Bruins roster projection, version 2.0: Forcing fits and rewarding strong play

Sep 25, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Backes (42) is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a goal during the third period against the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

With five preseason games in the books, the Boston Bruins have about 90 percent of their Opening Night roster set.

The top of the Boston roster seems completely solidified, but there's still about four or five bodies playing for two open spots within the Black and Gold's 12-forward set, while injuries have by all means locked down the B's plans on the backend.

Here's our latest stab at what the Bruins will bring to Dallas when the puck drops on the 2019-20 season...

First line: Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak

Despite the clamoring (from fans and media alike) for the Bruins to break up this line to achieve a greater scoring balance up front, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has shown no real interest in breaking up one of the league's best lines. In fact, it's pretty much been a constant since the 34-year-old Bergeron (groin) joined his teammates as a regular at training camp.

Prior to their (by their standards) quiet postseason run, this line was on the ice for 27 five-on-five goals, which was good for the 12th-most among all forward lines with at least 400 minutes. Among that same group, their 55.97 Corsi-For percentage ranked as the fifth-best, while their plus-42 shot differential was the 11th-best.

The Bruins hope No. 37 suits up in the team's preseason finale on Saturday.

Second line: Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Karson Kuhlman

The Bruins outshot opponents 82-59 and outscored the opposition 11-4 in 126:59 of five-on-five play with the DeBrusk-Krejci-Kuhlman on the ice between the regular season and postseason. It actually ended the year as Boston's second line, too, with Kuhlman getting the nod to Krejci's right in Games 6 and 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

I don't think Kuhlman has done anything to lose this opportunity out of the gate on 2019-20, and I'm not sure Brett Ritchie (more on him in a bit) has done anything to make the inexperienced Kuhlman sweat on that front.

Third line: Anders Bjork - Charlie Coyle - Danton Heinen

Although I understand their reasoning in the grand scheme of things, the Bruins would be crazy to send Anders Bjork to the AHL. Given the way Bjork has played this preseason, understanding that there would be an NHL opportunity for him if he grabbed it, telling Bjork that he was going to begin his season in Providence would send just a plain terrible message.

Bjork has been Boston's best possession skater this preseason, with a 73.68 Corsi-For percentage at five-on-five, while the Bruins have outshot their opponents by a staggering 37-14 mark with Bjork on the ice this month. The 23-year-old has also continued to show some noticeable improvement as a three-zone player, and was all over New Jersey defenders throughout the night in Boston's 2-0 shutout victory over the Devils on Wednesday night.

In other words, he's earned this opportunity.

Charlie Coyle, meanwhile, has looked fantastic this preseason. Brad Marchand even went as far to say that Coyle has been the most dominant player in camp from the jump. There's also whispers of bumping Coyle up to the right wing for either Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci, but having Coyle center Boston's third line gives the Bruins four puck-possession pivots. That's a good recipe for success, especially given the down-the-middle head-to-heads with the Maple Leafs and Lightning.

I have a feeling we're going to see Danton Heinen be more of an offensive threat in 2019-20. He'll still do the little things that are often lost on many, but playing with a more polished finisher like Coyle for a full season should lead to some increased opportunities. Don't sleep on the fact that Heinen had 16 goals and 47 points in a 2017-18 primarily spent with Riley Nash and David Backes, and was a point-per-game player with Bergeron and Marchand in '19. Put him with finishers and he'll be fine.

Fourth line: Chris Wagner - Sean Kuraly - David Backes

I'm not sure how realistic it was to ever truly think that the Bruins were going to put veteran leader David Backes and his $6 million salary on waivers and assign him to Providence. It seemed like a possibility, sure, but percentage-wise, I'm not sure that it ever crept above a 15 percent or so chance. I think the Bruins appreciate his leadership too much to do that to him.

But Backes has certainly played like that threat was real, and has fought his way into the B's forward grouping out of the gate as a result. One of the more heavily featured players this preseason, Backes has scored a goal and added two helpers in his last two preseason outings, and has had the take-no-prisoners attitude that made him a worthwhile addition to the lineup in the second and third round of last year's run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

"He was good, he was bangin’, he was physical," Cassidy said of Backes following Wednesday's game against the Devils. "Got to the net, created some loose puck situations with a good forecheck, so he had his legs."

Healthy scratches: Par Lindholm, Brett Ritchie

The Bruins may have hit on yet another bottom-sixer in Swedish forward Par Lindholm. He's a smart player capable of playing both center and wing, and really uses his smarts and stick to his advantage out there, and he'll probably be the first player thrown into the lineup should the Black and Gold find themselves in need of a lineup shake-up. This is one area of free agency Sweeney has absolutely nailed (see: Dominic Moore, Riley Nash, Tim Schaller, Wagner).

Following Boston's first home game of the preseason, Cassidy said Brett Ritchie is "as advertised." I'm not sure that's the best thing when talking about a player with just 11 goals over his last two seasons (124 games). And while Cassidy was talking about that in regards to Ritchie's ability to get in on the forecheck and use his 6-foot-4 frame, it's worth mentioning that Ritchie's offensive game went out the window with Krejci removed from Monday's game due to a lower-body injury.

Cassidy noted that the puck didn't seem to find Ritchie's stick, and seemed to attribute that to the in-game loss of Krejci, but in a crowded camp, Ritchie has yet to do anything to elevate his game to second or third-line minutes. He just seems closer to a Noel Acciari replacement than a Marcus Johansson replacement, and there will definitely be a use for it at some point this season, but I'm not quite sure if will be in the Opening Night lineup.

Defense

There are no real mysteries with what the B's have on the backend. In fact, their entire defense corps from last year's Cup run remains with the organization, though Kevan Miller and John Moore will begin the year on the shelf. Alex Petrovic, who was with the team on a professional tryout, signed a two-way deal with the club and will report to Providence if he clears waivers.

First pairing: Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy

McAvoy's back in the fold on a new three-year deal and Zdeno Chara believes he'll be ready to go when the puck drops on the new season. The 42-year-old Chara is coming off offseason surgeries on his elbow and jaw. This was Boston's go-to pairing last year, and it'll be interesting to see if McAvoy takes that next step in 2019-20 and become's the pairing's driver.

Second pairing: Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug made his preseason debut on Wednesday and survived it unscathed. Given his recent bad luck in these meaningless games, that's good enough for the Bruins to believe their No. 1 puck-mover is ready to go.

Third pairing: Matt Grzelcyk - Connor Clifton

This means nothing to you, I know, but the TD Garden press box is not ready after a summer of massive renovations. This means that the B's have stuck us media bums in the Sports Deck for the preseason. It gave us a much closer look at the ice level. My biggest takeaway: Connor Clifton is absolutely delightful chaos. The way he attacks pucks, people, and plays is just absolutely must-watch stuff, and it's not hard to see why the Bruins love everything about Cliffy Hockey.

Healthy scratch: Steven Kampfer

The 31-year-old Kampfer had three goals and six points in 35 games with the Bruins last year.

Starting goaltender: Tuukka Rask

He's still the starting goalie, 'ya bunch of crazies.

Backup goaltender: Jaroslav Halak

Jaroslav Halak came through with a 29-save shutout on Wednesday and has surrendered just one goal on 46 shots thrown his way this month. He's shown no signs of slowing down when it comes to pushing Rask as the team's regular-season 1B.

"Outstanding. I thought he was crisp, played the puck well," Cassidy said of Halak. "I didn’t see much in his game that looked off to me. Rebound control was excellent. He was square. He looks like he’s ready to go."

Injured reserve: Joakim Nordstrom, Peter Cehlarik, Kevan Miller, John Moore

We're still waiting to see Joakim Nordstrom, who played through a broken foot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, make his preseason debut. There's only game left for the Swedish forward to do just that, too. But perhaps it's in the B's best interest to take it slow with Nordstrom, who will be relied upon as one of Boston's go-to penalty-killing forwards in 2019-20, and have him begin the year on the shelf. Given the number of bodies they have fighting for NHL jobs, as well as the experience of Lindholm, it's not the worst idea, as it could buy the B's some time with some of their younger, unestablished players.

Peter Cehlarik scored in his first game of the preseason, logged the fewest minutes in his next game, and has been on the shelf with an apparent injury ever since. He's out of options, too, meaning it's NHL or the waiver wire. And there's a pretty solid chance that a team would grab Cehlarik off waivers given the cost-free element of his situation. Placing him on the injured reserve may be the way around a team claiming Cehlarik out of the gate and could help the Bruins, as waiver claims tend to be a little more uncommon once teams set their rosters and get things rolling in the regular season. And much like the Nordstrom situation, having Cehlarik begin the year on the shelf would give the Bruins time to see if Bjork or Kuhlman can hack it in their roles while also eliminating the risk of potentially losing Cehlarik to the waiver wire. The B's love having options.

The Bruins are being ultra, ultra cautious with Kevan Miller's recovery from a twice-broken kneecap, and they've already ruled him out for Opening Night. John Moore, meanwhile, is expected to miss at least the first month of the new season as he recovers from a shoulder injury he played through throughout the entire 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.