By: James Swindells | Follow me on Twitter @jimswindells68
The dismissal of Bruce Cassidy after six years in the head coach’s role was met with disappointment from fans and seemed to be an omen that things were not entirely what they seemed to be inside the Bruins’ locker room. With that in mind, on July 1, Jim Montgomery was brought onboard and introduced as the team’s new head coach. General Manager Don Sweeney hopes the Montgomery-led Bruins will open things up on the offensive front while upholding the team’s successful defensive structure.
So here we are firmly entrenched in the dog days of summer and the idea of the Bruins starting training camp at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton seems a reasonable distance away. But before you know it, the Bruins will be in camp and readying for the 2022-2023 NHL regular season. Before those days are upon us, I’d like to touch upon the hopes of the newly signed or acquired players in this 2022 offseason and shed light on some of the expectations of the prospects inside the organization that will be on the AHL Providence Bruins roster.
As expected, Patrice Bergeron has re-signed with the Bruins and will, once again, anchor the top line. At the season’s start, the five-time Selke Award winner will likely have Taylor Hall and Jake DeBrusk as his linemates until Brad Marchand returns from surgery on both hips. Marchand and the Bruins are hopeful that he returns to the lineup by early December. In the meantime, the expectation is the top line with the talent embedded in it will produce at a high level. Jake DeBrusk will look to continue to grow his game under Montgomery and return to the 25-plus goal club. Meanwhile, Taylor Hall looks to benefit from pairing with Bergeron and DeBrusk and improve upon his first full season in Boston.
The re-signing of Bergeron is undoubtedly the most significant player addition the Bruins have made in the 2022 offseason. It is well-known what to expect from the Bruins’ captain. The 200-foot game he possesses is the cornerstone of his game and solidifies the Bruins up and down the ice sheet.
On July 13, the Bruins acquired forward Pavel Zacha from the New Jersey Devils. The trade for Zacha, the 6th overall pick in 2015, gives the Bruins some younger legs than Erik Haula, who was traded to New Jersey. The change of scenery will hopefully boost some of Zacha’s previous numbers obtained in his underwhelming stint with the Devils. At the season’s start, Zacha potentially finds himself on the 2nd line paired up with a couple of fellow countrymen. More on that later.
One of the more puzzling questions that need answering this season: Will this be the season that Jack Studnicka finally puts to rest the “bust” talk and sticks the landing with the big club? The 2017 2nd Round pick has to prove to the Bruins’ brass that he will be the impact player they have been looking for as a successor to either Bergeron or Krejci. His stints in Providence have shown he can produce, albeit in the AHL, but those production numbers and playing an accountable, 200-foot game in Boston are an absolute must if he is to stick on the Bruins roster.
On the blue line, two players will likely get a decent chance to make an argument that they belong in the starting six defensemen:
In Jakub Zboril, the Bruins saw what could be. In the ten-game sample last season, the 25-year-old Czech native maintained his spot in the lineup until he tore his ACL in December. Zboril’s noticeably improved skating and willingness to engage offensively were nice improvements to his game. With his recently signed 2-year extension, it appears that the Bruins front office sees him fitting in some capacity on what will be a thinner D corps at the season’s start.
This leads to Jack Ahcan, who is also looking to benefit from surgery recovery times to Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk. While the sample size is small, the undrafted St. Cloud State product, the comparisons to former Bruin, Torey Krug, are unavoidable. From his size to his puck handling abilities and willingness to join the play in the offensive zone, Ahcan has the makings of what the Bruins are looking to implement into their defensive corp. In his two seasons in Providence, Ahcan has shown the ability to quarterback a power play and jump into plays in 5-on-5 situations while holding down his defensive responsibilities. All are essential phases for Ahcan to secure a regular spot on the blue line in Boston.
Two forwards in the Bruins’ system who showed signs in 2021-2022 of giving the Bruins added depth in their 3rd & 4th line pairings were Oskar Steen, a 6th rounder in 2016, and North Billerica native Mark McLaughlin.
Steen, who signed a new deal in April, would seem to have an opportunity to take over the vacancy left by Curtis Lazar, who signed in free agency with the Vancouver Canucks. The 24-year-old Swede made serious strides last season with the P-Bruins, showing impressive production in his 41 games for Providence. Upon his recall to Boston, he gave the Bruins a shot in the arm while playing 3rd line minutes and mostly holding his own in his 20 games with the big club. I felt Steen should have been a viable option on the Bruins’ playoff roster, given the lineup some juice it lacked.
First impressions are everything. Then consider Mark McLaughlin’s Bruins debut vs. the New Jersey Devils on March 31 as a statement in making that ever-important first impression. The former BC Eagle captain continued to impress in his 11-game tour by showing a nose for the net and scoring 2nd line ice time during an absence by David Pastrnak. Can he secure a spot in Boston with a strong camp? Possibly, but a little more seasoning in Providence should do nothing but enhance his chances down the road.
With a likelihood of spending the majority of the season in Providence to gain much-needed professional experience and fine-tuning of their games are Georgii Merkulov and John Beecher. Both will gain experience during camp and see action in some NHL preseason games. Even with some potential roster openings due to surgeries, it would likely take one or both players having a standout camp to crack the NHL roster when camp breaks.
Merkulov is an undrafted signing by the Bruins. He led the Ohio State University Buckeyes in scoring in his lone season there. Merkulov was a teammate of Mason Lohrei, a 2nd round selection in 2020 by the Bruins. In his short time in Providence, Merkulov had one goal and four helpers in eight regular season games.
Merkulov possesses the necessary offensive skills to make him an asset to the Bruins organization but needs some development time in the “A” to improve his defensive skills to the point where he develops into a responsible three-zone player.
John Beecher, a former 30th overall pick from 2019, is coming into his first full season in the Bruins’ organization. He spent three seasons playing for the University of Michigan and compiled 19 goals and 20 assists in 81 games with the Wolverines. Beecher has some size on him at 6’3″ and 210 pounds. He possessed a solid D-zone game and was a regular on the Wolverines PK unit. Where Beecher needs to improve is in his output offensively. Something that will be tasked to Providence coach Ryan Mougenel and his staff to work Beecher towards that goal in the coming season.
When it comes to a Bruins prospect that fans have been dying to get a look at, not many in recent years have the buzz surrounding him as Fabian Lysell does. Lysell had a breakout 2021-2022 season with the WHL Vancouver Giants. The Swedish-born winger produced 62 points in his 53 games with Vancouver. Lysell then turned things up a notch in the WHL playoffs by helping the Giants eliminate the top-seeded Everett Silvertips before being eliminated in the second round by the Kamloops Blazers. In his 12 playoff games, Lysell totaled 21 points, including five helpers in the first game of the series versus Everett. Lysell has piqued the curiosity of Bruins fans, and the sense is that there is something special on the way. Vancouver Giants GM, Barclay Parneta, made a bold statement comparing the 19-year-old Lysell’s skating ability to an NHL Hall of Famer and a future Hall of Famer.
That is some lofty praise for a 19-year-old kid who has yet to log one second of NHL ice time. Lysell will have plenty of eyes on him in Bruins’ camp, and if he astounds Bruins’ coaches and management alike, can he make his way onto the roster out of camp? Like many of you, I cannot wait to set my eyes upon him and potentially see a unique player bloom right before our eyes.
The Bruins’ offseason had been quiet except for the Zacha trade from the Devils and some organizational depth moves. The move that Bruins fans were awaiting dropped, as former Bruin David Krejci, re-signed with the team after playing a season for HC Olomouc in Czechia; the one-year deal reunites Krejci with the franchise he has spent his entire NHL career. Krejci fills a need at 2C that was a work by committee last season, and he brings instant stability back to the lineup at the position. There will likely be some shifting of the wingers that will flank him at the start of the season, but the second line, barring further injuries, should put Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak on Krejci’s wings once Brad Marchand returns to the lineup. In the interim, it would not be a surprise if an all-Czech line comprised of Krejci, Pastrnak, and Zacha sees plenty of time together. In what could be a beneficial move for Zacha, he would get a chance to play with two high-quality players that he never had the advantage of in New Jersey.
In the end, many Bruins fans want to see if Don Sweeney’s promise to have a coach willing to open things up offensively while keeping their defensive philosophy in place is ultimately going to work. The thinking is that the talent in place should be capable of performing in all three zones to open up this possibility. But have no doubt, the band has gotten back together for one last kick at The Cup. For better or worse, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And what was once old is new…AGAIN.