By: Ryan Ellis | Follow Me On Twitter @_RyEllis_
The dog-days of the Bruins off-season roll-on, highjacked by David Krejci’s decision to return to the Czech Republic, his departure, and the second line center saga, continue to be the overwhelming favorite topic amongst armchair experts. Personally, I am tapping out of David Krejci talk as well as Charlie Coyle talk. Despite the cryptic narrative leaving the door open for a Krejci midseason return to the NHL, I have decided to live in the now. There are a handful of undersold storylines heading into the 2021-2022 season that still merit attention.
Forward depth was clearly at the top of the Bruins’ front office off-season wish list. With the additions of Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and Tomas Nosek, the B’s are putting their faith in these fellas to help stabilize the bottom-six and provide some scoring and toughness. What do these additions mean for the returning members of last year’s squad that have grown accustomed to seeing their names on the third and fourth lines?
There have been enough sound bites and mock lineups thrown around the interwebs to have a rough idea of how Cassidy plans to use his depth pieces come October. The line combination possibilities for the bottom-six must be a dream for a coach like Cassidy, who (apart from his prized first line) is well known for his affinity for shuffling players up and down the lineup. It would appear that there are a few players that expect regular minutes that may not see the action they are accustomed to, most notably the potential 4th line combinations.
Who’s on Fourth?
If Don Sweeney & Co. are happy with the big club on paper and no more significant moves are made before the regular season, there will almost certainly be a few forwards shuffling around to start the year. For the sake of this exercise, the unadventurous prediction of a Debrusk – Haula – Foligno third line is most likely a lock to start the year. Curtis Lazar, a 2021 trade deadline pickup, gave a much-needed energy boost to the fourth line. He now finds himself with a few more well-paid teammates expected to see time at center.
Will Lazar, one of only two right-handed shots on the bottom six expecting regular minutes, slide over to the wing? To make room for Tomas Nosek, who boasts a career 52.6% face-off percentage, compared to Lazar’s 46.4%, expect to see a carousel of healthy scratches as Cassidy assesses his depth chemistry. Assuming Nosek cements himself as the 4th line center, Trent Frederic and Chris Wagner may see their fair share of the 9th floor at TD Garden this year if Lazar, who was by far the most productive 4th line forward during his 17 regular-season games with the B’s, can start where he left off.
Fan-favorite “Freddy” will enter this upcoming season at 23 years old. He played 42 of 56 regular-season games last year and quickly established himself as a chippy instigator, fearlessly challenging some of the toughest guys the NHL has to offer. The former 1st rounder hopes to showcase more of his offensive skills as he tallied only 5 points throughout last year’s regular season. If he can start producing offensively from the left side, and you couple that with his willingness to drop the gloves, he should avoid being the odd-man-out.
The elder statesmen of the fourth line, Chris Wagner, is entering his fourth season with the Black and Gold. The 30-year-old Walpole, Massachusetts native, has been a gamer for the B’s since signing ahead of the 2018 campaign. Wagner is a checking forward, not afraid to mix it up in front of the net or after the whistle, who adds value on the second penalty kill unit. Typically seen on the right side, Wagner has taken over 100 face-offs in all but 3 seasons of his NHL career, so he is always an option to slide over if need be. Despite being the longest-tenured Bruin of the projected bottom-6, outside of Jake Debrusk, the Massachusetts native is likely to bounce around and see some time in plain clothes on game nights, as the Bruins have a handful of younger acquisitions and organizational depth, with potentially higher ceilings.
In all likelihood, it will be months from now until the Bruins faithful can reliably predict this squad’s nightly line combinations. The fresh faces signed this off-season, and potential Providence hopefuls such as Jack Studnicka, Zach Senyshyn and, Oscar Steen, looking to crack the big club lineup regularly, should make for an intriguing start to the season for the Bruins as we follow along. There are a number of ways the bottom of the roster could shake out, and with the league returning to an 82-game schedule, we should expect to see a diverse cast of characters and experimental combinations as the Bruins hope to capture a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.
Tweet me @_RyEllis_ with your Boston Bruins bottom-6 predictions!