By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
As the NHL offseason nears its end and the subsequent training camps and preseason games follow, the talk of the upcoming regular-season heats up and fans begin to get restless to see their favorite team back on the ice in those gorgeous Adidas jerseys. For Bruins fans, one of the biggest offseasons in recent memory to date is now in the rearview mirror which means it is now time to set our expectations for certain players as the quest for the franchise’s seventh Stanley Cup begins next month.
Being one of the Original Six teams, there is an added pressure when you play for the Boston Bruins. Ownership, management and of course, the fans, have certain expectations on how the team should perform year in and year out. Throughout the summer months, the Bruins added numerous new faces such as Nick Foligno, Linus Ullmark, and Erik Haula while losing many core members as well like David Krejci, Jaroslav Halak, and (potentially) Tuukka Rask. A lot of questions remain, but here are five Boston Bruins that I have high expectations on in 2021-22.
5 – G Linus Ullmark
With starting goaltender Tuukka Rask still left unsigned and projected to be out with injury until minimum January/February and backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak signing with the Vancouver Canucks in free agency, the Bruins needed to acquire a goalie. Then, on a day with a plethora of signings, the Bruins announced they signed Linus Ullmark to a four-year deal worth $5 million per season – making him the starter for this new season.
Ullmark has spent the last few seasons on a very poor Buffalo Sabres roster, the team he was drafted 163rd overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and has played a large chunk of their games for the past three seasons. Last year, however, he only started in 20 games due to a lower-body injury. In those contests, he managed to earn a 9-6-3 record with a .917 SV% and a 2.63 GAA. For reference, the other Sabres goalies went a combined 6-28-4 last year.
For any starting goalie in the NHL, I have high expectations, but for Ullmark I will cut some slack due to the fact he was on a bad team for his entire career and he is brand new to this organization. With that said, if the Bruins want to try and compete again, they need Ullmark to be a brick wall in between the pipes, especially on a 4x$5 million contract. Any deal that large has extra pressure added to it so only time will tell if it was a successful gamble or if the Bruins missed the boat.
4 – F Jake DeBrusk
In this day and age, it seems every Bruins fan has essentially given up on Jake DeBrusk. By now, most people imagined he would be getting set to play in a different NHL jersey that is not the Spoked-B, but yet, here we are. I might be one of the only Bruins fans that believe DeBrusk can bounce back and in 2021-22, I think he will. Last season, the 24-year-old put up 5-9-14 totals in 41 games played, a career-low 0.34 points-per-game. It will be really difficult to have a worse season than that, so I am predicting an improvement this time around.
3 – F Taylor Hall
Acquired from the Sabres at the deadline last year, Taylor Hall had a strong end to the 2020-21 campaign and playoff run, but after signing a four-year, $24 million deal ($6M AAV), the pressure for the talented left-winger to continue his success in a full season is higher than ever. There is no secret, Taylor Hall has the skills to be a dynamite winger on a good team, but without David Krejci, there are worries that he will struggle a bit more to score at a high level.
Depth scoring is one of, if not the most important thing for competitive teams in the league aside from goaltending so I have high expectations on the 29-year-old to perform regardless of his linemates. Committing to a contract with that term and money, the Bruins’ brass evidently feels the same and if Hall wants the chance to win a Stanley Cup, he has to be a consistent goal scorer. Does he reach the 93-point number he hit back in 2017-18? Unlikely, but even a 60-point season would be huge on Boston’s second line.
2 – F Charlie Coyle
Longtime second-line center David Krejci has taken his talents back home to the Czech Republic for the 2021-22 season which means for the first time since 2007, the Boston Bruins have a bit of uncertainty at the center position in the depth charts. As of right now, Charlie Coyle is projected to get the role of 2C behind Patrice Bergeron, immediately putting him with significantly more offensive-skilled players than the two wingers he had when he manned the third line a year ago.
Now I previously mentioned the need for a strong Taylor Hall and Coyle will need to be a key contributor for that success. Coyle’s previous career-high in points is 56, coming in a full 82-game season with the Minnesota Wild in the 2016-17 season. Alongside Hall and Smith, I have expectations for him to not only match that but considerably surpass it. 60-65 points may seem like a reach, but I believe a successful Bruins team next year means a successful second-line center and Coyle has to be that guy.
1 – F David Pastrnak
One of the league’s elite young forwards, David Pastrnak is not on this list necissarily because of lack of production or that he is entering a do-or-die season. Pastrnak, 25, scored 48 points in 48 games last season (20 goals), but Bruins fans who have followed Pastrnak throughout his young career might have noticed he appeared to struggle offensively a tad. Too often, Pastrnak fanned on one-timers or was fighting the puck more often than not. There is, of course, the thought of not being 100-percent and it’s for that reason that I have even higher expectations on the Czech Republic native into 2021-22.
Having a full offseason to work on the small improvements and even more so, his confidence, Pastrnak might just be in the running for his second Maurice Richard Trophy. Brad Marchand controlled the offence for Boston and was widely regarded as the team’s Most Valuable Player, but if Pastrnak can find his groove similar to the one he had in 2019-2020, this Boston Bruins team will be all the more dangerous.
At the end of the day, when a sporting team is considered to be a contender for a championship or they are at the minimum, showing signs of wanting to push for the biggest prize, the management, staff, and especially the fans need to set high standards for each players – even higher ones on the bonafide star players. In a perfect world, the Boston Bruins have the potential on paper to compete in not only the Atlantic Division, but the entire league and the players we discussed (among others) will have the most attention on them from the opening puck drop.