An almost criminally early lineup projection for the 2022-23 Bruins
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - FEBRUARY 27: David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins celebrates with David Krejci #46 after scoring a goal against the Dallas Stars during the third period at TD Garden on February 27, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Stars 4-3. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Not gonna lie to you guys, I got real jealous of Alex Barth and Matt Dolloff.
Roster projections? Arguing over roster spots? Changing your opinion every single day? That, my friends, is the good stuff. And frankly, I’m not going to wait for my turn any longer.
I want to know what the 2022-23 Bruins are going to look like. I have a rough idea.
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But as social media and the subsequent fall of civilized society have taught us, what good is a thought if you can’t share it with the entire world, even if they don’t want it?
So, warden, open up the cell and toss me in. Because I’m hitting you all with a criminally early look at how I think the Bruins will line it up on Opening Night 2022.
May 2, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Taylor Hall (71) celebrates his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period in Game 1 of the first round. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)
Pavel Zacha – Patrice Bergeron – Jake DeBrusk
Apr 28, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) reacts with left wing Jake DeBrusk (74) after scoring a goal against the Buffalo Sabres. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)
Speaking at the WEEI-NESN Jimmy Fund Telethon last week, new Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery spilled the beans on Pavel Zacha being the likeliest to get the call as the fill-in for Brad Marchand on Boston’s first line with Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk while Marchand recovers from offseason hip surgery.
It’s an incredibly strong starting point for Zacha, who put up a career-high 36 points in 2021-22 and scored a career-high 17 goals the season before last, and his Black and Gold career. It’ll also require the 25-year-old Czech center to bring some defensive know-how to the mix, as that left-wing spot next to Bergeron has been Marchand’s home for the last 12 years, and with the Bruins getting absolutely excellent two-way play out of that spot.
What makes this intriguing to me is that the Bruins could have a serious interest in developing some chemistry between Bergeron and Zacha that they hope translates to the man advantage, as the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Zacha certainly seems like a potential contender for the Bruins’ oft-rotated net-front role on power-play No. 1.
There may be a little reluctance to keep DeBrusk on his off wing with Marchand out, but the man led the Bruins in goals from the moment they moved him to Bergeron’s right to the end of the regular season. And it’s his likely long-term home for this team in 2022-23, so why mess with it out of the gate?
Taylor Hall – David Krejci – David Pastrnak
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – APRIL 15: David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Islandersduring the first period at TD Garden on April 15, 2021. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Another line revealed by Montgomery — though this one was really an inevitability from the moment David Krejci decided to return to the Bruins — is the B’s second line with Krejci in between Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak.
There’s little doubt that Krejci, even at his age, represents an upgrade over Erik Haula, who helped carry the B’s second line to largely positive results down the stretch last year. (David Pastrnak’s absolute mind-melter of a second-half scoring surge was probably the biggest factor for the line’s success and ultimate turnaround, but Haula was able to hang as the line’s centerman, and he absolutely deserves some credit for that.)
With Krejci back in the middle, this line is going to be more of a possession line. Krejci’s patience, mixed with Hall’s speed and ability to generate strong zone entries and Pastrnak’s absolute bomb of a shot, could make the line the B’s best when the dust settles on the upcoming season.
Just consider this: In 193 minutes and change of five-on-five work together in 2021, the Hall-Krejci duo outshot opponents 124-64 and outscored them 14-1. They also generated 114 scoring chances and 44 high-danger scoring chances. And we know what the Pastrnak-Krejci combo can do, as we’ve seen it in Boston in the past, and we got a refresher at the 2022 World Championships where they emerged as Czechia’s top one-two punch.
And Krejci, who put up 20 goals and 46 points in 51 games with HC Olomouc last year, still feels capable.
“I feel like I have a lot to offer still,” Krejci said about his return. “I know people talk about my age, but it’s just a number. I feel I’m in good shape. And I’m coming back to try to go all the way. I’ve been in the league a long time, so I know what it takes to make the playoffs and go all the way. So, just one step at a time.”
Trent Frederic – Charlie Coyle – Craig Smith
Mar 3, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Boston Bruins center Craig Smith (12) celebrates with center Trent Frederic (11) and center Charlie Coyle (13) after scoring a first period goal. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports)
The Bruins clearly aren’t ready to write off 2016 first-round pick Trent Frederic as a fourth-line agitator (and occasional scraper) and nothing more. They believe there’s more to his game. I mean, they’ve said as much.
“I don’t think that’s been determined in terms of what [Frederic]’s offensive ceiling is,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said earlier this month. “Going back to the numbers in the situations he played in Wisconsin, took advantage of playing with players there both in the middle and the wing. I think he’s now shown that he’s capable of doing both. I think he wants to be a more impactful player offensively and affect the game overall physically and stay healthy. There’s no way he’s just a fourth line player for us. I think that he has a higher ceiling.”
Frederic showed some of that last year, for what it’s worth, with a career-high eight goals and 18 points. Speaking at the end of the season, Frederic acknowledged that his consistency needs to be there, and seemed to add that he needs to play with more confidence on a nightly basis. It would probably help if Frederic knew the exact line he can and cannot cross as an on-ice nuisance, and if and when it is okay to cross it.
He’ll get the chance to work through that with a new coach, and the Bruins’ interest in exploring the offensive side of his game will likely lead him back to the third line with Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith, where he’ll have the opportunity to show that he can hang in that role while Zacha (the likely third-line left wing) is up with Bergeron.
Nick Foligno – Tomas Nosek – Oskar Steen
Mar 1, 2022; Anaheim, California, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Nick Foligno (17) and center Tomas Nosek (92) celebrate a goal scored past Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson (36). (Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports)
The offseason departure of Curtis Lazar (and Anton Blidh) opened up a spot on Boston’s fourth line, and Swedish wing Oskar Steen seems like a likely candidate to fill that role. Especially if the Bruins want to move forward with the idea of integrating their younger players. It’s also worth mentioning that Steen is officially out of minor-league options, meaning shuttling him down to Providence in 2022-23 will require waivers. It’s hard to imagine the Bruins risking giving him away for nothing, so a spot on the fourth line seems like a decent bet to me.
Another note with this line: Tomas Nosek would be guy that I’d wonder about being on the roster bubble. Especially after going half a season without scoring a goal. But Nosek is aided by the fact that he’s a lefty center on a team of mostly righty centers. Unless Trent Frederic takes a big step in the faceoff game (he took just 89 draws last year and lost 61 percent of them), Nosek has some decent job security in Boston.
Nov 26, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo (25) gets set for a face-off during the second period against the New York Rangers at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)
Hampus Lindholm – Brandon Carlo
Mar 24, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm (27) gets ready for a face off during the first period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)
It’s hard for me to see how this isn’t the Bruins’ Opening Night top pairing.
I’m not sure that this duo had great chemistry together in their obviously limited sample a year ago, but the Bruins have to get Brandon Carlo off on the right foot and it’s tough to find a better partner to do that for him than Hampus Lindholm. At least compared to the alternatives. I mean, the Bruins tried a Derek Forbort-Brandon Carlo pairing for a little bit last year and found that it lacked the mobility necessary to be anything more than a defensive-zone stopper, and the chemistry just didn’t seem to be there with Carlo and Mike Reilly last season like it was for them in 2021. The Bruins will also begin the year with Matt Grzelcyk, Carlo’s go-to partner in recent seasons, unavailable.
One thing that the Bruins are going to stress to Lindholm: Shooting the puck like he did in Anaheim. Lindholm took the 32nd-most shots among all NHL defensemen during his 61-game run with the Ducks in 2021-22, but landed just 23 shots on goal in his 10 games with the Bruins (94th-most among NHL defensemen). Injuries played a factor in Lindholm’s post-trade shot drop-off, no doubt, but this is an element that has to be added to the Black and Gold’s backend in 2022-23.
Derek Forbort – Connor Clifton
Apr 28, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Derek Forbort (28) gathers the puck behind goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) during the first period at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)
This is a pairing that likely projects as your third defensive pairing when fully healthy, but injuries will move this duo up the depth chart and into a featured role. The Bruins have already circled Connor Clifton as a player who will be allowed to take more offensive chances under Jim Montgomery (and assistant coach John Gruden), which is when Clifton is typically at his best. There’s an obvious trade off that come with the cowboy approach, but Forbort will rarely take an offensive chance of his own, so this may be the best pairing for the Bruins to explore that side of Clifton’s game.
Mike Reilly – Jakub Zboril
Apr 10, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Jakub Zboril (67) controls the puck against Philadelphia Flyers right wing Jakub Voracek (93). (Mitchell Leff/USA TODAY Sports)
They didn’t have a ton of time together in 2021-22, but the Mike Reilly-Jakub Zboril defensive pairing was certainly a pleasant surprise for the B’s last season.
Deployed for just under 91 minutes of five-on-five play together last year, the Bruins fed this duo a steady diet of offensive-zone situations, which led to a 66-36 shot advantage, and a 44-28 edge in scoring chances.
This is actually where you saw Zboril, a left stick playing the right side, look his best as an NHLer before a season-ending knee injury put this pairing to an abrupt end.
With Grzelcyk and McAvoy out, this pair could be the B’s go-to in the attacking zone.
MONTREAL, QC – NOVEMBER 26: A detail of the Boston Bruins logo is seen during the third period against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 26, 2019. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Mar 24, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins center Jack Studnicka (23) during the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)
If not now, when? I mean, that’s basically the only thing we have to ask ourselves when it comes to former top prospect Jack Studnicka. After a ‘bulked-up’ Studnicka was unable to stick with the Bruins last year, a new coach and an organizational emphasis on younger talents should give Studnicka his best chance yet at locking down a full-time roster spot.
But Studnicka is another player who is now ineligible to be sent down to the minors without waivers, so it’s hard to see the Bruins giving the entire NHL a free crack at him at the end of training camp. At the very least, keeping Studnicka on the NHL roster to begin the year would be delaying that decision.
Studnicka, who turns 24 this season, has tallied one goal and seven points in 37 total NHL games since 2019.
Oct 4, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Boston Bruins right wing Chris Wagner (14) against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. (Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports)
I think the Bruins will indeed give Oskar Steen and Jack Studnicka their chances to stick, but I also think they would enjoy having a seasoned pro — and one who’s familiar with the mindset that comes with a fourth-line and penalty-killing role — as an option. Oh, hello Chris Wagner.
In the minors for all but one game last season, the 2022 postseason showed us that Wagner can still provide a jolt of energy when needed, and Montgomery does fancy himself some hitters in his lineup.
EDMONTON, AB – SEPTEMBER 28: Kailer Yamamoto #56 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against Connor Carrick #58 of the Seattle Kraken during second period preseason action at Rogers Place. (Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
The Bruins will begin the year down two defensemen, and I can’t remember the last time this team went into the year without an extra defenseman in the press box as a healthy scratch, so this is certainly a role that’ll need to be filled for Opening Night. And Connor Carrick seems like the guy for that role.
Jack Ahcan is an option here, of course, but he’s a left-shot defenseman and the Bruins will already begin the season with four of those in their lineup. And Carrick, who has made 241 NHL appearances between four different organizations since 2013, is certainly familiar with the role. (Or, in other words, I’d have to imagine that the Bruins would prefer Ahcan to be playing regularly in Providence.)
The 28-year-old Carrick put up 10 goals and 32 points in 59 games with AHL Charlotte last season.
Feb 1, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) and goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) skates to the bench after a game against the Seattle Kraken. (Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports)
No mystery here. The Bruins will once again roll with a Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark tandem in net. Now, I’m not going to waste time trying to determine who is and isn’t the No. 1 goaltender because a) it’s August (you lunatic) and b) because I think the Bruins will once again aim for an almost even split, barring one of them going absolutely bananas statistically anyway.
That said, you’d have to think that Swayman enters the season with a potential leg up on the crease after starting five of Boston’s seven playoff games last spring. The Bruins also hope that Swayman, who won 23 of his 40 decisions and posted a .914 save percentage last season, is indeed the future in net. If that comes to the table in 2022-23, you’re talking about a legit ceiling-changing kind of development.
Dec 2, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Bruins goaltenders Jeremy Swayman (1) and Linus Ullmark (35) celebrate after a win against the Nashville Predators. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)
But don’t sleep on Ullmark. His postseason intro wasn’t the best (not that I think the team in front of him helped him out much at all), but this guy was the B’s rock down the stretch, and he helped keep the boat from outright sinking early in 2021-22. For $5 million per season, you should happily take a repeat of last year, which saw Ullmark win 26 of his 38 decisions and post a .917 save percentage (8th-best in the NHL among goalies with at least 41 appearances) for the Bruins.
Jan 12, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) celebrates his goal with defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) and defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (48) and left wing Tomas Nosek (92) during the first period against the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)
The Bruins do know that they will begin the season without three lineup regulars, as winger Brad Marchand (hips) and defensemen Matt Grzelcyk (shoulder) and Charlie McAvoy (shoulder) will all begin the year on the team’s injured reserve.
Their absences will allow the Bruins to hold off on making a cap-clearing move or two, but there’s no ‘Kucheroving’ on the table for the Bruins, as the Bruins do expect to get Grzelcyk back in action in late November, while McAvoy and Marchand could return in late November or early December.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has been covering the Bruins since 2010, and has been a member of the Boston chapter of the PHWA since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.