For the last couple of seasons, right wing depth has been an issue for the Boston Bruins. In the final two months of the 2021-22 season, former coach Bruce Cassidy moved Jake DeBrusk from his off-side to the right wing on the first line and Nick Foligno played the right wing on the fourth line, like DeBrusk on his off-side.
The Bruins know what they have with David Pastrnak and Craig Smith in the middle six, but there are a few interesting names that are going to be worth keeping an eye on when training camp begins that could get a roster spot for first-year coach Jim Montgomery. Here is the first part of a series of articles heading into training camp looking at some training camp battles to keep an eye on.
DeBrusk, Pastrnak & Smith Expected to Be Top Three Right Wings
Brad Marchand will be out of the lineup to begin the season recovering from offseason hip surgery, which puts a big damper on the top-six. DeBrusk is expected to begin the season on Patrice Bergeron’s right side and Pastrnak on the second line with David Krejci and Taylor Hall. DeBrusk last season ended up with 25 goals and Pastrnak finished with 40. If healthy and in a contract season, there is no reason that Pastrnak should pass his total from a year ago, while DeBrusk is a wild card in terms of production.
Smith on the other hand has been disappointing in his first two seasons for the Black and Gold. A 20-goal scorer in five of his nine seasons with the Nashville Predators, he had 13 in the 56-game shortened 2020-21 season and 16 last season in 74 games. Like Pastrnak, Smith is in a contract year as his three-year, $9.3 million contract expires following the season. If the Bruins are going to survive the absences of Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk in the first two months of the season, Smith is going to have to produce.
Fourth-Line Spot up for Grabs
With the top three spots expected to be filled, there is going to be a battle in camp for the fourth-line spot and there are different ways that Montgomery can go. Here are some players that can earn an opening night roster spot against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 12. Foligno is in the mix, but there will be other and possibly better options that can emerge in training camp.
There is a lot of hype surrounding the Bruins’ 21st overall pick in the 2021 Entry Draft Fabian Lysell and his hype got bigger with his performance in the rescheduled 2022 World Junior Championships in Edmonton in August. He had two goals and four assists in seven games while helping Sweden capture the Bronze Medal.
After scoring 20 goals with 42 assists with the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League (WHL) last season, followed by four goals and 17 assists in the playoffs, Lysell will now get his chance to crack the Boston lineup. There is certainly an opening and will have a chance to make the big club. Boston will get their first look at him this weekend in the Buffalo Prospects Challenge.
After spending the 2020-21 season on the fourth line with Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner fell victim to the Bruins’ offseason additions in 2021 of Erik Haula, Tomas Nosek, and Foligno and spent the majority of the 2021-22 season with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL).
He suited up in one regular-season game last year, but found himself in the lineup in three of the seven playoff games against the Carolina Hurricanes. Now with a new coach, the 31-year-old will get a new chance this season to make the fourth line. He enters the third and final season of a three-year deal and this will most likely be his last chance in Boston. Wagner is your typical fourth-line grinder that provides energy shifts ad can kill a penalty in a pinch.
One minor free agent signing this summer by Sweeney was inking A.J. Greer, a 25-year-old forward who has spent time with the Colorado Avalanche and the New Jersey Devils. In 47 NHL games, he has two goals and eight points, but he is a physical forward that is perfect for the fourth-line grind shifts. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Quebec native will have a chance to win the final spot.
We have been down this road before with Jack Studnicka and I’m not sure at this point in the game that the Bruins want to go down it again. He made the roster in the 56-game 2020-21 season as a right wing and struggled before being sent down to Providence. He just plays a different game when he’s not a center. He tends to disappear when he’s on the wing more than he does when he’s in his natural position. He plays the game with a chip on his shoulder more in the middle than on the wing. If he makes the roster, it needs to be as a center, but Montgomery might enter training camp leaving all options open at this point.
Last season after signing an undrafted free agent contract, Marc McLaughlin had three goals in 11 games for the Bruins. The former Boston College standout played the majority of his time in college at center, but he got a chance in the NHL last season on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic on the right wing, which led to his first-career goal in his first career game against the Devils on March 31. He’s not going to blow you away with his skill, but he will do the dirty work and is not afraid to park himself in front of the net.
DeBrusk, Pastrnak, and Smith appear to have the top three spots locked up in the top nine, but there are many different options that Montgomery can go for the fourth line. It is more likely than not that Lysell ends up in Providence playing top-six minutes instead of fourth-line minutes in the NHL, but anything at this point is possible.
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.