By: Ray Guarino | Follow me on Twitter @rayguarino
On October 13, 2020, Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney announced that David Pastrnak had a right hip arthroscopy and labral repair in mid-September and would be out for approximately five months. That would put his return towards the end of February. With the 2020-21, NHL season set to begin on January 13 with a condensed 56 game schedule, the Bruins top right-winger could miss up to 25% of the season.
So who plays on the Bruins first line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron to open the season? Below we’ll take a look at the candidates in order of likelihood.
On October 10, 2020, three days before Sweeney announced Pastrnak’s injury, the Bruins signed unrestricted free agent right-wing Craig Smith to a three-year $9.3 million contract. The Madison, Wisconsin native spent the previous nine years as a member of the Nashville Predators, where he was one of their most consistent players. He scored 20 goals five times and has only been on the injured reserve once. Based on the number of minutes the Bergeron line plays, Smith would be the best option to ride the right side on that line.
Jack Stunicka was the Bruins second-round pick in the 2017 NHL draft. The Ontario, Canada native had a solid rookie season with the Providence Bruins in 2019-20, putting up 23-26-49 totals in 60 games. Studnicka played in the AHL All-Star Game and was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team. He got into two games with the Boston Bruins with one assist.
The biggest benefit of playing Studnicka on the first line is that it allows Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy to keep his bottom three lines homeostasis. Once Pastrnak comes back, Studnicka can further develop in Providence without disrupting the other three lines.
Ondrej Kase came to the Bruins in the controversial David Backes trade just before the 2019-20 NHL trade deadline (See my thoughts on the trade here). When healthy in Anaheim, he played fairly well, once scoring 20 goals in 66 games. On more than one occasion, Cassidy has said that he was brought in to play right-wing on the David Krejci line. The only way that I can see him move up to the Bergeron line is if Cassidy ultimately sees Craig Smith as the best fit for David Krejci during training camp and opens the season that way.
We are now into the long-shots of playing right-wing on the Bergeron line. Zach Senyshyn was the 15th overall pick and third of three in a row for the Boston Bruins in the 2015 NHL Draft. The speedy right-winger had a prolific career in the OHL for the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds, twice eclipsing 40 goals, before being assigned to the Providence Bruins. Unfortunately for Senyshyn, he struggled to put up points in Providence while shoring up the defensive aspects of the game. Still only 23-years-old, it may be best for him to go to Providence for one more season to see if his offensive game improves enough to warrant a spot on the big club. Zach will need to go through the waiver process if he doesn’t secure an NHL roster spot and needs to be sent to the AHL.
Anders Bjork is an enigma. He has the skill, as shown by his career at Notre Dame. That success hasn’t followed him into the NHL, as evidenced by his 14-20-34 totals in 108 NHL games. He’s often invisible on the ice and has found himself a healthy scratch, often by Cassidy. Bjork was re-signed over the summer to a three-year $4.8 million contract, so the team seems to believe in him. The most likely landing spot for Bjork is third-line left-wing, but he could also find himself on the new taxi-squad if he has a poor training camp.
There are a number of questions about the Bruins roster as training camp approaches, left defense, third-line left-wing, but it’s vital to the Bruins success that Cassidy gets the first-line right-wing answer right.