Boston Bruins 2022-23 Training Camp Battles: Defensemen

Following their elimination in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games last spring, the Boston Bruins dropped some news in early June. Defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk both underwent off-season surgeries and will miss the beginning of the 2022-23 season. Losing two of your top-four defensemen is not ideal, but that’s what is facing new coach Jim Montgomery.

Related: Boston Bruins 2022-23 Training Camp Battles: Centers

With McAvoy and Grzelcyk down until at least November, one of the more intense training camp battles will be seeing how the Bruins pair up their blue line for opening night against the Washington Capitals. Training camp and the preseason games are going to go a long way toward determining how the defense shakes out.

Bruins Expected Top-Pairing

Hampus Lindholm/Brandon Carlo

At the trade deadline in March, the Bruins acquired Hampus Lindholm from the Anaheim Ducks. After they completed the deal, general manager (GM) Don Sweeney locked him up for eight years and $52 million to be McAvoy’s partner. Now with McAvoy out, Brandon Carlo will slide up to the top pairing from the second pairing. 

Brandon Carlo, Boston Bruins
Brandon Carlo, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Lindholm battled injuries late in the regular season and in the Carolina series, but Montgomery is going to need him as healthy as he can be at the beginning of the season. In his short time in the regular season, Lindholm did show flashes offensively something that Black and Gold are going to need in McAvoy’s absence. Carlo, who struggled at times last season in the defensive end, will need to clean that up, especially in the first couple of months.

Bottom-Two Expected Pairings

Derek Forbort/Connor Clifton

Things started out slowly for Derek Forbort in his first season with the Bruins, but he ended up getting better as the season went along and became a key penalty killer. He scored a career-high four goals with 10 assists, while blocking 100 shots. He is in the second year of a three-year contract and will need to stay healthy early in the season.

If there has been anyone who has been a steady presence on the backend for the Bruins in recent years, it’s been, Connor Clifton. He can play both sides, he is consistent and not afraid to go into the corners and behind the net for any battles. He’s not going to provide much offense, but his work 5-on-5 and shorthanded are going to be key until McAvoy returns.

Mike Reilly/Jakub Zboril

Like Forbort, Mike Reilly signed a three-year deal last offseason after being acquired at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators in 2021, but it was then a stellar season for him. When he’s playing well, he’s an offensive defenseman that’s not afraid to join the rush, but he did have his troubles in the offensive zone. If Grzelcyk was healthy, Reilly is someone that would have been traded and he can still be moved once Grzelcyk is healthy, so the first two months could be seen as an audition for him for other teams. 

Jakub Zboril Boston Bruins
Jakub Zboril, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Before suffering a season-ending ACL injury that required surgery last December, Jakub Zboril played well in 10 games in the month of November and into December. He was making a case to earn more nights in the lineup, but that all came to a crashing halt against the Nashville Predators. After signing a two-year contract extension in May, Zboril has an opportunity to move the right side, his offside, and make an impact this season. 

Other Candidates for Defense in Training Camp

Jack Ahcan

Last season Jack Ahcan appeared in six games during the season when the unit was hit with injuries and he played well, scoring his first career goal in a win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of St. Cloud State, the 25-year-old has played in nine career NHL games and held his own. At 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, he is undersized for the NHL, but he plays with a chip on his shoulder and is not afraid to be physical. With the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) he had six goals and 17 assists in 46 games last season.

Michael Callahan

In February, the Bruins acquired the rights to Michael Callahan from the Arizona Coyotes for a seventh-round draft pick in 2024. Callahan was drafted by the Coyotes in the fifth round in 2018 and now will look to fight for a roster spot in camp. In four seasons at Providence College, he had 12 goals and 46 assists for the Friars. The 6-foot-2, 197-pound left-shot has an opportunity to make an impression, but he will have to stand out if he is going to move into the top six.

Despite McAvoy and Grzelcyk missing the beginning of the season, the Bruins defense will have some battles for some spots on the roster. Overall, it is a small group that will not scare too many opponents. They have to figure out a way to survive the beginning of the season without two of their top-four blueliners.

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