The first cuts are quickly approaching, and the Boston Bruins’ season-opening roster is slowly taking shape.
Tuesday’s home preseason opener against the New York Rangers marked the first sight of Anton Stralman in game action after the veteran defenseman arrived on a PTO late last week. Other notable exhibition debuts included Charlie Coyle, Trent Frederic, Craig Smith, Hampus Lindholm, Mike Reilly, Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Swayman, to name a few.
It also brought forth another preseason tilt for Oskar Steen and Jack Studnicka. Both young forwards provided the Providence Bruins with timely offensive production during their first few seasons of professional hockey. Still, neither could secure a full-time role in Boston following their stints with the big club.
Yet, as Tuesday’s tilt with the Broadway Blueshirts reached its final act, an unheralded name found himself at center stage with a breakthrough outing.
A two-goal performance from veteran forward A.J. Greer, capped by his overtime winner, further strengthened his case for one of the fourth-line vacancies.
From Greer to Steen and Studnicka, here’s what we learned from the B’s 3-2 triumph over the Rangers.
Greer made another good impression
The Montreal-born Greer arrived as one of the more under-the-radar candidates for a potential fourth-line role.
The former Boston University product spent his first five seasons in the league between the Avalanche and Devils organizations. To this point, he has a mere 47 career NHL games under his belt.
He fits every description for a forth-line role: energetic, hard-nosed, and heavy-handed. An opportunistic Greer displayed those traits on Tuesday, and added an offensive touch with his second-period equalizer and overtime winner, both coming with Studnicka’s assistance.
“I’ve always seen myself playing the type of hockey that the Bruins play,” Greer said postgame. “To be here is a dream come true. I’m fortunate enough to be in the position I’m in, and I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunities.”
Greer’s performance throughout camp has made a competitive battle for the open bottom-six spots even more intriguing. He finds himself in the mix with Studnicka, Tomas Nosek, Nick Foligno and Marc McLaughlin, to name a few. Another solid week could transition Greer from a darkhorse candidate to a favorite to appear on Boston’s checking line in two weeks.
Studnicka and Steen delivered in timely moments
Like Greer, Studnicka and Steen will need to clear waivers if GM Don Sweeney decides to send them to Providence. Unlike Greer, Studnicka and Steen don’t necessarily have definitive roles in the bottom six. Depending on Montgomery’s personnel, they could appear either on the third or fourth line and perhaps add secondary special teams minutes.
Either way, they need a solid string of preseason performances to establish themselves as potential candidates.
“It’s something I’m definitely aware of,” Studnicka said. “I’m just not trying to dwell on what-ifs and to show up every day and hope things go well.”
Coming off an up-and-down preseason debut Saturday in Philadelphia, Studnicka stood with his strong forechecking, generating multiple quality looks in fourth-line duty with Greer and Marc McLaughlin.
Steen had a relatively night comparably …until the third period.
The Bruins found themselves shorthanded with a 2-1 deficit early in the final stanza. It didn’t take long for them to strike on the penalty kill as Steen converted on Joona Koopanen’s feed during a 2-on-1 to tie things up at 2-2.
“I think I’ve come into this year with more confidence. And I’m just trying to be good every day and fight for the last spots on the team,” Steen said on his preseason approach. “It’s huge for me to come to the rink every day and do a good job.”
More lineup decisions await Montgomery and the coaching staff following the impending first round of cuts. Assuming Studnicka and Steen stay aboard, they’ll likely remain in similar bottom-six roles as veterans like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Taylor Hall and Jake DeBrusk get more game reps toward the end of the preseason.
A Lindholm-Stralman pairing provides potential intrigue
One half of Boston’s top defensive pair from Tuesday hopes to impress the brass enough to earn another NHL contract. The other half will be relied upon heavily early in the year with Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy out.
Yet the Lindholm-Stralman pairing isn’t necessarily a one-off. Ideally, the Bruins could trot this same pairing out when they face Alex Ovechkin and company in 14 days.
Against a solid core of Ranger vets, the Swedes made a solid first impression as a duo, spearheading the Bruins in the transition game while providing a steady hand in the defensive end. The Bruins had a 17-5 edge in 5v5 shot attempts in 14:43 of the Lindholm-Stralman pairing.
“Calm, cool and collective,” Montgomery said of Lindholm and Stralman. “They had some great breakouts … they were really good.”
Lindholm will likely skate with McAvoy or Carlo with a fully healthy D core. Given all the other options, a steady veteran like Stralman provides an intriguing right-shot option on the third shot pair.
The shorthanded Bruins will have their hands full to start the year. Yet, they may have landed on a pair of reliable Swedish blue-liners ahead of their season opener.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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