Following an offseason that saw a roster turnover in July, the Boston Bruins will have some news faces joining some old ones this week at Warrior Ice Arena as training camp for the 2021-22 season begins. Coach Bruce Cassidy will have interchangeable parts this season with his bottom-six, compared to last season which saw that group struggle throughout the season.
Some notable subtractions in the offseason for the Black and Gold include Jeremy Lauzon being selected by the Seattle Kraken in their expansion draft, while in free agency forward Sean Kuraly signed the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase both signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs and backup goalie Jaroslav Halak joined the Vancouver Canucks. Goaltender Dan Vladar was traded to the Calgary Flames for a third-round draft pick. The biggest offseason loss was David Krejci, who decided to continue his career in his home country of the Czech Republic to be closer to his family.
General manager Don Sweeney was active on the first day of free agency when he signed veteran forwards Erik Haula, Tomas Nosek, and Nick Foligno. Derek Forbort was signed on defense, while the Bruins signed former Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark with Tuukka Rask recovering from offseason hip surgery and still a free agent. Sweeney also brought Taylor Hall and Mike Reilly.
As the Bruins begin training camp with their first preseason game Sunday at Capital One Arena against the Washington Capitals, let’s predict what the lineup will look like on opening night against the Dallas Stars at the TD Garden on Oct. 16.
With some subtractions and additions, the Bruins will have a different look when the puck drops on the 2021-22 season.
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Brad Marchand||Patrice Bergeron||David Pastrnak|
|Taylor Hall||Charlie Coyle||Craig Smith|
|Jake DeBrusk||Erik Haula||Nick Foligno|
|Tomas Nosek||Jack Studnicka||Curtis Lazar|
|Left Defense||Right Defense||Goalies|
|Matt Grzelcyk||Charlie McAvoy||Linus Ullmark|
|Mike Reilly||Brandon Carlo||Jeremy Swayman|
|Derek Forbort||Connor Clifton|
Missing are some names that might find themselves in the lineup in Boston at some point this season. Trent Frederic, Chris Wagner, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, and John Moore are some names that played last season with the Bruins, but will find it harder to crack the lineup this season. Two other names to keep an eye on early this season are prospects Jakub Lauko upfront and Brady Lyle on defense.
There is no question as to who is on the first line. There is no reason to break up Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak. Last season Marchand carried the load for the trio with 29 goals and 40 assists. Bergeron is entering his 18th season in Boston and is in the final year of his contract. At 36 years old, age will catch up with him sooner or later, but the 10-time Selke Trophy finalist is showing no signs of slowing down. Pastrnak missed the first seven games last season recovering from offseason surgery and still managed 20 goals in 48 games. If all three can remain healthy this season, expect big things from them.
All eyes will be on who replies Krejci on the second line between Hall and Smith. Following April’s trade deadline deal with the Sabres that landed Hall and Lazar from Buffalo, Hall-Krejci-Smith supplied the Bruins with what they had been missing behind the top line, production. Who will step and take Krejci’s place? Coyle was supposed to get the first crack in the middle of Hall and Smith, but a nagging injury will limit how much time he gets there at the beginning of camp. That could open the door for Studnicka to make his case. In the end and if healthy, I believe Coyle earns the spot, but we will not see the last of Studnicka regardless of what happens.
Haula centering the third line with Foligno on his right and DeBrusk on his left should be good for DeBrusk, who struggling mightily last season. DeBrusk has shown he has the ability to put the puck in the net and playing with veterans should benefit him this season. In 2020-21, Coyle spent a majority of the time centering the third line, but his knee injury affected him, which had an effect on his linemates.
Nosek gets the nod at left wing and Lazar on the right wing on the fourth line, with Studnicka winning the center position battle between them. Studnicka has been close to cracking in the lineup at center and the feeling is this is the year where he will. It’s not out of the question that with a good camp, he moves up to the second line, which would slide Coyle and Haula down one spot.
Last season, Cassidy paired McAvoy and Grzelcyk together and the results were good. That has the makings to be a good top-pairing when both are healthy, something Grzelcyk struggled with last season. Both are also more than capable of securing the spot as the only defensemen on the first power play unit.
After acquiring Reilly from the Ottawa Senators in April, he turned out to be a big addition to the blueline both offensively and defensively. He had eight assists in 15 games following the trade with a plus/minus of plus-7. His offensive game was a welcomed sight to the team and the Bruins hope he carries that over to this season. A pairing with Carlo, who signed a six-year, $24.6 million contract this summer, is one that would be a solid second pairing. Carlo dealt with multiple injuries last season including a concussion, but the front office showed their commitment to the 24-year-old by locking him up until he turns 30.
Forbort comes to the Bruins from the Winnipeg Jets and the 6-foot-4, 219-pound 29-year-old is what Boston was looking for in the offseason, a defenseman who logs over 20 minutes a night and can play in all situations. Clifton, who was passed on by the Kraken, ends up getting the final spot. Despite not making the roster out of camp, he still played in 44 regular-season games as injuries piled up on defense last season. A steady defenseman that can kill penalties, Clifton is not afraid to be physical despite his 5-foot-11 frame and he is also not afraid to join the rush offensively.
With Halak leaving in free agency, Vladar traded, Rask still recovering from surgery, and his status still up in the air, Boston is going to have a little different look in the net to begin the season. Ullmark agreed to a five-year contract and when healthy, he’s proven to be an effective goalie as evident of his three games above .500 career numbers with a Sabres organization who always seems to be in rebuild mode.
Swayman won seven of his 10 games last season with the Bruins and will battle Ullmark for the No. 1 job. Expect the goalies to split time for at least the first half of the season, then if Rask signs a contract when healthy, one will find themselves as the odd man out. If Rask does not come back, then Boston is in good hands with both Ullmark and Swayman.
New Bruins Season Brings Changes
With a new season comes change, both good and bad. There were plenty of moves this offseason by Sweeney and judging by what the roster looks like hedging into training camp, the moves were done to put the Bruins in a position to be a contender in 2021-22. How will it all shake out? We will find out over the next couple of weeks heading into the season opener.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.