Projecting the Bruins Opening Night Roster

( Photo credit: Mike Stobe / NHLI via Getty Images )

By: Zach Carlone | Follow me on Twitter! @zcarlone21

Another NHL offseason for Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is officially completed. Some players were re-signed. New prospects were drafted. Familiar faces who went their own ways are now playing for other teams. The most notable absence heading into the preseason is of former Bruins center David Krejci, who is currently playing overseas back home in the Czech Republic. However, with a handful of players leaving the black and gold like Krejci, Sweeney did a fulfilling job of bringing in new faces. After all of the roster moves, training camp is underway and the Bruins’ first preseason game is scheduled for September 26th against the Washington Capitals.

As a result of all of the moves from an active offseason with Sweeney at the head of the operation, there’s a lot of questions heading into the season that won’t be answered until opening night. The Bruins regular season officially starts with a home opener against the Dallas Stars on October 16th, but until then, we can only speculate and merely guess what the roster for this team is going to look like on that night. With all of the questions and storylines surrounding the group and its players, here’s my guess at what could be the opening night roster:

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak

Hall – Coyle – Smith

DeBrusk – Haula – Studnicka

Frederic – Foligno – Lazar

Grzelcyk – McAvoy

Reilly – Carlo

Forbort – Clifton

Ullmark

Swayman

Extras: Nosek, Wagner, Froden, Moore

The first line is here to stay. They were terrific last year together, and that was expected. Marchand posted 69 points in 53 games, the third-most points league-wide. Pastrnak posted a point-per-game, and Bergeron was his usual defensive-minded self. I expect them to stick as a unit for the majority of the season, but if the offense below them runs dry at any point, I would expect Pastrnak to shift down a line to play with Taylor Hall. That won’t be how they start the year, but it could be an option for Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy if the Bruins offense can’t produce consistently over a few games at points during the season.

Charlie Coyle seems to be the favorite to win the coveted second-line center spot after the departure of Krejci. The 29-year-old collected 16 points last year and couldn’t produce for long periods of time in the middle of the season. He did have surgery during the offseason on a knee injury and it will limit his play during training camp, but Sweeney expects him to be ready for opening night. Taylor Hall and Craig Smith played exceptionally well with Krejci towards the end of last season and they’ve both found a home on the second line. The real question for this group is whether or not Coyle can produce consistently throughout the season but that’ll certainly be addressed during the first month or so.

The bottom six is where the decisions start to get tricky. The Bruins signed Nick Foligno, Thomas Nosek, and Erik Haula in free agency and all three should play an integral role in the Bruins bottom-six. One player that seems to have his spot booked is winger Jake DeBrusk. Frustrations from inconsistencies boiled to the top last season, and Bruce Cassidy voiced his concerns with DeBrusk’s play. Cassidy claimed he wants to give DeBrusk the initial chance to play on the left side, where he feels most comfortable. With winger Nick Ritchie in the fold last season, DeBrusk was asked to play on the right side often. As a result, the 24-year-old didn’t perform well. In 41 games, he scored five goals and 14 points.

Ritchie isn’t on the Bruins anymore, opening the door for DeBrusk to bounce back. Another player with their door open for a roster spot is 22-year-old Jack Studnicka. The right-handed forward has been involved with talks in the early preseason because of the impressive work he did over the offseason, specifically bulking himself and getting stronger. It’ll be interesting to see how much his offseason improves his game. For now, he could occupy a spot somewhere in the bottom-six if he plays well during the preseason to give the Bruins a dynamic young talent in the secondary group of forwards. However, I think Studnicka is bound to stick as the Bruins second-line center at some point during the 2021-22 campaign.

Like the third line, the fourth line is going to see a lot of different looks to start the season. Curtis Lazar, Foligno, and Nosek have experience playing center. The fourth line’s main priority this season, with the loss of Sean Kuraly in the offseason, should be to produce more while sticking to a defensive-mindset. The addition of Foligno will help, and Trent Frederic, 6’2″, should take a step towards more production this season as well. Forward Chris Wagner seems like the odd-man-out unless injuries arise and newcomer Jesper Froden impressed mightily at the Bruins prospect camps and could push for a glimpse of some NHL action too.

The Bruins signed left-handed defenseman Derek Forbort to a three-year contract this offseason, and Cassidy has already pondered the idea of playing him with Charlie McAvoy. I don’t think that will happen right away, but it could happen later in October. To start the year, the players who have played with one another and are familiar with one another should stick together. Forbort, a shut-down defenseman, will get every chance to prove himself for his new club. Connor Clifton, 26, will finally get a full-time role as a result of the retirement of Kevan Miller at the conclusion of last season.

It won’t be Tuukka Rask in between the pipes for the Bruins to start the season, either. Sweeney signed former Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark to a deal this offseason and it’s the 28-year-old’s time to shine with a new team. Jeremy Swayman should get around 25 starts throughout the season, but that number will change if Tuukka Rask signs with the team and returns mid-season. I’m expecting Ullmark to perform well enough to earn the number one spot and play as a number one goaltender until Rask possibly returns and the crease changes. For now, the Bruins should feel really comfortable with both Ullmark and Swayman.

In the midst of all the storylines for the Bruins heading into the early portions of the 2021-22 season, this team is undoubtedly going to be fun to watch. We know they’re going to compete every night and the lineup that is decided on by Cassidy will definitely compete to win every game, making their mark as one of the best teams in the East. Until the opening night, we can only guess what that lineup will look like. No matter what, Bruins fans should be excited for what’s in store for this roster in 2021-22.

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