BRIGHTON, Mass. - As Bruins training camp begins here with fitness testing and physicals on Thursday morning, the biggest early storyline is, of course, the return of David Pastrnak to the fold after he agreed to a six-year, $40 million contract.
Still, there is plenty more to Boston’s camp with a team full of players that pushed back into the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring, a new coach overseeing his first NHL camp in more than a decade and a boatload of young prospects that the Bruins are relying on to make an impact this coming season. There will be open position battles for the left wing spot alongside David Krejci and the right wing position aside Boston’s dynamic duo of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and plenty of questions about where young D-men Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy will fit into Boston’s defensive pairings.
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All of this more will play out over the next month as the Bruins prepare for a season where the playoffs will become a goal of obligation and moving beyond the first round becomes the aim of this group.
“We definitely had a better year last year than a lot of people thought we would have, and we definitely came along,” said Brad Marchand, coming off a Hart Trophy-worthy season where he posted a team-leading 39 goals and 85 points in 80 games. “It’s been exciting even in the last few captain’s practices to watch the young guys and what they’ve been able to do, the skill they have and what they’re going to be able to bring to the table.
“It will be fun to watch them grow, help the team and hopefully we can make another stride this coming year. There are definitely higher expectations, but I’m not going to put that on me. Things really clicked well last year, but it’s more about being prepared every game, working hard and hoping that things go well for everyone.”
The one big thing the Bruins have working for them is their strong, battled-hardened core with Marchand, a healthy Patrice Bergeron, an aging Zdeno Chara, a motivated Tuukka Rask, a playmaking David Krejci with something to prove and a rock-solid David Backes leading the way with kids - Pastrnak, Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and a few youngsters to be named later following behind them. They will be tested with the expectation that the team will be a half-step better after last season and they will be challenged by an Eastern Conference that is going to be much more difficult than last season.
The Atlantic Division was not strong last season, but it will be much tougher this year with Tampa Bay and Florida both expected to rebound strongly, Toronto on the rise with their young stars and both Montreal and Ottawa lying in wait as the possible best teams at the top of the heap. Even the Buffalo Sabres will be much improved from what they were last season. That means the B’s are going to have to markedly better if they expect to push into the playoffs for the second season in a row.
“It will be nice to all be on the same page and all start together for the first day of training camp and start building something together,” said Bergeron. “It’s exciting from an organizational standpoint, and for us as players you want to bring out the best mix of guys on the ice together to be successful. That’s really all that matters.”
It remains to be seen how the roster is going to fit together, but the Bruins sound hungry and have something to prove after getting that sweet, late-season taste of success again. Now, it’s up to the Black and Gold to build on that and meet “the higher expectations” they know are waiting for them once the regular season starts.