By: Zach Carlone | Follow me on Twitter! @zcarlone21
Following the Bruins spurt of offseason signings and re-signings, it seems as if the team’s opening night roster is locked and loaded heading into the 2021-22 campaign. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney and president Cam Neely listened to the team’s core and are giving the group more players to better support a Stanley Cup run, all in the midst of losing longtime Bruins center David Krejci.
The top-six forward group outside of the departure of Krejci and the regular group of defensemen should look relatively similar to last season. It’ll be the bottom-six group of forwards that sees the biggest shakeup on the opening night roster, and rightfully so. Not only that, but the Bruins have a new number one goaltender in town.
Between guys who need to bounce back this season to younger players looking to secure a spot on the team after the Bruins aging core moves on or retires, there’s a lot of interest for this upcoming training camp and preseason in particular. The Bruins lost a handful of players, some more impactful than others, with the hopes of replacing them for a geared run at a Stanley Cup before players like forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand aren’t the same caliber players as they still are now. That being said, here are some players to keep an eye on when training camps open, and the preseason begins shortly thereafter on September 26th, with a game against the Washington Capitals.
For most Bruins fans, the past 2020-21 season seemed to be DeBrusk’s last in a Bruins uniform. Head coach Bruce Cassidy has voiced his disappointments with DeBrusk in the past, but he is expected to start the season as the third line left wing, finally getting to play on his natural side. After bouncing around and in and out of the lineup last season (and spending most of the season playing right-wing), DeBrusk finished with five goals and 14 points in 41 games. This has got to be the 24-year-old’s “make-or-break” season. Anything less than a spark in production should have DeBrusk’s future with the club in doubt.
After a small sample size of games last season due to injuries to former Bruins goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, the former possibly returning mid-season, Swayman impressed mightily. The 22-year-old went 7-3-0 in ten appearances last season, sporting a 1.50 GAA and a .945 save percentage, both remarkable numbers for any goaltender in the NHL. The Bruins need to do their best not to hurt his development and rush Swayman into playing a heavy game load, but also it should be interesting to see if Swayman can consistently backstop the Bruins to good positions to win hockey games. Swayman is expected to start the season as the backup to newcomer Linus Ullmark.
Much like DeBrusk, Coyle’s 2020-21 run was quiet and not good enough. Cassidy claims that Coyle will start as the in-house replacement for David Krejci on the second line, but he definitely needs to perform better than what last season portrayed for him as a player. The Massachusetts native posted six goals and 16 points in 51 games last season, which included long stretches of going without goals and points. If Coyle is going to step up and be a leader on this team on and off the ice, then better production is going to be required if the Bruins have any chances of making a showcase of a name for themselves in the Atlantic division.
Don Sweeney had an active and surprisingly efficient beginning to the NHL offseason, signing a handful of players to help guide the Bruins to a successful playoff run this upcoming season. Among the newcomers include goaltender Linus Ullmark, defenseman Derek Forbort, and forwards Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and Tomas Nosek.
In my eyes, Sweeney needed to take a bunch of factors into account for signing these players, but the biggest thing that stands out is experience. Among all five players lies a combined 165 games worth of playoff experience, with Foligno and Haula having played in 55 and 54 playoff games each respectively. They must have more left in the tank to help the Bruins in order for this team to be a success story.
It hasn’t been easy for Vaakanainen, and that’s putting it lightly. He excelled in training camp heading into the 2020-21 season, leading many to believe he would be in line to play in a good number of key games for the Bruins. That wasn’t the case. After playing in nine games, the left-handed defenseman collected two assists with a +/- of -3.
The 22-year-old struggled with consistency, as did much of the Bruins left-handed defensemen last season, specifically making costly turnovers and not being able to break the puck out of the zone smoothly. Maybe he’s improved on adjusting to the North American game, and maybe he could find himself improving towards a rewarding roster spot in a season or two. Rushing his development won’t help, but as a 22-year-old, he still has the time to improve with the Bruins window to win it all, unfortunately closing.
This stud needs to make a lasting impression in this upcoming training camp and preseason. He has the skillset and capability of doing so, but he can’t let anything get in his way. Last season, he finally got a shot to play center for the Bruins in a few games, collecting three points and his first career NHL goal in 20 contests.
Like Vaakanainen, he still has the time to develop as a 22-year-old, but with David Krejci now out of the picture, Studnicka’s dynamic playing ability should be something to keep an eye on this preseason, and it could be just enough to squeeze him onto the opening night roster that’s filled with more veterans than not. Time will tell, but I think Studnicka’s presence on this team would be a positive one.