Bruins 2021 training camp preview: How will crowded forward group shake out?
By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins are bringing 25 forwards to their rapid-fire 2021 training camp at Warrior Ice Arena.
But this is about finding Boston’s best 18 or so, all things considered. With this year being unlike any other, the Bruins are going to have the luxury of a ‘taxi squad’ to join their group of 12 forwards and a healthy scratch or two. And there’s no shortage of contenders on the roster that trickled out Saturday night and was confirmed Sunday morning.
Patrice Bergeron: The obvious choice for next captain of the Bruins, Bergeron enters 2021 coming off a 2019-20 that featured 31 goals and 56 points in 61 appearances, which was good for his third straight seasons of at least .90 points per game. The 35-year-old also deals with what’s best described as a chronic groin injury, however, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Bruins manage his workload ahead of what will be a insane-paced regular season with a zero-exhibition game lead-in. I think we’re at the point where we don’t need to see Bergeron destroy his body in camp to know what he can do in the season.
Anders Bjork: This feels like a make-or-break season for Bjork. Signed to a three-year, $4.8 million extension this past summer, Bjork is still looking to grab hold of a full-time roster spot. Bjork had a half-strong 2019-20, and appeared to be a fit with Charlie Coyle at times before falling out of frame entirely. Bjork struggled in the Toronto bubble, too, and brutally failed as a top-line fill-in when an injury took David Pastrnak out of the B’s first-round series with the Hurricanes, with three penalties in one game. One thing that’ll boost Bjork’s chances of locking down a full-time role in 2021? His penalty-killing game and the opening on Boston’s shorthanded unit with Joakim Nordstrom out of town and (maybe) Brad Marchand missing the start of the season.
Anton Blidh: A solid taxi squad option, Blidh was one of the final cuts from the B’s restart camp roster, and totaled 20 hits and five blocked shots in seven games with Boston last year. He at one point appeared primed to take a job from Joakim Nordstrom, so there’s always the threat of Blidh irritating his way into another shot with the Big B’s.
Paul Carey: Another potential depth option, Carey has eight goals and 16 points in 100 NHL games since 2013-14.
Charlie Coyle: Pretty big year for Coyle, all things considered. Not only is this the first year of Coyle’s new six-year, $31.5 million extension (5.25 million cap hit), but it’s also basically an audition for David Krejci’s job as Boston’s second-line center. Perhaps not literally — Coyle will still be centering the B’s third line — but with Krejci entering the final year of his deal, a strong showing from Coyle in 2021 may give the B’s pause about bringing Krejci back in 2021-22. Especially with Jack Studnicka knocking at the door. The Weymouth, Mass. native scored 16 goals and 37 points a year ago, but desperately needs a consistent shooting threat riding with him to truly give the B’s the most bang for their buck. (Hello, Craig Smith?)
Jake DeBrusk: If Jake DeBrusk can iron out his consistency issues, the Bruins will be an elite team. Same for if DeBrusk can learn to be the bounce and not rely on a bounce. If not, and if DeBrusk and Krejci continue to have chemistry issues, the B’s will need to give serious consideration to moving him down to Coyle’s wing and rethinking his ceiling on a championship club.
Matt Filipe: A 6-foot-2 forward and Lynnfield, Mass. native, Matt Filipe established career-highs in assists (13) and points (22), and tied his career-high in goals (nine), in 30 games for Northeastern in 2019-20. Filipe, who primarily plays left wing, also served as an assistant captain for the Huskies, and helped lead the school to three straight Beanpot championships. Filipe scored a goal and added an assist in three games for Jacksonville (ECHL) before being summoned to Boston camp.
Trent Frederic: The Bruins have gone from expecting Frederic to be a strong third-line center at the NHL level to wondering if he became a power forward on the wings. Frederic had a strong finish to his 2020 in Providence, scoring four goals and 15 points over his final 24 games of the season. The 6-foot-2, 214-pound forward also led the AHL in fighting majors. The offensive game has yet to translate in Frederic’s brief NHL sample, with zero points, 20 shots on goal, and 26 hits in 17 games over the last two seasons.
Cameron Hughes: A tenacious forward, Hughes recorded a hit and two blocks in his 9:53 of NHL work last season.
Ondrej Kase: Acquired from Anaheim in exchange for David Backes, prospect Axel Andersson, and a 2020 first-round pick, Kase’s Boston debut left a lot to be desired. With his immersion interrupted by the pandemic that paused the season, Kase came back to Boston late, and was knocked out of camp after coming down (or being exposed to) COVID-19. And though he looked like a fit with DeBrusk and Krejci, Kase failed to find the back of the net on his 36 total shots in a B’s uniform. His postseason even ended with him demoted down to the B’s fourth line. Not the best start. The Bruins hope a full camp will help. And it certainly helps that Kase got the memo and has been taking part in the voluntary skates at Warrior Ice Arena.
David Krejci: The career-long Bruin is entering the final year of his current contract, and he’s not thinking about retirement. Krejci is coming off a mild 43-point campaign, but was ‘Playoff Krejci’ in Boston’s summer restart, with four goals and 12 points in 13 games from inside the Toronto bubble.
Karson Kuhlman: An undrafted free agent, Kuhlman’s NHL experience has told him how hard it is to score consistently in this league. He’s spent this offseason working on getting a little dirtier in front of and around the net, which he hopes will lead to some more conversions in 2021. Kuhlman ranks eighth in points per 60 minutes (1.44), fifth in shots per 60 minutes (8.23), and sixth in individual expected goals per 60 (0.64) among B’s skaters since 2018.
Sean Kuraly: Boston’s bottom-six motor, Kuraly is entering the final year of his deal (and will be an unrestricted free agent at its conclusion), and is coming off a 2019-20 that featured career-highs in assists (17), points (23), and hits (145).
Robert Lantosi: The 5-foot-10 Lantosi recorded 11 goals and 31 points in 50 games for Providence in what was his first season of North American pro hockey, and totaled four goals and 18 points in 18 games for Nitra MHC (Slovakia) this season before reporting back to the United States.
Par Lindholm: After appearing in 46 total games last year between the regular season and postseason, and with the ability to play both center and wing (and kill penalties), Lindholm feels like the obvious pick for the B’s 13th skater up front.
Brad Marchand: The 32-year-old Marchand underwent a sports hernia repair in September, and though he’s progressing ahead of schedule, it’s probably in the B’s interest to take things slow with their second-most important forward.
Greg McKegg: A journeyman utility forward, McKegg comes to Boston after scoring five goals and nine points in 53 games for the Rangers in 2019-20. McKegg’s 2019-20 also included career-highs in hits (69), blocked shots (24), and shots (40).
David Pastrnak: The Bruins are unlikely to get David Pastrnak, who underwent a hip operation with an expected five-month recovery last September, on the ice in this 11-day camp. The Bruins are monitoring his situation on a more week-to-week basis, which makes sense when it comes to making sure the defending Rocket Richard winner is at 100 percent when back.
Nick Ritchie: Little odd that Nick Ritchie didn’t make the trek to Boston to be part of the voluntary workouts at Warrior Ice Arena. I know, I know, pandemic and quarantining and all. But Ritchie’s impact after arriving in Boston from Anaheim was minimal at best (you could argue that he was a negative in Boston’s second-round series with Tampa), and the extra time would’ve only helped. Instead he’ll arrive for the start of camp with everyone else and look to keep pace.
Zach Senyshyn: The No. 15 overall pick from the 2015 NHL Draft is still looking to find his NHL footing. One silver lining: Senyshyn didn’t look horrible in his NHL sample last season, and Providence coach Jay Leach believes the speedy wing is finally coming into his own as a professional.
Craig Smith: The Bruins were quick to identify shooting, or the inability to do just that, as an issue following their five-game beatdown from the Lightning in the 2020 playoffs. And they addressed that in a major way with the signing of Craig Smith to a three-year, $9.1 million deal. The 31-year-old Smith comes to the Bruins with at least 21 goals in five of his last seven seasons, and has fired the 13th-most shots on goal among NHL right wings over the last five seasons, with 972.
Oskar Steen: A sixth-round choice of the Bruins in 2016, Steen scored six goals and 23 points in 60 games as a rookie for the P-Bruins last year. He also stayed busy before receiving the call to report back to Boston, with 12 goals and three helpers in 16 games for Bjorkloven IF in Sweden’s second-highest tier of pro hockey.
Jack Studnicka: Considered the organization’s top prospect in the pro ranks, Studnicka is definitely ahead of where the Bruins had him pegged in his development. Studnicka’s value as a natural center that can make a difference at the wing is also appealing. The only problem: There’s not a ton of open slots for him on this roster at full strength, and the Bruins probably don’t want him toiling and playing sparingly as a taxi squad option.
Chris Wagner: The Mayor of Walpole dished out a staggering 15.72 hits per 60 minutes of five-on-five play last year, which was tops among all Boston forwards, and ranked as the third-best rate among the 249 NHL forwards with at least 700 minutes of five-on-five to their name last year. This is the first year of a three-year, $4.05 million extension signed in Nov. 2019.
As mentioned, it’s highly unlikely that Pastrnak will be ready for the start of the 2021 regular season, opening up a spot on the right side of the B’s top line. With their season on the line in Game 5 against the Lightning last year, it was Kase who got a few twirls with the Bergeron-Marchand duo, and it’s possible that the Bruins give that another look. It’s also possible that Bjork, who initially broke into the league as a right wing and with Bergeron and Marchand, gets another chance despite last postseason’s rough showing. (The Bruins hit a point where they viewed Bjork as a left wing first, but they relented on that at times in 2020.) It’s also possible that Smith, recruited to Boston by Bergeron, gets a look with No. 37.
The Bruins will also have opening on the left side of their third and fourth lines. Maybe even their first if Marchand’s recent progress hits a snag and he’s put back on the shelf. But when it comes to those bottom-six left-side spots, you’re really talking about Bjork, Ritchie, Frederic, Lindholm (or Kuraly if Lindholm plays center), and maybe Kuhlman (primarily a right wing). The Bruins will at least one of the winners here to emerge as a penalty-killing option as well.
- After non-factor impacts in 2020, can Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie get with the B’s program?
- Will Jake DeBrusk finally round out his game into true, consistent top-six production?
- What’s prioritized with the overall complexion of the B’s taxi squad options up front?
The Blind Predictions
- 2016 first-round Trent Frederic cracks the opening night roster as one of Boston’s 12 forwards and plays with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner on a grind-’em-down fourth line.
- Bruins give the Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork line one final look together to begin 2021. It’s about getting Bjork off to a hot start as much as it is giving David Krejci and Charlie Coyle the linemates they view as their long-term fits.
- Lantosi or Steen emerges as a tough-to-cut talent.