The Boston Bruins are scheduled to begin training camp at Warrior Ice Arena for their first official on-ice practice Thursday, which signals that the NHL season is finally here. Between free agency and the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, there was turnover to the Bruins roster with their forwards, defensemen, and goalies.
There is no question that there will be a different look to the Black and Gold when they begin the regular season on Oct. 16 at the TD Garden against the Dallas Stars. After a shortened 2020-21 season that featured 56 games with realigned divisions, the NHL is returning to their normal 82-game schedule and back to their previous divisions. With a new Bruins season upon us, here are five bold predictions for the 2021-22 season.
1. Charlie Coyle Finishes With 40-Plus Assists
One of the biggest training camp battles centers around who will be the second-line center following David Krejci’s decision to return to his home country of the Czech Republic to continue his career. Coyle is going to get the first opportunity and expect the Boston native to win the job and begin the season between wings Taylor Hall and Craig Smith.
After struggling through a 2020-21 season that saw Coyle play through a knee injury that impacted his season, he underwent offseason surgery and is ready to go at the beginning of the season. Expect a bounce-back season from the Boston native and for him to set a career-high with 40-plus assists playing between Hall and Smith. His previous high in assists was 38 with the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17.
2. Both Special Teams Finish in the Top 5
Last season, the Bruins were one of the top penalty-killing teams in the league finishing second to the Vegas Golden Knights in the regular season. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron combined for seven shorthanded goals and once again expect the duo to set the tone killing penalties. Losing defensemen Jeremy Lauzon to the Kraken will be tough to replace as he led them in time-on-ice shorthanded, but Derek Forbort signed with Boston as a free agent this summer and with Brandon Carlo, they will pick up Lauzon’s minutes with other defensemen.
Their power play on the other hand struggled and finished 10th last season after finishing second to the Edmonton Oilers in 2019-20. Yes, Krejci is gone, but like last season, there is still a lot of firepower on the first unit with Marchand, Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and most likely Hall as the fourth forward. Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy will take turns holding down the spot as the defensemen on the unit. There is too much talent here to see another significate drop-off in production for a second straight season.
3. Jake DeBrusk Scores 30-Plus Goals
Last season was one that DeBrusk and the Bruins would rather forget. In his first three seasons, he scored 16, 27, and 19 goals, before just five last season in 41 games. Things got so tough that coach Bruce Cassidy made him a healthy scratch in the regular season and in a pivotal Game 5 of their second-round playoff series against the New York Islanders. He ended up bouncing back and forth between the third and fourth lines.
He is entering the season in the second and final year of a two-year, $7.35 million contract that carries a cap hit of $3.765 million. It would have been an easy decision for the Bruins to use DeBrusk as trade bait this summer, but they have held onto the 14th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft. Boston overhauled their bottom-six forwards and DeBrusk will be surrounded by veterans Erik Haula, Nick Foligno, and Tomas Nosek, which should help him have a better season. How much better? How about a 30-plus goal season? It sounds crazy, but in a contract season and surrounded by veterans, the recipe is there for a big-time bounce-back season.
4. Jeremy Swayman Wins 20-Plus Games
Last season, Swayman burst onto the scene in the middle of the season when Tuukka Rask was injured, Jaroslav Halak was in COVID-19 protocols and he took advantage of his opportunity. In 10 games, he went 7-3 with a 1.50 Goals-against average (GAA) and a .944 Save percentage (SV%). Allowing just 15 goals, he was impressive and gained a lot of confidence.
Swayman has an opportunity this season to play a significate role in the 2021-22 season. Rask is recovering from offseason surgery and is still a free agent. He could still re-sign in the middle of the season when he’s healthy. Halak left in free agency for the Vancouver Canucks and Dan Vladar was traded to the Calgary Flames after former Buffalo Sabre Linus Ullmark signed as a free agent.
The goaltending battle between Ullmark and Swayman in goal will be another storyline in camp to watch. Swayman has an opportunity to seize the moment this season and winning 20 games is indeed a bold prediction. Of course, he could have a sophomore slump, but look for him to take advantage of this golden opportunity.
5. Bruins Finish First or Second in the Atlantic Division
With the NHL going back to their normal 82-game season, gone is the 56-game East Division of 2020-21. The Bruins will be back in the Atlantic Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, and Ottawa Senators. Things will be difficult with the two-time Stanley Cup champion Lightning, and the Canadiens who lost in five games to Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup Final.
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Over the last two seasons, the Panthers have been getting better, while the Maple Leafs have had good regular-season’s, but continue to be a disappointment in the playoffs with first-round exits. The Lightning have to be considered the favorites in the division, but they had some key subtractions from their roster this summer and that could catch up with them as the season goes along. In reality, the Bruins could finish anywhere from one through five, but the thinking here is they are going to surprise this season.
With all that said, it’s going to be a battle and a grind through an 82-game season, but in a surprise, the Bruins will finish either first or second in the division and have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Their bottom-six gives Boston depth that they have not had over the two seasons and that will make a difference as the season goes along.
These are some bold predictions for sure, which is what makes it fun. The Bruins on paper are a deeper team than the one that skated off the ice after having their season end in the second round of playoffs last spring in six games to the Islanders. It’s now time for them to prove it on the ice beginning this week.
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.