The Boston Bruins have released their full 2021-22 preseason schedule, which includes matchups with some familiar foes. The six-game slate exclusively features games against opponents from last year’s MassMutual East Division. It’s easy to overlook this news with the Expansion Draft and NHL Draft dominating the headlines, but we can already see some storylines brewing that will play out in the preseason.
Now that the Bruins have lost Kevan Miller to retirement and Jeremy Lauzon to the Seattle Kraken, the biggest issue this team faces is defensive depth. Outside the top four, they must lean on some free agents and prospects to keep this unit viable, and the preseason will be the litmus test for these new faces. Some other stories are developing within the Bruins organization as well.
Fan-favorite Trent Frederic has been chirping since the moment he came into the NHL, and he has set his sights on the Washington Capitals’ resident bully Tom Wilson, as the two players became acquainted last year and don’t seem to like each other. It just so happens that the two teams will meet twice in the preseason.
Additionally, with a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Bruins’ bottom six, this could be the perfect opportunity for top prospect Jack Studnicka to step into the spotlight and steal a spot from a veteran player. That’s right, Bruins fans: this could finally be the year that a prospect exceeds expectations. In any case, the 2021-22 Bruins will look quite different from years past, and we will get our first look in the preseason, so keep your eyes peeled.
New Faces Revitalize Blue Line
It’s a new year, but the same story: the Bruins’ defense is sorely lacking in depth. However, a lot can change between now and September, and Boston’s front office has made it one of their top priorities to address this depth issue.
They made a good first step in signing Brandon Carlo to a long-term extension. Next, they must get Mike Reilly back into the fold and pursue a big-name free agent. I already wrote a piece on some free agents that the Bruins should go after (the Kraken picked up Jamie Oleksiak, to my dismay), but another player has become available: the former Minnesota Wild veteran Ryan Suter.
The Wild bought out Suter’s expensive contract, which leaves the door open for the Bruins to sign him to a team-friendly deal. Suter is the ideal grizzled vet that Boston’s defensive unit needs after the departure of Miller. He could slide in next to Carlo on the second pairing, moving Reilly down and giving the third pair some actual scoring ability.
Connor Clifton is currently the most likely candidate to take up the final spot in the rotation, but some other prospects can make a case for themselves in the preseason, namely Jakub Zboril. He looked rather underwhelming in his limited time in 2020-21, but this feels like a make-or-break year for him. If he doesn’t play like a first-round pick this year, he never will. Perhaps we could see Urho Vaakanainen make an impact as well.
It’s easy to forget how good the Bruins were after the trade deadline. If Miller and Carlo didn’t go down with injuries in the playoffs, their season would have ended quite differently. 2020-21 showed us two things: this core has more left in the tank than we realized, and all the Bruins need is durability and consistency in their own zone.
Some are calling Suter the “Corey Perry of 2021-22” – the veteran who can turn a playoff team into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. If the Bruins can pick him up, plus another cheap free agent defenseman to make up for the loss of Lauzon, they will be just fine on the defensive end.
Frederic and Wilson Rekindle Their Rivalry
First up on the Bruins’ schedule is a date with the Capitals. The two teams had a spirited first-round battle in the playoffs, but Frederic did not take part in the action. However, he was a big part of their regular-season bouts, standing toe-to-toe with Wilson and the Caps on several occasions.
The Bruins were quick to bring back Frederic on a two-year contract, demonstrating how impressed they were with his performance. His physicality and tenacity were certainly big factors in that decision. Now that he is officially back in town, we can be sure that he has marked his calendar for that first preseason game in Washington D.C. on Sept. 26.
The preseason doesn’t seem like the best time to put one’s body on the line or risk any punishment, especially for an established veteran, but Wilson doesn’t seem to mind. Let us not forget his infamous blindside hit on Oskar Sundqvist in a preseason game against the St. Louis Blues in 2018. If anything, this is the perfect time for the two bruisers to clash. The stakes are low, tensions are high, so why wait?
With Frederic looking to prove himself once again and earn a permanent spot on the main roster, expect him to make a bee-line for Wilson when the Bruins and Capitals clash on Sept. 26. A heated rivalry is brewing, and these two will waste no time attempting to put the other on his back. We can only hope that one of them is mic’d up for the encounter.
Studnicka Takes Next Step
Top forward prospect Jack Studnicka has spent most of his young career dominating the AHL, but he took a step back in 2020-21, scoring three points in 20 NHL games and seven assists in 11 AHL games. The 22-year-old will be fighting for a bottom-six role on the main roster, and it just so happens that some spots in the bottom-six could be opening up in the near future.
Rumors are circulating that Sean Kuraly could head elsewhere in free agency. Jake DeBrusk was only protected, so the Bruins can use him as a trade piece later on. In all likelihood, both of them will be playing for different clubs in a few months. This will undoubtedly give Studnicka more ice time in the preseason, and by extension, a chance to take the next step and earn a starting role.
The third and fourth lines were awful last year, especially down the middle. Charlie Coyle was virtually non-existent on the scoring column, and the aforementioned Kuraly had perhaps his worst season in a Bruins uniform. Studnicka is a natural center who can provide the passing and finesse that those two players could not. He could end up bumping Coyle over to the right wing or at least give Curtis Lazar a run for his money for that center spot on the fourth line.
Boston’s prospect pool is among the shallowest in the league by all accounts, but Studnicka is one of the few bright spots. With the Bruins’ veterans aging and the championship window beginning to close, they must now look to some new blood to give the team a spark. He has proven himself time and time again in Providence – it’s time for the Bruins to treat him like the top prospect he really is.
Bruins Will Look Very Different Come September
The Bruins’ roster will undergo some big changes in the next couple of months. Miller and Lauzon were just the first chips to fall. They were supposed to help alleviate the Bruins’ lack of depth and physicality on the back end, but now they’re gone. General manager Don Sweeney must replace them.
Other names like DeBrusk and Kuraly could be on their way out soon enough, as well. Outside of the top six forwards and top three defensemen, this team is in for a substantial overhaul. Could we see top prospects like Studnicka, Zboril, and Vaakanainen assume a larger role? And what will the Bruins do in free agency? It’s not a matter of whether or not Boston will sign some new pieces, but a matter of how many they will sign. It begins on July 28, so the clock is ticking.
Any time the Bruins make a move in free agency, the new signings are heavily scrutinized, whether it’s the playoffs or the preseason. Frederic has become a fan favorite, and many have dubbed Studnicka as the center of the future for the Bruins. The Boston hockey world should have its eyes fixed on these players and storylines when the 2021-22 preseason comes around.
I cover the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Fan of all things New England sports.