By: James Swindells / Follow me on Twitter @jimswindells68
The Bruins have reached the midway point of training camp at Warrior Ice Arena and their preseason schedule as head coach Jim Montgomery looks to finalize their opening night roster on October 12th versus the Washington Capitals.
As the week got underway, the Bruins hosted the New York Rangers at TD Garden on Monday night. Jeremy Swayman took his place between the pipes for the first time this preseason and saw one-half of the forward and defensive pairings in front of him comprised of prospects looking to gain a spot on the NHL roster. The Bruins came back in the third period from a one-goal deficit on a shorthanded tally by Oskar Steen, and then A.J. Greer sent the TD Garden faithful home happy when he netted the game-winner in overtime.
Several Bruins’ prospects had good outings versus the Rangers. Jack Studnicka, Joona Koppanen, and AJ Greer all had productive evenings for the Bruins. Studnicka had two assists on the night, played in big spots during overtime, and accumulated almost two and a half minutes of penalty kill ice time. Studnicka made a strong case for his inclusion on the Bruins’ roster by utilizing his speed, a solid forechecking game, and terrific vision in rugged play areas.
Koppanen, a 2016 fifth-round selection, also gave Bruins coaches a look at where he could contribute to the roster this season. Koppanen set up Steen’s shorthanded goal that knotted the game at 2-2 at 6:40 of the third period. Koppanen used his size to his advantage, worked hard in puck battles, and made quick and decisive plays that led to easy clears and breakouts for the Bruins. He led all Bruins forwards with 3:40 TOI in penalty-kill situations. Although likely destined to be returned to Providence, Koppanen showed the necessary attributes to slot in on the fourth line with further positive development.
But with all the positives that came out of Tuesday’s game, AJ Greer has captured the imagination of Bruins fans with his gritty, hard-hitting two-goal performance versus the Blueshirts. Greer, the former BU Terrier and a second-round selection by Colorado in 2015, has had short NHL stints with Colorado and New Jersey mixed with a 278-game AHL resume. After an almost point-per-game season in 2021-22 with the AHL’s Utica Comets, Greer signed a two-year deal with Boston. He led the Bruins on Tuesday night in hits, with seven, and shots on goal, with five, in 13:27 TOI. His performance in two preseason games has given the Bruins brass a look at a player with a high-energy motor and physical style of play. He also showed a flair for capturing Bruins fans’ imagination by stating he models his game style after former Bruin Milan Lucic.
While hardly a prospect, 36-year-old veteran defenceman Anton Stralman signed with the Bruins on a PTO to give them a look at adding depth to their right-handed defensive corps, Stralman averaged 21:20 TOI in 74 games last season with the Arizona Coyotes. Stralman was paired with Hampus Lindholm on Tuesday and had 18:30 TOI. With Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk missing the start of the upcoming season, Stralman could fill a big void on the blue line for the Bruins. The structure the Bruins provide should give Stralman an uptick over the numbers he put up while banished to Arizona. From the goal mouth to the forwards, the Bruins provide Stralman with far more support and an opportunity to prove the veteran can provide a solid right-handed option. Stralman did little to show he could not be an asset to the Bruins moving forward with his performance versus the Rangers.
As the week progressed, there were signs that contract extension talks between the Bruins and David Pastrnak may be heating up. Per TSN’s Darren Dreger, concerning the direction of negotiations, “Both sides are assessing the market right now. I can tell you that contract discussions have heated up since camp opened. Pastrnak understands, and he’s clearly hopeful that something will get done.” Regarding the contract market and recent extensions signed around the NHL, it is clear that the contract expectations by Pastrnak will put the term in the seven to eight-year range and likely more than nine million dollars AAV (average annual value). Big time money for a big-time production player who has repeatedly said he prefers staying in Boston rather than testing the free agency water following the 2022-23 season.
Jakub Zboril continues to garner glowing compliments from Jim Montgomery. Zboril is looking to finally develop into the player the Bruins drafted 13th in 2015. With McAvoy and Grzelcyk out for approximately the first month of the season, Zboril appears to be in line for big minutes as he provides the Bruins with a valuable defenceman who can play both strongside and offside defense. Zboril has been a strong presence in his two preseason games averaging 23:19 TOI per game while getting valuable minutes on both the PP & PK units. Montgomery has also hinted that Zboril could see top pairing minutes alongside Hampus Lindholm. It has become clear that Zboril will play a significant role in helping the Bruins bridge the gap as they await the returns of McAvoy and Grzelcyk.
As the Bruins neared their Saturday matinee matchup versus Philadelphia, the first roster cuts of camp occurred on Wednesday. Those sent to Providence of the AHL include Joey Abate, Samuel Asselin, Francois Brassard, Justin Brazeau, Brandon Bussi, Josiah Didier, J.D. Greenway, Curtis Hall, Georgii Merkulov, Luke Toporowksi, Eduards Tralmaks, Alex-Olivier Voyer and Jacob Wilson. Matthew Poitras, a 2022 second-round selection, was returned to his junior hockey squad, the Guelph Storm of the OHL.
The Philadelphia Flyers came to the TD Garden on Saturday for their second preseason meeting with Boston. Second-year netminder Linus Ullmark started for the Bruins and would play for the entire 60 minutes. Jim Montgomery would start most of the projected first and second lines for the first time this preseason and would get a continued look at the remaining prospects left in camp. David Pastrnak would be a last-minute scratch and was replaced in the lineup by top prospect Fabian Lysell.
After a lackluster first period in which the Bruins would lose Lysell for the remainder of the game with an upper-body injury, the Bruins would right the ship, find their identity, and dispose of the Flyers with a 4-0 victory. Led by the physical play of veteran Chris Wagner, the Bruins followed Wagner’s lead and outmuscled the Flyers over the final 40 minutes. The Bruins once again got significant contributions from fringe players and prospects as Montgomery looks to finalize his line pairings and get valuable evaluations of prospects looking to contribute to the team’s success during the season.
Mark McLaughlin and John Beecher made cases for roster spots, each netting a pair of goals on the afternoon. In McLaughlin’s case, he continued what has been a solid camp for the native of Billerica. His attention to detail and getting to places on the ice that generate excellent opportunities have all the earmarks of what the Bruins desperately need.
Beecher has had a strong camp and played his way into the conversation of a future role with the Bruins. Further seasoning in Providence should grow his game and accelerate his move to the big club. And with the Bruins desperately searching for new options at center among their prospects, Providence is the best place for Beecher at this time, as the Bruins look for the eventual successors to Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
After the Flyers game, the Bruins will move into the last half of camp and with more roster cuts looming, the remaining prospects and fringe veterans will need to continue to force the difficult roster decisions that both Montgomery and his staff will have to make regarding the few unclaimed spots on the Bruins season-opening roster.
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