Changes are coming for the Boston Bruins as they begin training camp for the 2020-21 season. Gone are defensemen Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara in free agency, leaving a big hole on the blue line. The Bruins knew that the day would be coming sooner rather than later that at least one of the two would be gone, but losing both in the same offseason is tough.
Regardless if Marchand is able to open the season on time, the Bruins depth will be tested right away. While they have some experienced veterans that can fill some of the holes until they get healthy, there is no shortage of prospects ready to make the jump to the NHL. Here are three prospects who will make an impact for Boston this season.
Up front, the Bruins will be without the services of the Rocket Richard co-winner from last season in right-wing David Pastrnak, who is still recovering from hip surgery and has a mid-February return window. Left-wing and second-leading point producer from last season Brad Marchand is also recovering from a September surgery for a sports hernia. His timeframe to return is right around the beginning of the season.
The Bruins’ top prospect has been on the verge of breaking into the NHL on a full-time basis, but the second-round pick in the 2017 Entry Draft just might get his chance this season. Jack Studnicka made his NHL debut last season in two regular-season games, registering an assist.
A natural center, he was part of the Toronto playoff bubble for the Bruins and found himself in the lineup for five games at right-wing. Although he did not record a point, the 21-year-old proved he belonged. He averaged 11:37 of ice time in the five playoff games he dressed for and he had 10 shots on net. Studnicka was rewarded for his play by coach Bruce Cassidy with some power-play minutes.
Last season with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League, he had a breakout season with 23 goals and 26 assists in 60 games. The Bruins will begin the season without Pastrnak, which puts more pressure on Ondrej Kase and Craig Smith to pick up the slack on the right side. Without many options after Kase and Smith, Studnicka is the best option to make the Opening Night roster on the Bruins third-line right wing.
If he does not make the roster out of camp, he will be making an impact at some point during the shortened season.
In the 2016 Entry Draft, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney went out of the box in selecting Trent Frederic 29th overall in the first round. He was seen as a late second-round or third-round selection, but Sweeney saw something that made him select Frederic in the opening round.
He scored 14 goals with 11 assists in 2018-19 with Providence and followed that up with eight goals and 24 assists in 2019-20. Frederic brings a physical style of hockey that could help the Bruins in their bottom-six forward grouping. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound left wing brings scoring ability and a physical presence for a combination the Bruins have not seen since the Gregory Campbell days with the Merlot Line. Last season, he racked up 148 penalty minutes in the AHL.
There are always mixing and matching going on with the bottom-six forwards, but Frederic is the player that can come in and provide the Black and Gold with scoring and a physical style. There is no reason to think that the former University of Wisconsin standout can’t be a fourth-line forward on this Bruins team.
The Bruins top prospect on defense, Urho Vaakanainen’s name has come up in trade discussions that Sweeney has had with other teams, but the GM has held onto him for now. With the Bruins losing Krug and Chara in free agency, the blue line will look a lot younger when the puck drops on the season on Jan. 14 at New Jersey.
After the top-four of Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, and Jeremy Lauzon, there will be a battle in camp for the final two spots. Vaakanainen is capable of earning one of those spots at 21 years old. The 18th pick in the first round of the 2017 draft, Vaakanainen played in seven NHL games over the last two seasons and did not make any glaring mistakes while showing he belongs.
A more of a stay-at-home defenseman, he’s not going to blow you away with offensive stats, but the smooth skater is not afraid to pick and choose his times to join the offensive rush. He will be in a battle with re-signed veteran Kevan Miller, John Moore, Connor Clifton, and Jakub Zboril for one of the final two roster spots.
Over the last couple of seasons, the Bruins defense has been hit hard with injuries. Even in a 56-game season, injuries will happen and if he’s not on the roster in New Jersey on opening night, he will be making an impact for the Bruins during the season.
Bruins Prospects Will Help in 2020-21
With their top two forwards from last season beginning the season still recovering from offseason surgeries, and two of their top defensemen departing in free agency, the Bruins depth will be thin and these three prospects have a very good chance at finding themselves contributing in Boston in 2020-21.