After enduring a first-round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the hands of the Ottawa Senators last spring, the Bruins had an uneventful offseason. Although no major moves were made, we will likely see an improved team take the ice at TD Garden this season.
This is the year that general manager Don Sweeney’s plan will begin to really take shape. The abundance of picks over the past three drafts has resulted in a deep talent pool within the organization, and some of these players will play significant roles in this year’s lineup. The three most notable rookies expected to be on the opening-night roster are defenseman Charlie McAvoy and forwards Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk, all of whom look ready to produce in the NHL.
With the lack of flashy roster moves, many people will doubt this team. My advice to you: Do not sleep on these Boston Bruins. They possess a deep mix of veterans and young blood and will play with more speed and skill than we have seen in past years. A bit of a culture change is underway in Boston. This will be the first full season with head coach Bruce Cassidy behind the bench, meaning that the Bruins will play a more north-south game as opposed to the defense-first mentality established under Claude Julien. The league is speeding up, and the Bruins have adjusted.
In: Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk
Out: Jimmy Hayes, Dominic Moore, Drew Stafford
Expected lines on opening night:
*Bergeron has been dealing with a lower-body injury and left practice early on Tuesday. His status for opening night is still unclear.
The ceiling that this offense has is still in question. Having a rookie on each of the top two lines is not something that Bruins fans are used to seeing, but both Bjork and DeBrusk are being put in perfect opportunities to succeed. Everyone knows what Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and David Pastrnak are capable of. These offensively-minded rookies will have plenty of scoring opportunities as they try to find their games at the NHL level.
The third line features a trio of forwards who could all use bounce-back years. Last season, Matt Beleskey produced just eight points in an injury-riddled campaign that saw him play in 49 games. When fully healthy, Beleskey provides an effective physical presence up front, and he can chip in on offense. He had a career-high 37 points during his first year in Boston.
Ryan Spooner has shown flashes of brilliance during his 214-game NHL career, but he disappeared for long stretches throughout the 2016-2017 season. He finished with 39 points, 10 fewer than the previous season. The agile center is too skilled of a skater and playmaker to be trending in the wrong direction. Spooner looked like a motivated man this preseason and has been critical of himself, saying that he bulked up over the summer in order to improve his all-around game.
After spending the first 10 years of his career in St. Louis, David Backes signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Bruins last offseason. In his first year in Black and Gold, he did not live up to his $6 million valuation. The Blaine, Minnesota native’s 38 points made for his lowest output since the 2007-2008 season (excluding the 2012-13 season of only 48 games during which he produced 28 points). While skating alongside two other motivated players, expect Backes to get on the scoreboard at a higher rate this year, as well.
The fourth line features a mix of players who can play in all areas of the ice. Noel Acciari plays the game like a runaway train. He skates hard and hits everything that moves. His intensity and physicality open up room on the ice and help to generate energy for the rest of the team. On the left side, Tim Schaller is also not afraid to throw the body around. In addition to bodychecking, he can kill penalties, take faceoffs and score a few goals with his quick wrist shot. Riley Nash provides a steady, well-rounded game at center. He is sound defensively and will occasionally find the back of the net. Late last season, he stepped up and scored the team’s only two goals in a crucial game against the New York Islanders. Nash is typically not someone who will catch your eye, but he is an intelligent player who plays his role very well.
In: Charlie McAvoy, Paul Postma
Out: Colin Miller, John-Michael Liles, Joe Morrow
Expected pairings on opening night:
At 40 years old, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara prepares to enter the final year of his contract. The towering defenseman is obviously past his prime, but he showed last season that he is still an effective defenseman. His long reach and incredible strength allow him to face opponents’ top threats. He appears to be confident in himself, since he has already made it clear that he wants to play past this season. He will be paired with Brandon Carlo, who will look to build on his impressive rookie season. Carlo turned heads early last year but hit some rough patches in the second half, as many young players do. The 20-year-old defenseman should put together a more consistent season his second time around.
The second pairing will see hard-hitting Kevan Miller alongside one of the most promising prospects in the entire NHL: Charlie McAvoy. The hockey world was introduced to McAvoy last year when he had a dominant showing at the World Juniors, in addition to constantly playing above his competition at BU. He can make impacts all over the ice, whether he is quarterbacking a power play or throwing solid hits on attacking forwards. His six-game stint in the playoffs was enough to get Bruins fans excited, and it’s difficult to not get caught up in the hype.
Torey Krug is currently on injured reserve with a broken jaw suffered during the preseason, and it looks as if former Boston University Terrier Matt Grzelcyk will replace him for the time being. Grzelcyk plays a similar style to Krug and might get the opportunity to bear (pun intended) the Spoked-B in front of his friends and family on Thursday night. The Charlestown, Massachusetts native recorded 32 points in 70 games with the Providence Bruins last season and appeared in two games with the big club.
In: No one
Out: Malcolm Subban
The Bruins will roll with the same goaltending duo as last year: Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin. Although Khudobin struggled through much of last season, he finished strong with a 6-1-0 record under Cassidy. If this success carries over, it will allow Rask to play fewer games and stay rested. The Bruins have had to rely on Rask too frequently over the past three seasons, during each of which he has played in at least 64 games.
Malcolm Subban had a strong showing this preseason and pressured Khudobin’s backup position, but Dobby was clearly the better option. Subban was placed on waivers with the intention of being sent back down to Providence, but the brand-new Vegas Golden Knights stepped in and claimed him. The Bruins lost their 2012 first-round pick for nothing.
This team is going to be a ton of fun to watch. The Big Bad Bruins are gone, and it is time to adjust to the new-look Bruins. I expect them to be in contention for the Atlantic Division title from start to finish alongside the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning. There is plenty of talent throughout this league, and it should be an exciting season.
[Photo via The Associated Press]