Bruins Have Limited Options Replacing DeBrusk on the First Line

The Boston Bruins opened the 2022-23 season with a 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. It was an impressive performance from the Black and Gold in Jim Montgomery’s first game as the head coach behind the bench. The win, however, came with some news that Boston did not want to hear.

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First-line right wing Jake DeBrusk, playing on his off-side, was injured in the second period on a hit from the Capitals’ Erik Gustafsson. DeBrusk finished the period with his shifts, but did not come out for the third period and will now miss Saturday night’s home opener against the Arizona Coyotes at the TD Garden. With an injury-plagued roster, another injury in the top six is the last thing that the Bruins could have now, but their depth is going to be tested earlier than they would have liked.

Bruins Top-Six Takes Another Hit

Missing Brad Marchand already for the first couple of months is a big enough loss, but factor in now DeBrusk being down, and Montgomery is going to have to get creative with his lines. Boston avoided another big hole with Taylor Hall who played in the season-opening win and even contributed with a goal after leaving a preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers with an upper-body injury.

Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins
Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now with DeBrusk out, filling the spot on the right side of Patrice Bergeron is a lot easier said than done. Moving David Pastrnak up there would be the most obvious choice, however, after the way David Krejci, Pastrnak, and Pavel Zacha played against Washington, breaking them up makes no sense. Pastrnak, who enters the season without a contract extension, had a goal and three assists, including a nice pass to Hall for his second-period goal. Krejci had a goal and two assists and Zacha assisted on Krejci’s third-period goal. The trio played with a ton of chemistry and was hands down the best and most productive line for the Bruins. Breaking them up is not worth the production you can get on almost a nightly basis.

Montgomery’s Options Limited

With Pastrnak out of the picture, the only right-shot choice to bump in DeBrusk’s spot is Craig Smith. It’s no secret that in the previous two seasons Smith has struggled not only on the top line, but in the top six in general. Despite his struggles, Smith might be the logical choice to move there. If that were the case, does that open a spot for top prospect Fabian Lysell to make his way to Boston or maybe Marc McLaughlin for a bottom-six role? Bringing back Lysell quickly is not the move as he needs time down in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Providence Bruins. 

Craig Smith Boston Bruins
Craig Smith, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The other option is one that has plenty of experience on the wing, but Jack Studnicka out of his natural position at center does not necessarily work out for the Bruins. Former coach Bruce Cassidy tried Studnicka on the wing and the results were not the same as they are when he’s at center. Moving Studnicka to right wing on the third line with Charlie Coyle would make the most sense with Smith sliding up to the top line. Coyle is another intriguing name and moving him from his center spot to the wing is not out of the question and doing so would open a spot on the third line in the middle for Studnicka.

Related: Bruins Make Wrong Decision Sending McLaughlin to AHL

Any move Montgomery decides to go with against the Coyotes is not out of the question and will not be surprising. Yes, the options are not going to get anyone excited, but it just makes no sense at this time to break up Krejci, Pastrnak, and Zacha with the chemistry they have going right now. Montgomery confirmed Friday that it’s going to Smith, but should he struggle like in the past two seasons, then who other than Pastrnak? Fortunately for the Bruins, DeBrusk’s injury is not expected to be long-term.

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