When free agency began on July 28, the Boston Bruins were one of the most active teams. General manager Don Sweeney had a lot of needs and he attempted to fill some of those needs with veteran players in goal, on defense, and with his forwards. Adding some of the players he did will make it more difficult for some of the Black and Gold’s prospects to crack the 2021-22 roster out of training camp in October.
Some prospects will have to have an impressive showing in training camp to find themselves on the ice on Oct. 16 for the season opener against the Dallas Stars at the TD Garden. Here are two young players that played last season in Boston that will have a hard time making their second consecutive Opening Night roster for the Bruins.
One of the Bruins’ top prospects, Studnicka made the roster in the 56-game shortened 2020-21 season as a right wing while David Pastrnak recovered from offseason surgery. Studnicka struggled at the beginning of the season before getting hurt. He returned to the lineup in late February when some injuries hit Boston and he was placed in his natural position at center, where he played much better.
Two days after free agency began, 15-year veteran David Krejci announced that he was not returning to the Bruins for the upcoming season and instead will continue his career in his home country of the Czech Republic. It appears as the Bruins were prepared for that decision with the flurry of signings they had at the end of the day of July 28. They signed forwards Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and Tomas Nosek and all three are versatile can play both wing and center.
With Krejci not returning, Charlie Coyle will most likely get the first crack to center the Bruins’ second line with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, with a combination of one of the three free-agent signings fighting for the third-line center spot. Curtis Lazar or Trent Frederic would look to be battling for the fourth-line middle slot, which would leave 22-year-old Studnicka on the outside looking in.
Coach Bruce Cassidy said on Thursday in his media availability that Studnicka could be a wild card when training camp opens at Warrior Ice Arena. As he showed last season, when he’s in his natural position at center, Studnicka is NHL-ready, something he will have to show Cassidy and the Bruins coaches in September and early October to avoid beginning the season in the American Hockey League with the Providence Bruins.
Last season, Zboril made the roster at the beginning of the season on the third pairing with Kevan Miller. He was playing behind Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo on the depth chart, but when they were injured, the 13th overall pick by the Bruins in the first round of the 2015 Entry Draft filled in as a top-four blueliner. In 42 games, the 24-year-old Zboril had nine assists and averaged 17:03 a night in ice time. Unfortunately, he was also injured and found himself out of the mix for the playoffs.
With injuries mounting on the left side of the defense, Sweeney acquired Mike Reilly on an expiring contract from the Ottawa Senators on April 11. The 27-year-old had eight assists in 15 games with the Bruins in the regular season, while averaging just over 21 minutes a night with a plus/minus of plus-7. In the playoffs, Reilly had four assists in 11 games, while averaging 21:29 a night. Like the rest of his defensive teammates, Reilly got worn down in the playoffs against the New York Islanders, but he showed that he is a piece of the defense going forward.
Sweeney brought back Reilly on a three-year deal at the beginning of free agency, then he added depth with veteran Derek Forbort on the left side. Forbort is another minutes-eating defenseman who averaged just under 21 minutes a game for the Winnipeg Jets last season and is an effective penalty killer, something that the Bruins were looking to add. With a depth chart of Grzelcyk, Reilly, and Forbort on the left side and barring an injury to one of the top three, Zboril will find it hard to crack the lineup in Boston.
There is no doubt that Sweeney addressed the needs that his team had following a disappointing end to the postseason against the Islanders. Those moves were made to improve a roster that is in a win-now mode, but they are moves that will make it difficult for Studnicka and Zboril to make the roster at the beginning of the season.
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.