By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Less than a week away from their first formal skate at Warrior Ice Arena, the Boston Bruins have officially announced the expected roster for their 2018 training camp that will be split between China and Boston.
The camp will begin with the group that the Bruins will bring to China for a pair of preseason tilts against the Calgary Flames as part of the 2018 O.R.G. NHL China Games.
That group goes as follows:
Forwards: David Backes, Martin Bakos, Peter Cehlarik, Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Joakim Nordstrom, David Pastrnak, Jack Studnicka, Jordan Szwarz, Chris Wagner
Defense: Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, Charlie McAvoy, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, John Moore, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril
Goaltenders: Jaroslav Halak, Tuukka Rask
Of the two groups, this is obviously the most NHL-caliber lineup, with 19 of the 24 players going having played at least one NHL game a season ago, and with 20 of the 24 players having at least one game of NHL experience to their name.
The $6 million question here: Where does David Backes fit into the Bruins’ plans? If we want to get harsh about this real quick, Backes has fallen down the depth chart in back-to-back seasons. He started out the 2016-17 season as a (poor) fit to David Krejci’s right, and ended the season on the third line. He then found a home on Boston’s stellar third line a year ago, but ended the postseason on the fourth line before he was concussed out of action in the B’s series-deciding Game 5 to the Lightning.
And despite reportedly shopping him around this summer, Sweeney has remained optimistic that Backes can rebound and become a 20-goal, 50-point talent with the proper usage. That seems borderline doable, as Backes’ 2017-18 production would have paced him for a 20-goal, 47-point season had it not been for an absurdly unusual set of injuries between diverticulitis and a skate blade gashing his leg open. But the ice-time element of it all is truly up to Backes, really.
Given the cast of characters on this trip, it’s likely that Backes will begin the preseason on the right side of a third line with somebody like Ryan Donato at left wing and one of the young guns the B’s are planning to try out at center. He could even get another look with Krejci, all things considered. Backes making the most of this chance with some legitimate chemistry — and some offensive totals to show for it, preseason or not — seems key for a player whose simply too expensive to be a fourth-liner.
About those aforementioned young centers: It’s clear the Bruins are banking on one of Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, and Jack Studnicka to take the vacant third-line center spot and run with it. Just who the team gives the first crack at centering the closest thing to an NHL-caliber third line will be telling in regards to who they view as the leading contender; Forsbacka Karlsson is theoretically the favorite based on experience alone with 15 goals and 32 points in 58 games with the P-Bruins a year ago (he also played in an NHL game back in 2017), but Frederic has first-round pick ceiling working in his favor, and Studnicka has been as confident as can be all summer and hasn’t been shy about saying that he’s coming for that spot.
A word of advice: Don’t drive yourself crazy reading into who free agent addition John Moore has as a pairing partner. I think you should almost expect the left-shot Moore to play with Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller, and Adam McQuaid at different points during this two-game trip to China. After all, Moore’s role remains completely undefined right now.
In net, gotta wonder if Jaroslav Halak steals Tuukka Rask’s in the preseason. (No, you don’t have to wonder that.)
Here’s the group the Bruins are considering the ‘domestic’ group that will stay back in Boston during the China trip.
Forwards: Noel Acciari, Patrice Bergeron, Anders Bjork, Anton Blidh, Colby Cave, Ryan Fitzgerald, Austin Fyten, Danton Heinen, Cameron Hughes, Joona Koppanen, Karson Kuhlman, Sean Kuraly, Jakub Lauko, Brett McKenzie, Mark McNeill, Marcel Noebels, Cedric Pare, Tanner Pond, Zach Senyshyn
Defense: Axel Andersson, Chris Breen, Daniel Bukac, Zdeno Chara, Connor Clifton, Mark Fayne, Olivier Galipeau, Cody Goloubef, Emil Johansson, Torey Krug, Jeremy Lauzon, Joel Messner, Wiley Sherman
Goaltenders: Kyle Keyser, Zane McIntyre, Dan Vladar
There’s significantly more certainty with this group, at least when you talk about the expectations out of the gate for the club’s two preseason tilts with the other group in China. The chief expectation, of course, is that it’s going to be an absolute mess.
This is not to knock such a group, but more of a commentary of their lack of any sort of experience.
Up front, the biggest name among this group is Bruins top-line center Patrice Bergeron. A ‘little bit’ behind in regards to his recovery from offseason groin surgery, Bergeron is still hoping to draw into a preseason game or two to be ready for the B’s season opener against the Capitals on Oct. 3. (It’s worth nothing that Bergeron’s missed Opening Night in back-to-back years.)
If Bergeron does draw into a game with this group, though, it will be interesting to see who the Bruins stick with him.
Bergeron played the majority of his 2017 preseason with Anders Bjork tagged as his right winger, and if the Bruins are seeking a greater scoring balance in 2018-19, reuniting Bjork with Bergeron and Brad Marchand seems like their best play. Danton Heinen is another name to watch in this regard, though, as he logged over 130 five-on-five minutes with Bergeron a season ago. The majority of that action came with Marchand on the shelf, though, and Heinen playing his natural left wing position. Both players absolutely have the speed (Bjork) and smarts (Heinen) to hack it with the Bergeron-Marchand combo, but it honestly does start with getting on the same page with the Bruins’ all-world center in the preseason. Again, if he’s in action.
Some noteworthy pro tryout talents worth watching in this group: German forward Marcel Noebels and defenseman Mark Fayne. I’m honestly not sure either is playing for a legitimate NHL role (I can’t even see how you can suggest Fayne is given the fact that he’s been in the minors for the two years and that the B’s already have eight defensemen signed), but they’re both experienced players that should provide a veteran know-how to a pool of depth pieces relatively short on actual experience.
Main camp for those participating in the O.R.G. NHL China Games opens on Sept. 11 at Warrior Ice Arena, and will see the group fly out to China for a Sept. 15 head-to-head with the Flames. Those not making the trek to China will report to Warrior on Sept. 13, three days before the club’s domestic preseason opener against the Washington Capitals on Sept. 16 at TD Garden.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.