With Brad Marchand set to miss the first two months of the season while he recovers from offseason hip surgery and David Pastrnak potentially set to play on the second line with David Krejci, there are openings to play on the top line with Patrice Bergeron.
The two primary candidates to start the season there are Pavel Zacha and Jake DeBrusk. Last season, DeBrusk spent a good part of the second half on the top line with Bergeron and Marchand. He also almost matched his career bests, scoring 25 goals and 42 points in 77 games. Zacha arrived in Boston via trade this summer and is looking for a restart after struggling to live up to the expectations of a former top-10 draft pick for the New Jersey Devils. Last year, he had 15 goals and 36 points in 70 games. He was also a minus-21. He’s primarily played at center, but will have an opportunity to impress early in the season on the top line as a winger alongside Bergeron.
But, the Bruins have little room for error this season. With key guys injured to start the season, a brand new coach, and the pressure to live up to a new contract extension for general manager Don Sweeney, if things aren’t clicking early or if someone truly impresses in training camp and the preseason, then the team can’t afford to let things go. They can’t afford to get too far out of the playoff picture before the return of Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk, especially with how competitive the Atlantic Division is looking to be in 2022-23. If something in this top line isn’t clicking, there are a few guys who could be tapped on the shoulder to step up.
Taylor Hall is projected to start the season on the second line with Krejci and Pastrnak. So far in his year and a half career in Boston, he has shown to have great chemistry on the ice with both of them. For the first time in a while, the Bruins are heading into the season with what looks like a really solid second line that could be the consistent contributors they need.
Hall is a former first overall pick and a Hart Trophy winner. While in recent seasons, he seems to perform better when he isn’t “the guy” and has a good supporting cast around him, he still has the pedigree to play on the first line with Bergeron if need be. He’s second on the depth chart at left wing, behind Marchand. If necessary, he will be and should be the first person the team looks to if someone needs to be slotted in on the first line.
The Bruins need to get younger, and what better way to get a new guy involved in the offense than giving him a shot to play with one of the best centers in the league? It’s still very early, but Fabian Lysell, the Bruins’ 2021 first-round selection, has impressed early on at rookie camp and is expected to be playing in either Boston or down with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League (AHL).
It’s too early to tell if Lysell will truly contest for a roster spot, let alone be considered for the top line, but he is definitely someone to keep in mind if things don’t click right away with Bergeron, DeBrusk, and Zacha, or if injuries start popping up. He is the most exciting prospect the Bruins have at the moment and it will serve them well to start giving him some looks in the NHL, a chance to play with and learn how to be a professional from one of the best centers in the franchise’s history and prepare him to potentially be one of the cornerstones in the years to come.
Jack Studnicka wants to be a center in this league and the Bruins need him to be one as they don’t have very many prospects at the position at the moment and their two stars are both close to retirement. While he hasn’t been able to earn himself a consistent roster spot down the middle, playing on the wing for a guy like Bergeron would certainly be a great learning opportunity for him. It may also help ease him into playing consistently at the NHL level, something he hasn’t been able to do yet.
This is an important year for Studnicka. Prior to the drafting of Lysell, he was the Bruins’ top prospect at forward and people have been waiting for him to make the jump for the last few seasons. Unfortunately, he has struggled in his time up in Boston. In 37 NHL games, he has only one goal and seven points. Like Zacha, he is naturally a center, but could be an option to step up on the wing if necessary.
Hope is not yet lost for Studnicka. He’s only 23 and some guys just need more time to adjust to NHL hockey. While he hasn’t been able to live up to the expectations he had coming out of his junior career, with a new coach and open roster spots, this could be the season for him to finally crack the NHL. Spending some time on the top line with Bergeron wouldn’t be a bad way to get him off on the right foot.
An Important Test for Bruins
The first two months will be an incredibly important test for the Bruins. If they can withstand the injuries and still be in a playoff spot when those guys return, then I would argue they’d be able to compete with any other team in this league. Zacha will be given the first shot to fill Marchand’s shoes on the top line, but this team can’t be afraid to make changes if something isn’t working out.
Bergeron is one of the best centers in Bruins history, but you still want to make sure that you’re giving him the right guys to play with. He and Marchand have been two of the most important pieces of this offense for a decade, and in recent years, have really set the pace for this team. When they’re on, they win. When they hit rough patches, as every player does, the team has struggled to step up and find ways to win without them at their best.
Missing Marchand is certainly a daunting shadow for the Bruins, but not having Bergeron at his best would be a death knell for this season. The team needs to make sure that the top line is functioning efficiently in the first two months if they have any hopes to make another run at the Stanley Cup in 2023.
I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. Currently, I’m pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting at Boston University. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.