BRIGHTON -- The Bruins' roster is starting to take shape with just over a week to go before the start of the regular season. Obviously there still could be a last-minute injury or two, but it appears Claude Julien is honing in on his top-6 forwards to start the season.
Julien and the coaching staff have been looking at David Pastrnak as the right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, a line that could be deadly at the offensive end with their skill level and dogged puck-hunting. Surprisingly, the Bruins are also looking at David Krejci centering a veritable line of centers between Ryan Spooner on the left and David Backes on the right.
It’s along the same philosophical line as a huge group of centers comprising the forward lines for Team Canada, which worked out pretty well when some of them moved off the middle and over to the wing.
“These are all things that we’re discovering here, and that will be giving us options moving forward,” said Julien, who had to improvise a little bit when the B’s lost Frank Vatrano for three months to a foot injury. “We’re trying stuff to see different people at different positions, so when we make the final decisions we’ve explored every option.
“We just went through it at the World Cup with a lot of centers playing wing. It was great for faceoffs; one gets kicked out and the other one goes in. They adapted well and it just gave us more flexibility. It’s hard to replace a centerman, but it’s much easier to replace a winger. When you’ve got them on the wing and something happens to somebody playing down the middle, then you’ve got somebody to replace them, and feel a lot more comfortable about that. For us, we like our players to be versatile and play different positions when asked to.”
It’s all still being toyed with at the hockey laboratory on Causeway Street with two exhibition games remaining. But one of the reasons it's possible is the emergence of rookie Austin Czarnik as a legitimate candidate for the third-line center position.
“There are different things that we want to look at,” said Julien, who said the B’s may even tinker with moving Czarnik to wing in the preseason after he played strictly center while posting 20 goals and 61 points in Providence last season. “Obviously Austin has had a really great camp, so we want to make sure you cover all your options.
"Frankie Vatrano is hurt, so that’s a winger we thought would make some significant strides this year. Even when he comes back, he’ll be three months behind it not even more. So it’s one of those situations where we need to try different things here, and give guys that deserve to make the team an opportunity to make the team. We need to find space and make room for [those players] to play in those situations that’s going to make them the best player possible.”
While Czarnik slowed down toward the end of a strong training camp last season, the 23-year-old scored his second goal of the preseason in Tuesday night’s loss to Montreal while showing off his speed, dogged puck pursuit and excellent work ethic as an undersized center that will need to overcompensate at the NHL level.
If nothing else, it’s giving Julien and the B’s coaching staff options as they get down to decision time.