutes and may play occasional shifts on the third pairing, as we have recently seen. Now, last but not least, our goaltenders for next season.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boNmlhrBX7Y&w=560&h=315]
Although Tuukka Rask decided to leave the Toronto bubble in the middle of the first-round against the Hurricanes, I do not believe that will reflect his decision to continue playing hockey for the 2020-2021 season, as he has one year left on his contract with the Bruins. I assume Rask will take this extra time to spend with his family and get hockey off his mind to come back, honor his final year with the Bruins and chase the Stanley Cup one more time with passion. I obviously cannot predict what he will do the following year his contract expires, but this will most likely be the most vital year of his career, especially with the Bruins’ aging core.
With Jaroslav Halak committing to the Bruins for one more year, you will once again see split goalie-duties throughout the season until the playoffs. The dominant goalie tandem of Rask and Halak will live on for one more season, one more chance at the Stanley Cup.
With Halak locked up for one more year, this also helps the continuous development of Daniel Vladar and incoming rookie Jeremy Swayman with the Providence Bruins (AHL). Vladar was excellent with Providence this past season and led the league in GAA (1.79) and save percentage (.936%).https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
It will be exciting to see the 2020-2021 opening-day roster for the Bruins and which players perform well during camps and preseason. If my lineup predictions are anywhere near close enough, the Bruins could have a very stacked lineup next year. Still, the most significant factors needed for a deep playoff run rely on the younger players fighting for the bottom-six roles and Krejci’s’ line.
If players like; Bjork, Studnicka, Kuhlman, and Fredric perform well and potentially have a break-out season, that could help create momentum and confidence for the Bruins if the bottom-six forwards can contribute offense most games. Also, if DeBrusk and Kase can produce more consistently, then the Krejci line will flourish and finally solve the problem the Bruins have been facing for years with their second-line.