Brad Marchand talks with Taylor Hall during the first period of the preseason game against the Flyers. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
The preseason is nearing its end, and the Boston Bruins mostly have their opening night lineup penciled in for Oct. 16.
Aside from Jack Studnicka and Charlie Coyle fighting for second-line minutes, the Bruins had most of their four scoring lines and three defensive pairings settled heading into Wednesday’s exhibition finale against the Washington Capitals. Barring injuries, here’s how Bruce Cassidy’s depth chart will look a week from Saturday against the Dallas Stars.
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak
What needs to be said that hasn’t already been regarding one of the National Hockey League’s top lines? After all, they possess a 100-point threat (Marchand), a perennial Selke finalist (Bergeron), and a potential 50-goal scorer (Pastrnak).
Taylor Hall-Charlie Coyle-Craig Smith
Coyle entered as the favorite to replace David Krejci’s void in the middle. Coming off off-season knee surgery, the Weymouth-born forward will get his first crack at second-line minutes with Hall and Smith on Wednesday.
But will this second-line trio remain intact throughout the regular season? Studnicka hardly looked out of place in his two go-arounds with Hall and Smith. The 2017 second-round selection could start the year in Providence in a top-line role for the Baby B’s following an impressive training camp. Yet, assuming he picks up where he left off, Studnicka remains an ideal long-term option for Line 2 duty with the big club.
Jake DeBrusk-Erik Haula-Nick Foligno
DeBrusk hardly had a guaranteed spot coming off the worst season of his career. He’s showcased early flashes of a bounce-back season, scoring goals in each of his two preseason appearances.
Veteran newcomers Erik Haula and Nick Foligno provided DeBrusk with a fresh perspective. The 2015 first-round selection showcased a solid drive to the net and a keen puck pursuit along the boards, two traits he struggled with a year ago. That should mesh well with Haula’s two-way presence and Foligno’s blue-collar work ethic.
Studnicka’s presence may break the DeBrusk-Haula-Foligno trio up down the road — assuming Coyle slides down to third-line duty. Given their showings at camp, however, the Bruins won’t have to worry about scratching DeBrusk, Haula, or Foligno to accompany a roster spot for Studnicka.
Trent Frederic-Tomas Nosek-Curtis Lazar
Even a solid fourth line finds itself with a high rate of yearly roster turnovers. The Bruins entered that territory again following Sean Kuraly’s departure to his hometown of Columbus.
Tomas Nosek arrives from Vegas fresh off a career year (8 goals, 10 assists in 38 games in 2021). Curtis Lazar has a year under his belt following his arrival from Buffalo at last season’s trade deadline. Trent Frederic became an early fan favorite for his edgy brand of hockey — as Tom Wilson and Brendan Lemieux can attest — while hardly crossing the proverbial fine line.
Nosek and Lazar fit their fourth-line energy roles — with an occasional scoring touch — to a T. Frederic’s offensive upside still has question marks, but his physical engagement level remains key to round out this new-look fourth trio.
A fourth-line regular from year’s past, Wagner enters the season as the de facto 13th forward.
The Walpole native admittedly struggled with anxiety during a 2021 pandemic-shortened season. Wagner entered training camp with a fresh perspective following his marriage in the summer. He’ll undoubtedly have the support of his peers and the fans whenever Cassidy tabs him to provide an energy boost in fourth-line duty.
Derek Forbort-Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk spent most of last year in a de facto top pair role following Zdeno Chara’s departure. The Bruins won’t shy away from pairing Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy again whenever they need an offensive spark.
For the most part, though, they’ll tab Derek Forbort on the top pair. The Bruins signed Forbort for his stout penalty killing and stay-at-home prowess. What he lacks in offensive production, Forbort makes up for as a shutdown minutes-eating defenseman. He ended his 2021 stint in Winnipeg with the highest average shorthanded time on ice (2:43 per game) and the third-highest average ice time among all Jets blue-liners (20:45).
Forbort’s defensive first presence compliments McAvoy’s transition game well. It might not provide the top defensive pair in hockey, but opponents will find difficulties scoring on Forbort and McAvoy at 5v5.
Mike Reilly-Brandon Carlo
Carlo’s injury in Game 3 of the Bruins-Islanders second-round matchup provided a trickle-down effect on Boston’s blue-line. Cassidy’s bunch struggled mightily as the likes of Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon struggled to adapt to a top-four role.
The Bruins now have Carlo back in the fold after the Colorado Springs-born blue-liner signed a new six-year contract during the off-season. They can ill-afford to lose Carlo to a significant injury, given the organizational defensive depth remains a bit suspect. He’s adept to skate in a shutdown pairing or compliment a puck-moving blue-liner.
Like his partnering with Torey Krug, Carlo will once again have an offensive-minded blue-liner to work with in Mike Reilly. The pair showcased some solid chemistry in the brief time they skated together following Reilly’s arrival from Ottawa at the trade deadline. They’ll have an entire season to complement and adapt to one another.
Matt Grzelcyk-Connor Clifton
Cassidy used this undersized pair at times during the 2019 run to the Stanley Cup Final. At times, they encountered a size disparity, but that didn’t hinder the Grzelcyk-Clifton pairing. A unique blend of Grzelcyk’s puck-moving skillset and Clifton’s passionate work ethic provide a rather intriguing dynamic to Boston’s defensive core.
Extra defensemen: John Moore and Jakub Zboril
Chara’s exit paved an opportunity for some of the younger defensemen a season ago. Zboril found himself in the mix and earned an opening night roster spot only to fall out of favor later in the year thanks to his turnovers and struggles adapting defensively to a more physical NHL brand of play. Beginning the year as a press box regular will at least give Zboril a different perspective than staying in Providence at this point of his career.
The Bruins took a bit of a risk signing Moore to a five-year deal in the 2018 off-season. The veteran blue-liner hardly had chances to showcase his potential because of injuries. Yet, Moore’s perseverance provided a feel-good story during camp. He’ll enter the regular season as the team’s de facto seventh defenseman.
The Bruins may revisit Tuukka Rask’s situation as his rehab from off-season hip surgery progresses. That uncertainty, however, led to signing another former Buffalo Sabre in Ullmark to a five-year deal.
Ullmark provided a rare bright spot to the lowly Sabres a year ago, sporting a 2.63 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage, and a 9-6-3 mark in 20 appearances. But Swayman, fresh off a stellar 10-game run last season, picked up where he left off and outperformed Ullmark during camp. Even if Ullmark bounces back in Wednesday’s preseason finale, Swayman has done more than enough to secure an opening night start.
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