The 2022-23 NHL season is less than a month away, and training camps around the league are opening up this week.
That includes the Boston Bruins, who have off-ice testing Wednesday before hitting the ice Thursday.
The Bruins underwent a lot of changes in the offseason. They fired head coach Bruce Cassidy after six seasons and brought in Jim Montgomery as his replacement. Patrice Bergeron did not retire and came back for a 19th season. David Krejci also returned following a one-year hiatus.
A couple familiar faces won't be participating in training camp drills, the preseason or the early regular season games. Brad Marchand (hip), Charlie McAvoy (shoulder) and Matt Grzelcyk (shoulder) all are still rehabbing from offseason surgeries and won't be ready to play on Opening Night. These absences will create plenty of opportunities for younger players looking to establish themselves at the NHL level and carve out a larger role.
Here are five storylines to watch as B's training camp opens this week.
Will Fabian Lysell make the NHL roster?
One of the most-watched players in camp and the preseason will be Fabian Lysell, the Bruins' top prospect. The 2021 first-round pick has fantastic offensive skill and plays the game with an exciting up-tempo style. The 2021-22 season was his first in North America, and he tallied 62 points (22 goals, 40 assists) in 53 games for the WHL's Vancouver Giants.
It would be shocking if he returns to the WHL again.
That's because Lysell is ready to play against older, better players. The real debate is whether that's in the AHL or NHL. The Bruins certainly aren't against Lysell beginning the season at the NHL level, especially if he earns it in camp.
"We're not going to hold the best players off our team. Ultimately, we want to play the best players," Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said last month. "So if Fabian comes in and stands out to the point we feel he's ready, that's fine. But we don't need to rush things with any of our young players. We'll put them in an opportunity and allow them to see if they can succeed."
The question for Lysell is fit. He's not the type of player or prospect you throw on the fourth line. He's too skilled for that kind of role. But there aren't any openings at right wing on the first, second or third line, either. Jake DeBrusk is likely to be right wing on the first line. David Pastrnak is expected to fill that spot on the second line. Craig Smith probably will return to right wing on the third line.
So, unless the Bruins get creative, there might not be a top-nine position for Lysell right off the bat. That said, if Lysell impresses, head coach Jim Montgomery will need to find him ice time. The Bruins need to score more goals, especially at 5-on-5. They ranked 15th in goals scored last year and won't have their top scorer, Brad Marchand, until around Thanksgiving.
The Bruins need Lysell's scoring ability, playmaking skill and speed. Where in the lineup he slots in will be fascinating to watch in camp.
Who will replace Brad Marchand at first-line left wing?
Marchand's absence is a big deal. He's the best all-around left winger in the league and has led the Bruins in scoring two consecutive seasons and five of the last six years. Only eight players in the league have tallied more points than Marchand's 236 since the start of the 2019-20 campaign.
So, with the 34-year-old veteran out about a month to begin the season as he rehabs from offseason hip surgery, who will step into his spot at first-line left wing?
Pavel Zacha, who the Bruins acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Devils in July, should get the first crack. Zacha is a versatile forward with the ability to play center or on the wing. He tallied a career-high 36 points last season.
B's captain Patrice Bergeron, who centers the first line, is already impressed with what he's seen from Zacha.
"He's a great player, a very smart player. I think (that's) something I knew even before he came in," Bergeron told reporters last week. "He plays the game the right way and is always well-positioned.
"He's got a great shot. Even from talking with him, I think he wants to become a bit of a shoot-first mentality a little more than what he's had in the past. I think he's a great player and I'm excited to get to know him on and off the ice. Young guy who has a lot of potential and can become a great player in this league."
A loaded second line with David Krejci at center
The Bruins' second line could be a lot of fun.
David Krejci is back after spending a season playing in his native Czech Republic, and the expectation is he'll play alongside fellow Czech forward David Pastrnak and Taylor Hall. Despite not playing together very much during their previous time as Bruins teammates, Krejci is not worried at all about his chemistry with Pastrnak. In fact, he thinks their connection is quite strong.
"We have a good chemistry. We don't need to practice much together," Krejci said earlier this week. "We just go out there and do our thing."
Krejci and Hall proved to be an effective combo during the 2020-21 season after Boston acquired the veteran left winger from the Buffalo Sabres. The B's outscored opponents 14-1 when Krejci and Hall were on the ice at 5-on-5 together in the 16 regular season games after the trade.
A Hall-Krejci-Pastrnak line has the potential to be among the league's most feared and productive. Pastrnak is an elite goal scorer with two 40-goal seasons in his career. Only five players have scored more goals than him over the last three seasons. Hall is a former Hart Trophy winner and a power forward who's great at zone entries and creating chances off the rush.
If Krejci is close to the same player he was toward the end of his first stint in Boston, this line will be really exciting to watch.
Who will be Hampus Lindholm's partner on the top pairing?
With Charlie McAvoy out of the lineup for the first month of the season as he rehabs from offseason shoulder surgery, Hampus Lindholm is going to be an extremely important player as the team's top defenseman during that time.
Lindholm was acquired before the trade deadline last season and made a seamless transition to Boston's blue line. Injuries impacted his availability in the playoffs, but he's healthy again and will be asked to excel in all three zones with a heavy workload early in the season.
It'll be interesting to see who Montgomery puts next to Lindholm with McAvoy unavailable to begin the season. Lindholm mostly played alongside McAvoy last year -- 131:22 at 5-on-5, to be exact. The only other partner that spent more than five minutes with Lindholm at 5-on-5 was Brandon Carlo.
And Carlo is probably the best candidate to begin the season with Lindholm. He's about to enter his seventh full campaign in Boston despite being just 25 years old. At 6-foot-5 and 212 pounds, Carlo is more of a stay-at-home, defensive defenseman. This makes him a good fit with Lindholm and allows the Swedish d-man to jump into the play in an offensive role when appropriate.
Will David Pastrnak sign an extension?
Pastrnak's future will continue to be a major storyline until he signs an extension, and it could potentially become a distraction if he goes well into the season without doing so.
However, the 26-year-old forward was asked last week if he was optimistic something would get done between the two sides, and he sounded pretty confident.
"Yeah, of course," Pastrnak told reporters last Friday. "This city is where I got the chance to become the player I am -- become the human being I am. ... I came here as a kid and now I'm a man. I'm extremely happy, lots of great memories. I've said many times, I love it here, and it's an honor to wear this jersey."
Pastrnak is entering the final year of his contract. If he doesn't have a new deal before next July, he'll be eligible for unrestricted free agency. The Bruins cannot afford for the situation to reach that point. Pastrnak is an elite scorer and a true franchise cornerstone. Players with 40-goal talent don't come around very often, especially in Boston. Before Pastrnak, the last B's player to score 40-plus goals in a season was Glen Murray in 2002-03.
A long-term contract worth $9-10.5 million per season would be fair for both sides.