The Boston Bruins have had the luxury of relying on a league-best power play and an elite first line the last few seasons, but it appears they are starting to integrate some new pieces into the lineup.
The line combinations already look quite different, with some new names in surprising places after just one week of training camp. Here are three young Bruins who have had busy training camps thus far.
The Hockey Writers has already noted that Studnicka should get more involved during his first full season with the Bruins, and that prediction has come true in a big way.
Studnicka has begun training camp by regularly running on the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. This is a temporary fix, but a great opportunity for the 20-year-old nonetheless.
He should see plenty of ice time with David Pastrnak out, giving Studnicka his first real chance to show why the Bruins spent a second-round pick on him. While there is no replacing Pastrnak, the first line will avoid significant regression, as it is still ranked the third-best in the NHL with Studnicka out there.
Even when Pastrnak returns to his full form, head coach Bruce Cassidy said that Studnicka will still be involved at both the right wing and center positions.
The middle of the ice — he’s more of a natural center, but we’re pretty healthy and strong down the middle, so (Studnicka) might have to start the year with us on the wing at times. That’s where it’s going — we’re going to mix him around.“Studnicka could get prime opportunity to begin season on Bruins’ top line” – Nick Goss, NBC Sports
Studnicka’s temporary spot on the first line, along with his versatility, make him the top breakout candidate for the Bruins through one week of training camp.
Just as Studnicka is set to be more involved on the offensive end, Jeremy Lauzon will leap into a much larger role on defense. He has been consistently starting alongside Charlie McAvoy on the first pairing, and his emergence could not come at a better time, with Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara gone.
It was rather unclear how the Bruins would organize their defensive lines a week ago, but the Lauzon-McAvoy pairing continues to stand out. We’ve seen this dynamic before with McAvoy and Chara — the skilled two-way defenseman with the more traditional, hard-hitting type.
Lauzon is by no means a long-term replacement for Chara, but he plays with the same toughness and physicality. If he plays to those strengths, he might find himself among the team leaders in time on ice and a permanent spot in the starting lineup. That is a huge jump from his extremely limited role a season ago.
The 2017 first-round pick has been a bit of a mixed bag in his young career, but the pure defenseman is beginning to turn some heads at training camp. He has been competing with 2015 first-rounder Jakub Zboril to start on the third line alongside Kevan Miller, who is reportedly having a strong training camp as well.
At the moment, it seems like the Bruins are leaning towards Zboril, but Vaakanainen is closing the gap. He took a big step forward in the team’s first scrimmage on Jan. 7, drawing some high praise from Cassidy himself.
I thought Vaakanainen was excellent… Probably the better of the younger defensemen today in this particular game.“7 takeaways from Bruins’ first scrimmage of 2021 training camp” – Conor Ryan, Boston Sports Journal
The Finnish prospect has a lot of work to do before becoming a top defenseman, but that future is certainly in the cards.
With Vaakanainen and Lauzon exceeding expectations, perhaps Boston’s defense is more stable than we thought. Additionally, the emergence of Studnicka can limit the negative impact of Pastrnak’s absence. Their roles are still subject to change, but the first week of training camp suggests that these players are ready to make a big leap in 2020-21.
I cover the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Fan of all things New England sports.