By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins are in two different places at the same time.
With their preseason slated to begin late, late Friday night in China against the Flames (the Bruins will drop the puck at 2:30 a.m. for those of us in Boston), and with the ‘domestic’ group left in Boston set for a Sunday matinee at TD Garden, the Black and Gold are in an evaluation process that seems simply impossible.
At least for the first week or so of fresh ice.
But with Friday marking the official start of their Boston-based training camp — the Bruins will run three-session days on both Friday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Warrior Ice Arena — here’s a look at the five questions headlining B’s camp.
1. Who has the edge for third-line center job?
This is the big one to watch in training camp, really.
With the forever-dependable Riley Nash departed to Columbus, the Bruins are going to have a three-way battle between Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, and Jack Studnicka play out to determine their new third-line center.
What makes this shift off-the-jump fascinating is that it will likely require a mindset change on the part of Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. I mean, not even the most NHL-ready of the three is going to be as defensively sound as Nash was for a highly underrated third line of Heinen-Nash-Backes a year ago. This means that the Bruins could have to live with a third line that’s more lead-adding than it is lead-protecting (think Carl Soderberg’s kind of third line opposed to Chris Kelly’s). What kind of rope does that line get from Cassidy, whose roster is absolutely loaded with bangers and grinders to stick in that No. 3-C spot?
Based on experience alone, Forsbacka Karlsson (one NHL game and an entire AHL season to his name) has the advantage over Frederic and Studnicka, but the high ceiling of the dynamic and confident Studnicka is expected to make things extremely interesting for the Bruins. In fact, Studnicka’s preseason is going to begin with a great opportunity, as he’s expected to get the call between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on the Bruins’ de facto first line against the Flames.
He also scored this absurdly beautiful goal in last week’s Prospects Challenge in Buffalo.
2. Is David Pastrnak pulled away from Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron duo?
The Bruins could find themselves in a position where they’re moving David Pastrnak off their first line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. This sounds like pure lunacy, I’m well aware. But if the Bruins are looking for legitimate scoring depth to make the difference this season, moving Pastrnak back to the second line with David Krejci may be their best play available.
And it fits a definite (seemingly constant) need for Krejci. Last year, the combination of Krejci and left winger Jake DeBrusk spent at least 30 minutes of five-on-five hockey with seven different players. That list included Pastrnak, Backes, Anders Bjork, Peter Cehlarik, Ryan Donato, Rick Nash, and Ryan Spooner. In fact, Spooner was the only player to log at least 100 minutes of five-on-five play with the DeBrusk-Krejci duo, and he was shipped to the Rangers for Nash last February.
Figuring out the solution to this line’s revolving door on the right should be near the top of Cassidy’s list of camp goals.
(For the record, I’d most definitely pull Pastrnak away from the first line. That’s nothing against Pastrnak, of course, but the Bruins need two stacked lines to hang around the top of this ultra-competitive Atlantic Division. And the Marchand-Bergeron combination has proven time and time again that they can carry almost any winger with a working brain to a 50-point year.)
3. Who pairs with Brandon Carlo?
It’s hard to imagine that Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo is entering his third season in the NHL and has still yet to suit up for an NHL playoff game. Now, that can’t be changed in September, but the Bruins can figure out who the own-zone masterpiece of a blue liner is going to begin his 2018-19 season playing with on Boston’s second pairing.
The Bruins invested $13.75 million over the next five years in free agent John Moore (a left-shot defenseman capable of logging big minutes and playing all three zones), but it was Torey Krug that really emerged as a legitimately strong fit with Carlo last year. Though they were undeniable beneficiaries of frequently being on the ice with the superhuman Bergeron Line, the Krug-Carlo pairing posted the league’s 13th-best possession figure among d-pairings with at least 500 five-on-five minutes of time on ice together, while their 29 goals were the 30th-most among that same group. Krug, meanwhile, had a career-best 59 points.
And with the way Cassidy deployed the Krug-Carlo pairing late in the regular season — and in big moments — there’s no doubt that it’s a pairing the B’s bench boss believed he could trust when the games were hanging in the balance. That should not change just because both Carlo and Krug decided to have dueling Gordon Hayward impressions at the worst possible time.
There’s also the possibility of the Bruins reuniting Carlo with 41-year-old captain Zdeno Chara, which would allow the Bruins to have two strong pairs, with one anchored by Chara and the other by emerging No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy.
Expect to see about 43 different combinations this month, to be honest.
4. Does Lee Stempniak or Daniel Winnik have a legitimate shot at cracking Boston roster?
The Bruins rounded out their training camp roster with the addition of veteran forwards Lee Stempniak and Daniel Winnik on professional tryout agreements. Stempniak returns to the Bruins after two seasons in Carolina, and on the heels of an injury-plagued 37-game season that included just three goals and nine points. The 33-year-old Winnik, meanwhile, comes to B’s camp after back-to-back seasons of at least 23 points, and with 63 games of Stanley Cup Playoffs experience to his name.
Can either player make enough of an impression to actually land with the Bruins?
On the surface, and given their already-crowded camp in terms of bottom-six talent, the answer seems to be a resounding no.
But consider this: When the Bruins entered the stretch run, they opted to acquire Tommy Wingels from the Blackhawks and sign veteran free agent Brian Gionta. Why? Because Cassidy did not like the idea of recalling a young player up from the P-Bruins to simply have him toil in the press box and play on a part-time basis. It’s hard to imagine that philosophy changing in 2018-19, which could mean that there’s a small chance for one of these players to actually make the team. A slim one, though.
5. Where do 2015 first-round picks Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn fit into pipeline?
I’m not ready to officially call it make-or-break time for 2015 first-round picks Jakub Zboril (No. 13 overall) and Zach Senyshyn (No. 15 overall), but it’s getting pretty damn close. The oft-criticized selections of Sweeney’s first NHL Draft on the job, Zboril and Senyshyn are two of just three first-round picks from the 2015 class yet to appear in an NHL game. That’s not ideal.
But they now run the risk of being surpassed on the organizational depth chart. That’s not even in the same zip code as ideal.
Zboril now has competition with 2017 first-round pick Urho Vaakanainen (who could have a leg up on Zboril given his pro-game experience in Europe), while countless NCAA-turned-AHL prospects are coming after Senyshyn’s spot.
You almost need to see desperation in their camp efforts to properly feel as if they’re aware of what’s happening around them.
For complete coverage of 2018 Boston Bruins training camp, click here.
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.