By: Joey Partridge | Follow Me On Twitter @joey_partridge
As if 2020 couldn’t get any wilder, it is late October when the NHL season usually is in full swing, and the NHL hasn’t decided on a format for the 2020-2021 season. There have been rumors of January 1st, 2021, as a start date, but nothing has been solidified. If and when the season picks up, what does the opening night lineup look like?
Let me start by saying these predictions are completely my own with the knowledge that David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand won’t be ready for opening night. I also fully expect Jake Debrusk to reach a deal with the Bruins. I also expect the Bruins to resign Zdeno Chara as it is impossible to see him play anywhere else. I also think the Bruins are done and that Mike Hoffman will not be a Boston Bruin, so as of now, the players we have are what I expect to roll into the season with.
Where do we begin? There is so much uncertainty with the lines surrounding this team. Two-thirds of the first line is missing, so who replaces Marchand and Pastrnak? I think Bruce Cassidy really wants to see what that second line of Debrusk-Krejci-Kase can do, and they played well in the playoffs, so I don’t see them getting broken up. One player that I see hopping on that line for the start is Jack Studnicka. Give the kid a chance to succeed with a lot of ice time and under one of the best leaders in the league in Patrice Bergeron. I can also see Anders Bjork sliding up there on the left side as he has played with Bergeron and Bjork and can spark some chemistry.
As I mentioned above, I don’t see Cassidy splitting up that second line. I really like what Kase has to offer, and the pandemic shutdown couldn’t happen at a worse time for him. He was learning the system and was finding his groove. When Debrusk is going, he is a great wing for Krejci, and after an inconsistent season, I think Cassidy will give them a shot on opening night, and with the injuries to Marchand and Pastrank, they will be the top line.
Here is where it gets interesting. The third line can be a combination of anyone. I personally believe the Bruins signed Craig Smith to be that third line scorer and workhouse to complement Charlie Coyle. When Marchand and Pastrnak are healthy, I feel that Bjork-Coyle-Smith will be a great third line, but with those two guys out, I can see both Bjork and Smith getting reps with Bergeron on that top line. For opening night, I can see Nick Ritchie getting that third line spot or even a younger guy like Trent Frederic or Zach Senyshyn.
The fourth line is in a similar situation to the third line. Some guys will be getting promotions due to the injuries mentioned above, and some will remain on the fourth line. Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner have made their home on the fourth line, but who will be their left-wing. At full health, it looks like it’ll be Nick Ritchie or a younger guy like Trent Frederic or Karson Kuhlman. However, with Ritchie likely grabbing that third line spot while Marchand and Pastrnak are out, I want to see Frederic grab that spot. The ice time won’t be plentiful, but he plays a heavy game and can add a lot to the team.
The defense is a weird one to predict. I do personally believe Chara will be back in a lesser role. So, I am confident that the top pair will be Matt Grzelyck and Charlie McAvoy, a reunion of the top pair at Boston University. These two have played well together in the past, and any chance they have will add to the offense more than if McAvoy were to play with Chara. The second pair will consist of Carlo, but his partner now that Torey Krug is gone? John Moore? Jeremey Lauzon? Zdeno Chara? Jakub Zboril? These four guys have to take two spots on the left side. Connor Clifton and Kevan Miller will be competing for the third pair right side spot as well. Cassidy could also try something out and play one of the players on their off-side, as Zboril has done in Providence.
Goaltending is the easiest part for me in this whole article. Tuukka Rask will be back as the starting net-minder, and Jaroslav Halak will be backing him up. There should be no controversy there.
So, that was a lot of information and a lot of unknowns. Keep in mind; these are just predictions and things that I want to see rather than what will probably happen. So, here is the opening night lineup without Marchand and Pastrnak that I think gives the Bruins the most opportunities for success.
Whatever Cassidy decides to roll with, they will have a lot of talent taking the ice. I know I can speak for many when I say that Boston Bruins hockey can’t come soon enough.