By: Kevin O’Keefe | Follow me on Twitter @Kevin_OKeefe89
The dust is settling on what was an exciting off-season for Bruins general manager Don Sweeney and the Boston Bruins organization. With training camp and the start of meaningful pre-season games well underway, the development of the opening night roster is starting to take form. Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, is carefully analyzing what he has to work within hopes of finding the perfect combinations to create a Stanley Cup-worthy lineup.
One of the most interesting stories to follow is how well the Bruins top-six will perform after the loss of long-time center David Krejci. Cassidy has already made it clear that center Charlie Coyle will get the first crack at filling the hole left behind by Krejci as the pivot for the second-line job. There are a lot of question marks when it comes to Coyle’s capabilities of stepping up to the plate, so what other options does Cassidy have if the second-line is struggling?
Luckily for Cassidy, Sweeney was able to snag two versatile forwards during free agency that also could get a crack at centering that line. Center Erik Haula has already shown his creativity and worth through his first two preseason games. Having Haula as a backup plan to try at the second-line position between Taylor Hall and Craig Smith may not be a bad option.
Haula had already proven that he could be an impactful player in that position when he centered a Vegas second-line all the way to a Stanley cup final match-up against the Washington Capitals. Along the way, he had 29-goals and 55-points through 76-games during the regular season. If Haula could re-create that magic in Vegas’s inaugural season with the Bruins this season, it would make Cassidy’s life a lot easier.
The second option of the two is Nick Foligno. Foligno has been a top-six forward for a good portion of his 14-year NHL career, so he is no stranger to the position. He also has spent time at center throughout his career. While not the best option for the job, he is an option that can be used if the Bruins second line needs some added sandpaper and a net-front presence to round it out.
Another in-house guy who may get a shot at the second-line center position is Jack Studnicka. While Studnicka has yet to prove he can be a valuable top-six forward for this team, he has put in a ton of work on and off the ice to prepare himself for the rigors of the NHL. To this point, Studnicka has impressed enough to be in the conversation, but not enough to surpass Charlie Coyle as the guy to get the first shot. Studnicka will need to have a fantastic game or two in the pre-season to make the decision a tough one for Cassidy.
It’s well established that Cassidy will start the year with the first-line intact and a second-line that consists of Hall, Coyle, and Smith. If all options listed above are proving to fail, and the second line isn’t giving the team what it needs to be successful moving forward, Cassidy must do the unthinkable in many Bruins fans’ minds, and that is… break up the first-line. Before any franchise-altering trades are made for a second-line center, this is a move Cassidy should and would make.
The Bruins are rich with top-end talent in their top-six. Having four first-line players in the top half of your lineup is a luxury not many teams have in this league. The top-line consisting of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak is well known to be one of the best lines in the league to date. Taylor Hall, who is a first-line player on many teams, is slotting into the Bruins second line to drive the play. If this second-line and Taylor Hall is suffering from an offensive standpoint, there is an option to give you that balanced scoring many opposing teams would fear.
Dropping David Pastrnak down to play on the second line with Coyle and Hall while bumping Craig Smith up to the first line to play with Marchand and Bergeron could be just what the doctor ordered in this case. While dropping Pastrnak down hasn’t worked before, this is an entirely different story. Taylor Hall is a fast and skillful player who facilitates the offense through his speed and chances off the rush. That is the exact type of player David Pastrnak excels playing with. Krejci and Pastrnak were never able to make it click due to their different styles of play.
The magic between Hall and Pastrnak has already been on display a couple of times last season and in this past Thursday’s preseason game against the Flyers. Every time these two players touch the ice together, goals are created, which is a small sample size, but something that is worth a more significant look. Charlie Coyle would also benefit from this dynamic duo, giving him the best chance to live up to his $5.25-million contract.
Craig Smith would also benefit from this as well by playing with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. The sample size is already there for that line. Last season Craig smith had his best offensive run of the season when lined up with the Bruins top-line. He had 8-points in 6-games played while fitting in seamlessly with that line’s style of two-way play. Marchand and Bergeron have the chemistry to continue tearing up the league; adding in smith would still allow that line to have a guy that can give you 25-30 goals in that elevated position.
Bruce Cassidy has plenty of options to go to before talking with Sweeney about this upcoming season trade deadline. Cassidy already stated he will be mixing and matching and is not afraid to break up the top line if needed. The questions that are being asked will all have answers soon enough, and hopefully, Don Sweeney will not have to add another top-six forward to this group. The depth of this forward group is looking great so far, and it’s up to Cassidy to make all the pieces fit.