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.
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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:
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.