Bruins

Surplus of 'qualified candidates' means a good Bruins player may be cut

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Surplus of 'qualified candidates' means a good Bruins player may be cut

BRIGHTON, Mass. – With the majority of Bruins players still healthy and rookies Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork appearing ready to handle frontline NHL duty, it is going to be a fascinating battle for forward spots at the end of camp. 

The Bruins have a boatload of forwards on one-way contracts and clearly not enough spots. That reality set in as the training camp group has settled into one massive practice unit at Warrior Ice Arena.

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Bruce Cassidy prefers to work in pairs with his forwards to find chemistry and combinations and it certainly looks as if Riley Nash and Noel Acciari are locked in as a fourth-line combo while Ryan Spooner and David Backes would seem like an inevitable third-line combo based on their skill and respective NHL resumes.

That leaves a number of players, including Frank Vatrano, Matt Beleskey, Sean Kuraly, Kenny Agostino, Teddy Purcell, Tim Schaller, Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen battling for three final roster spots, a pair of wing spots in the bottom-six and a reserve spot for the 13th forward. The third and fourth lines Wednesday at practice were Kuraly/Spooner/Backes and Beleskey/Nash/Acciari. That gave everyone an indication of which players had the upper hand for NHL jobs with just two preseason games (tonight in Philly, Saturday in Chicago) before the Oct 5 season opener against Nashville at TD Garden. 

Cassidy recognizes that there’s a surplus of “qualified candidates” for NHL jobs still skating around in training camp and that was something done by design in the offseason.

“We feel like there’s a lot of, for lack of a better term, qualified candidates for those [bottom-six] spots,” said Cassidy. “Some of that was by design when Donnie [Sweeney] was building the roster in the offseason. We talked about working in some of these younger players, but there needs to be a margin for error there if it wasn’t going to work,” said Cassidy. “[The surplus of forwards] is for that reason and to build up our organizational depth up was another reason. We saw it last year in the playoffs with our defensemen, so we’re trying to guard against that and make sure we’ve got quality people if it becomes a ‘next man up’ situation.’

“So far, so good. We’ve had good efforts from guys that all realize that the competition is there, and that should make your team better. You might have one lineup on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean another player can’t push their way into the lineup the week later. Sometimes you get locked into the opening night roster, but there are a lot of hockey games [in a regular season]. So there is that to consider as well.”

One really interesting thing that could play into all of this is the game-to-game needs of the team and the way that the Bruins coaching staff could tailor their game-day lineups based on matchups. If they want a big, heavy fore-checking line they can put Kuraly and Backes together, or if they think the penalty kill will be a big factor then Kuraly and Schaller could be bigger factors. If the coaching staff is looking to boost the offense then Vatrano paired with Spooner would be the right combination.

The special teams’ ability, in particular, might help Schaller and Kuraly, who can kill penalties, and could hurt Agostino, who hasn’t been pegged for much special-teams duty in the preseason.

“We’re going to get a little bit of everything, particularly if you’ve got Spooner at center with his speed and Backes at one of the wings. He’s a heavier guy that likes to cycle pucks, and then if you’ve got Kuraly there he’s got some speed and likes to play the cycle game,” said Cassidy. “Or you’ve got a high-end rush sort of line if you throw in an offensive rush guy like Vatrano. At the end of the day it depends who those guys are for what kind of line it is, but regardless it’s going to be something of a mixed bag.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a situation where there’s going to be a 13th guy, and the other 12 guys are clearly up above him. It’s not shaping up that way right now. Certain nights early on how many penalties are going to be called? Early in the preseason, you’ve needed a boatload of [penalty] killers, and it will be paramount early in the year if there’s a lot of penalties called. It could slant more towards that early on.”

The best guess here is that Beleskey, Kuraly and Vatrano end up as the final three to make the squad, which could leave Agostino and Schaller open to being claimed by any of the other 30 NHL teams in the waiver process. Still, it should also be a signal to Bruins veterans such as Vatrano and Schaller that protecting their NHL roster spots could come down to their performance in the final two preseason games and could also be predicated on which players aren’t yet subject to the waiver process. 
 

Highlights from Bruins' 4-3 OT loss to Red Wings

Highlights from Bruins' 4-3 OT loss to Red Wings

FINAL SCORE: Red Wings 4, Bruins 3 (OT)

IN BRIEF: Down 3-1 in the third period, the Bruins got a swift strike from Daniel Winnik (4:34) and a power-play goal from Axel Andersson (14:37) to force overtime, where Detroit’s Evgeny Svechnikov won it just 1:42 into the extra frame.

BRUINS PRESEASON RECORD: 4-0-1

HOW OVERTIME WAS WON:

WHAT'S NEXT: The Bruins kick off their final week of preseason games Monday in Philadelphia against the Flyers, before heading home for two final exhibitions against the Red Wings (Wednesday) and Flyers (Saturday).

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Taking a shot at what the Bruins opening night roster might look like

Taking a shot at what the Bruins opening night roster might look like

BRIGHTON, Mass. - With the Bruins training camp finally on the same continent and the team together for the first time, things are beginning to feel a lot more like an NHL training camp.

It certainly felt that way on Friday when Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy addressed the Boston media for the first time and then again on Saturday when Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask and David Pastrnak were back working out at Warrior Ice Arena. So now is the time to get real about competition for open spots on the NHL roster and to start prognosticating which lines and pairings will be rolled out Oct. 3 on opening night in Washington.

To this point, Cassidy said that nobody has played their way off the NHL roster four games into the preseason and that sets up an interesting battlefield for candidates in the final four exhibition games starting tonight vs. the Detroit Red Wings.

“The veteran guys won’t play on Saturday and there’s quite a few that won’t play on Monday either, so we’re looking at a week together with a couple of home preseason games to maybe look at our lineup a little bit more,” said Cassidy. “So, Monday we’ll get another look and then we’ll decide how we’re shaping up here. By then you’re hoping that now we’re looking at where [Sean] Kuraly fits in, and hopefully [Bergeron] is ready to go by then. Who is Krejci’s linemate going to be on the right side? So now we’re looking at one of the guys that’s here and whether they’ll fit in with him. It could go down to the wire for one or two spots, but Monday is a big day for some of those guys.”

One of the biggest questions facing this roster is whether to keep Bergeron, Pastrnak and Marchand together on the top line, or whether it’s better to slide Pastrnak in with Krejci to make two offensively dangerous forward lines. Much of it depends on the performance of the younger candidates on the wing, and thus far, Danton Heinen and Ryan Donato have performed well while vying for one of those right-wing spots.

Then there’s the third-line center vacancy left by the departure of Riley Nash. That's potentially up for competition among a number of players including Chris Wagner, Kuraly, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka. Studnicka fared well centering Marchand and Pastrnak in China, and both Frederic and JFK had their moments centering potential NHL forward lines overseas as well. To this point, the Bruins kiddie corps has all done exceedingly well and that’s something that has all of them still standing as viable candidates.

“I think Donato was good in Game One. Game Two he made some plays and had some turnovers...the usual stuff that we work on with the young guys, but I love his initiative. He’s a guy that loves to make things happen,” said Cassidy. “JFK had pockets of really good shifts, and other teams he was tentative where we had to remind him it’s a 60-minute game. But again they are young guys. Frederic was very good on the kill with Backes, who has been his partner. He scored a goal, so offensively they all chipped in.

“Jack [Studnicka] had a little penalty trouble. I’m not sure he deserved all of them, but he’s learning that hands and sticks have to stay off the body. But again he’s 19 years old. Urho Vaakanainen played one game and he was pretty efficient. He’s a pretty smooth player as well.”

As lineups get more veteran-laden and the intensity ramps up in final four preseason games, here’s a first glance at what the Bruins roster might look like Oct. 3 against the Capitals:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak
DeBrusk-Krejci-Donato
Heinen-JFK-Backes
Wagner-Kuraly-Acciari

Chara-McAvoy
Krug-Carlo
Moore-Miller

Rask
Halak

The toughest omission is obviously Matt Grzelcyk on the back end after a strong rookie campaign, but the bottom line with Boston’s defensemen is that there’s going to be a good player sitting every night. Up front, Anders Bjork is the biggest name kept off, but his shoulder injury has put him behind Donato and Heinen, who have played very well in the preseason.

The biggest feature is keeping together Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak and that just comes down to maintaining an advantage that the Bruins will have over just about every team with a trio that can dominate at both ends of the ice. It would be easier to find a right winger that can make things go on the second line than recreating the magic of the Perfection Line using different forwards, so there’s a strong argument to be made for keeping the top group together for the long haul.  

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