With a strong veteran core and a dynamic youth movement in 2017-18, the Boston Bruins’ Stanely Cup window — even after their second-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last May — opened sooner than expected. But what does this upcoming season have in store for Bruce Cassidy and company?
Like last year, the Bruins, Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs will cling to the top three places of the Atlantic Division. The Sabres and Panthers — whom the Bruins combined to go just 2-5-1 against last season — should both rebound thanks to their strong nucleus’ of young talent, while the Red Wings, Senators and Canadiens will all be in rebuilding mode.
All 31 teams have a few questions to answer as we enter training camp. Some developments, like position battles, will be answered quickly. Others, like improved roster depth, could take a little longer to solve.
With that in mind, here are the four storylines to watch at this year’s Bruins Training Camp.
The China trip
As always, the plethora of training camp participants will be split into two groups during the preseason. This camp will be a little different for Cassidy and his coaching staff as one group will head to China for two exhibition tilts with the Calgary Flames while the others will stay at home.
Here’s a look at the two groups announced last week.
Training camp groups for the China preseason games and domestic exhibition matchups are here. Those who are traveling to China will report to Camp a week from Tuesday, while the domestic group reports two days later. pic.twitter.com/dupySW92qn
— Bruins Daily (@BruinsDaily) September 4, 2018
There is one change to the group going to China. As GM Don Sweeney told reporters in Buffalo on Monday, David Krejci will not be making the long voyage overseas due to VISA issues. Colby Cave, who split time between Boston and Providence in a bottom-six role, will take Krejci’s spot.
The Bruins will face the Flames in Shenzhen on Saturday before making the trek to Bejing a week from Wednesday to conclude their two-game China trip.
The next wave of Bruins’ prospects
Charlie McAvoy lived up to the hype after being drafted in the first round two summers ago. Jake DeBrusk had his coming out party in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs. Danton Heinen and Sean Kuraly provided versatility in the on the third and fourth lines and Matt Grzelcyk more than held his own on the back end. Those were just a few highlights from the Bruins’ youth movement in 2017-18.
The next wave of Bruins prospects may have their work cut out for them in matching those highlights, but the 2018-19 group of youngsters should also have their share of moments.
Former Harvard standout Ryan Donato, who had his share of success during his first tilt with the Black and Gold last spring, is a preseason candidate for the Calder Trophy. Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka should both be in the running for an opening night roster spot along with ex-Notre Dame star Anders Bjork, who hopes to bounce back after an injury-plagued rookie campaign.
Between last year’s young stars and this year’s rookie crop, the Bruins have a solid foundation to build on.
How will the new additions fit in
The Bruins missed out on John Tavares and didn’t really do anything else to address some of their biggest needs, including a top-six forward to play with Krejci. While one of the talented prospects will vie for that top-six role, there’s no shortage of potential spots for the 2018 free agent class.
Journeyman goalie Jaroslav Halak replaces Anton Khudobin, who signed with Dallas in the off-season, as Tuukka Rask’s backup. Defenseman John Moore hopes to solidify that much-needed left shot void on the top-four — another issue the Bruins haven’t fully addressed. Walpole’s own Chris Wagner looks to build off a solid year in Anaheim a year ago and earn bottom-six minutes in place of Tim Schaller, now with Vancouver.
They may be good complimentary pieces, but whether the 2018 free agent trio provides an upgrade over Riley Nash, who cashed in on a three-year deal with Columbus, and the aforementioned departures is a big question.
What role is best for David Pastrnak and the Bruins
Yes, there are some position battles that are worth watching in training camp, including the last spots on the blue-line, third line center and a top-six right winger. Pastrnak will have one of those two top-six spots. Where he suits up on opening night is another question.
Playing with Marchand and Bergeron has its perks for sure, but Pastrnak’s arrival to the top line provided a much-needed spark. The trio each had a 30-goal campaign and combined for 229 points in 2017-18.
Pastrnak was one-third of one of the top trios in the NHL but is that the best place for him? The Lightning exposed the top-heavy Bruins in the second round last year. Moving Pastrnak with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk would make the Bruins a little more well-rounded in theory, but is it worth the risk of breaking up the top line — even if the likes of Bjork or Donato fare pretty well?
The Pastrnak story will play out more during the course of the 82-game regular season — and beyond — and won’t necessarily be set in stone following training camp. But this decision will have a ripple effect up front prior to their opening night matchup with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals.