BOSTON – With just one preseason game left until the start of the regular season, the lines are getting more defined for competition among open positions on the Bruins roster.
There aren’t that many of them open, of course, and things have been muddied a bit by both the preseason-long injury status for Patrice Bergeron and by the large contingent of players that left for 10 days in China in training camp. But both Trent Frederic and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson dressed for the 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night at TD Garden, and both are still very much in the running for a wide-open, third-line center spot with Boston.
Neither player stood up and laid claim to the job in the OT loss while playing a lineup closer to the NHL real thing with Detroit, but neither youngster did anything to lose the job in the penultimate exhibition game either.
Does Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy want to see the 20-year-old Frederic and the 22-year-old Forsbacka Karlsson in another preseason game?
You bet he does, but it might not matter even if he didn’t with Bergeron and Sean Kuraly still banged up in camp.
“I might not have a choice if Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] and [Sean] Kuraly aren’t ready to go. Krech [David Krejci] will definitely go in [Saturday vs. the Flyers]. [Noel] Acciari, assuming he has no residual effects from his first game in a while, can play in there or [Chris] Wagner. We’ve seen a lot of them,” said Cassidy. “Every game matters and they get more comfortable, but I think we’ll be able to have good internal discussions tomorrow and say ‘Hey where are we at exactly and go from there.’
“I can’t tell you right now that this guy’s staying or this guy’s going. Jack [Studnicka] went back today.
We felt JFK [Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson] and Trent [Frederic] were ahead of him. [Studnicka] had a nice camp, but he’s still young. So, we have to figure out now, okay are we willing to go with one of those guys? I can’t sit here and tell you unequivocally yeah they’re the third-line center. I’m not going to do that, but they both had pockets of good hockey, and [one of them] may be a guy that starts [in Boston].”
At least Frederic was a noticeable physical presence while centering Peter Cehlarik and Lee Stempniak, and was mixing it up in front of the net while also nearly dropping the gloves with fellow youngster Givani Smith. He finished with three shot attempts and a blocked shot in 17:11 of ice time, but also had three giveaways while also losing 9-of-15 draws in the face-off circle.
“I thought I was fine tonight,” said Frederic, who has spent a lot of time skating with David Backes in what could be a bruising, physical combo on Boston’s third line. “I didn’t really do anything much offensively, but my defensive game was sound. That’s kind of the overall game I thought I had. I thought I had alright legs, and that was kind of it.
“I know if [getting sent to Providence] happens, I’ll have to play good there, too. It’s day-by-day for me probably and I’ve got to play good every day.”
Still, Frederic was a more visible presence than the slick, cerebral JFK, who seemed to disappear amidst the higher level of competition. Forsbacka Karlsson finished with no shots on net and a blocked shot in 13:03 of ice time, and got worked on the draw to the tune of losing 9-of-13 face-offs. For a player that the Bruins coaching staff has admitted to needing to prod a bit to be more assertive in games, JFK simply wasn’t that at all with a potential NHL spot on the line in Wednesday night’s game.
Cassidy is hoping to get Kuraly (lower body), maybe Bergeron (back spasms/groin surgery) and Noel Acciari in at center along with David Krejci for this weekend’s final preseason tune-up, and at least see once in this preseason what that lineup might look like down the middle. That may not happen, of course, and keeps the door very much ajar for the top B’s prospects competing for the third line gig right now as well.
“Hopefully [the injured guys] are ready to play, and we’re going to have to make some decisions after tonight with the young guys,” said Cassidy. “We’ve played them a lot, and if we have our full group then, you know. Yeah, the one game will certainly be advantageous for some. Hopefully, the other guys take it as a work project to get ready for Wednesday.”
So there’s a viable scenario where both JFK and Frederic are sent down to Providence in the next few days, and the Bruins start with Bergeron, Krejci, Kuraly and Acciari down the middle to start the year in Boston. One thing the Bruins should keep in mind, however, is the overall offensive upside with the younger guys that they just might not get with a couple of two-way players with limited offensive skills in Kuraly and Acciari centering the bottom-six if that’s the way it shakes.
There are plenty of variables and unknowns still remaining for Cassidy with just a few days left to make decisions, and it seems like the performance Wednesday night didn’t do much to clear any of those things up.