By: Jacob Abenante | Follow me on Twitter @Jacobabenante
When thinking about the posed question above, my clear answer is yes. This answer has many factors to it; one has a little bit to do because I go into every season expecting the Bruins to win the cup. I have been lucky enough to watch them play in three Stanley Cup Finals in the last decade, so my confidence is warranted. Confidence aside, something about this upcoming season feels different; whether it’s because of the uncertainty with Covid-19 or even the current state of the NHL and NHLPA’s negotiations, this season is shaping up to be unique itself.
Change for the Bruins isn’t all bad; after being knocked out of last year’s playoffs, I feel change is needed to progress. From an influx of youth who have speed and skill to added grit and even some motivated veterans ready to quiet critics, I feel the 2020-2021 Bost Bruins will push much harder for a Stanley Cup than last year’s team and their disappointing bubble exit.
With many faces from the 2019-2020 Boston Bruins likely gone, the team is poised for a new youth influx. It has been years since I can remember being as excited as I am now for a current crop of young players in the system ready to make the NHL jump. The only substantial loss to the Bruins forwards group was Joakim Nordstrom, whose role the team will fill without a problem. The holes on the defensive side likely to be filled by the Bruins prospects maybe even more significant than I initially assumed.
As we had known since Torey Krug signed in St. Louis when free agency opened, one of the Bruins’ young Defensemen was going to be needed to step up. After hearing head coach Bruce Cassidy speak with the NHL Network this week, I now feel there’s a high chance that Zdeno Chara will not be expected back. These departures mean for the Bruins that young players like Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon will have to step up, and step up is what I hope they will do. If both players and other young defense prospects like Urho Vaakanainen can fill some of these voids on Defense, I expect the Bruins to be both fast and aggressive on both ends of the ice, possibly moving the puck better than last year.
The youth movement addition to the forward group I am most excited about and feel will have the most significant positive effect on the 2020-2021 Boston Bruins will be Jack Studnicka. Studnicka, in my eyes, is the next Boston Bruins star. He has shown me in almost every game I have watched him play a different flash of something great. Studnicka is lightning fast and proved he could score goals at the AHL level all year, posting a stat line of |60 GP|23 Goals|26 Assists|49 Points| per Hockeydb.com. The AHL even named Studnicka an all-star in his first full professional season.
I expect Studnicka to jump right into the Bruins’ top-nine forward group this season and possibly push for a top-six role. I will not be surprised if he can be a 10-15 goal scorer right in his first NHL season. Studnicka has a combination of speed and skill that reminds me of what we saw out of a young Tyler Seguin. If Studnicka can become a player even moderately of Seguin’s caliber, he will quickly help solve the Bruins’ lack of secondary scoring. This would result in a much more dangerous and balanced attack throughout the lineup.
Jack Studnicka scored his seventh short-handed goal of the season and it was a beauty. Studnicka flew the zone to separate and Steen delivered a picture-perfect pass. Studnicka received the pass, did the curl-and-drag and roofed it on his backhand. Special player. #NHLBruins pic.twitter.com/pfFO6xOrQR— Bruins Network (@BruinsNetwork) March 1, 2020
Return of the Grit
In the past few seasons, the Bruins have lost their identity of the big bad Bruins; aside from Zdeno Chara, I feel the team has lacked grit. This lack showed in the 2018-2019 Stanley Cup final when St. Louis at times bullied the Bruins off the puck, and also throughout the 2019-2020 season when the Bruins lacked a response to other teams’ physicality. This does not need to be the case in the 2020-2021 season; the Bruins have a roster with the propensity to be physically dominant on their opposition. Both young and old, the Bruins have various players who can now be plugged into the lineup to give the team a jolt of git.
For the first time in three years, Bruins defensemen Kevin Miller is healthy. Do I think Miller will be an every game player for the Bruins this year? No, but he can most definitely be plugged into the lineup in heavy games and be a physical force. Miller brings something back to the Bruins lineup that they have missed. Miller can be a physical force in the defensive zone, making opposing players think twice before entering the corners. Miller, will also stand up for his own and will not shy away from mixing it up when necessary.
The other side of bringing the Bruins Grit back, in my opinion, will come from 2016 first-round draft pick Trent Fredric. To me, Fredric should be an every game player for the 2020-2021 Boston Bruins. Fredric projects to be the multi-tool power forward the Bruins have missed since Milan Lucic was traded. The 22-year-old center is a big strong forward who will drop the gloves in a heartbeat to defend his teammate (as we saw in his first NHL game) and is tough as nails.
One trait of Fredric that, in my opinion, is criminally underrated is his offensive upside. If you watch Fredric play and look past his unlucky stat lines in many cases, you would be left seeing a player who often physically dominated play and took control of games at the AHL level. I see Fredric earning a fourth-line role out of camp but could quickly move up the lineup. Fredric making the team alone will make the 2020-2021 Bruins a more substantial team than the year previous.
Trent Frederic showing off some pretty nice moves along the boards to win this puck and maintain control. Great fighter, but his abilities and skills are overshadowed and underrated. Watch him calmly control this puck and then lose his man by hitting the brakes. #NHLBruins pic.twitter.com/P1WZGF1huc— Bruins Network (@BruinsNetwork) March 8, 2020
All questions about the 2020-2021 Bruins and their incoming youth aside, I know for sure the team will have a strong core of motivated veterans. The two I feel will be most motivated to prove they can be impact players for this Bruins team are Tuukka Rask and Craig Smith. Both players have Boston media/Bruins fans to thank for their motivation due to the team’s constant negative chatter. All offseason, we have heard how the Bruins did not make the right moves and how more must be done.
The one signing the Bruins did make this offseason that will surely shake up their top-nine forward group was the singing of Craig Smith. Smith is an established vet who, without a doubt, is going to help generate scoring chances, something the Bruins Lacked in 2019-2020. This signing fills an apparent void, but since it was announced, all the talk about it has been followed up with that signing Smith will not be enough to help the team be better. I feel this will be a surefire motivator for Smith to prove all of his doubters wrong and bring more secondary scoring to a lineup starved for it.
Now the case for Tuukka Rask’s motivation is a little different, for its roots are more profound. Rask has been disrespected by Boston media for most of his career as a starter. Rask is the most winning goalie in Boston Bruins history, and the narrative is still constantly; he is not good enough. Rask took more scrutiny from fans and media members than ever when he had to leave last season’s NHL bubble to handle a family matter, but the organization’s brass and his teammates had his back. I feel this endorsement from Rask’s organization against the negativity surrounding him will result in Rask coming out to start the season focused and dominant. Tuukka Rask is still elite, like it or not, and a motivated Rask back in Vezina form will make the Boston Bruins a force in the east this upcoming season.