Even with a massive wave of rookies that hit the NHL roster last season, the Boston Bruins have no shortage of talented youngsters this time around as well.
Former first-round picks like Zach Senyshyn and Jakub Zboril are still waiting to make their NHL breakthrough after getting selected way back in 2015, and other newer first-round picks like Trent Frederic and Urho Vaakanainen are looking to make their impact in Boston as well. All talent and full prospect cupboards aside, however, it’s not going to be like last season where an impressively large rookie group of Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Sean Kuraly all made major impacts on the NHL club from beginning to end.
Bruce Cassidy said the simple truth of the matter is that there won’t be as many NHL roster spots up for grabs this time around coming off a successful 112-point season.
“No. I could certainly see a couple,” said Cassidy, when asked if he could foresee five or six rookies making this season’s squad. “We have eight NHL defensemen. We’re not going to preclude any of them from making the team, but those are tough to beat those numbers. What they’re going to have to do on the back end is show that they’re ready and then we’ll make room for them.
“Up-front we’ve left a few spots open and we’ll see how it plays out. If they can push their way to the front of the line and show that they can play with [David Krejci] then maybe on the right side. The third line center…could it be Sean Kuraly or could it be [Trent Frederic, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson or Jack Studnicka] that we talked about? We’ve got a few other guys flying under the radar like [Martin] Bakos coming in from Europe that we don’t know that much about. Those are the internal competition situations that we have for us, and realistically I think we may have two spots to fill.”
Certainly, Ryan Donato may end up factoring into the top-9 forwards if he can continue to show the offensive firepower that was there at the end of last season with five goals and nine points in 12 NHL games. Beyond that, the third line center spot that once belonged to Riley Nash is wide open with a group of veterans and rookies expected to vie for the gig. Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner will be the returning veteran players expected to get looks with Kuraly looking for a promotion from fourth line to third line, but rookie pivots Trent Frederic, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Jack Studnicka are all going to get long training camp looks while all heading over to China.
That third line center position may just be the biggest spot where a first-year player could flash in training camp. The Bruins have eight legit NHL veteran defensemen already under contract entering training camp, and their top six forwards and fourth line should be pretty close to set once camp gets going. As Zdeno Chara said, there’s only so much rookie turnover that any NHL roster is going to have year after year if a team wants the same core group of players.
“If you’ve made that step to younger players and opened the door for them to make the team, the next step is to help them get consistent and make names for themselves,” said Chara. “You can’t always be adding, adding, adding four or five guys every year, or after three or four years you’re going to have a completely different team. I think there’s the time to open the door, and then there’s the time to let them find their role or their place and start maturing as players.
“Last year was an exception with that many young players making the team, and they actually played really well. That’s great for the organization.”
So while it was great last season to see so many impactful rookies crack the Black and Gold lineup, don’t expect to see the same thing play out once again for a competitive B’s group this time around.