Even with several spots up for grabs at training camp, the Boston Bruins had a pretty good idea of their personnel within the top six.
Indeed, Jim Montgomery and the coaching staff could alter his first and second lines between now and Boston’s season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 11. With opening night 14 days away, the second-year bench boss got a head start on his outlook during the first half of Wednesday’s double session at Warrior Ice Arena.
Pavel Zacha centered captain Brad Marchand and last year’s Hart Trophy runner-up David Pastrnak on Boston’s top line. Charlie Coyle drew between former Flyer and Maple Leaf James van Riemsdyk and fellow power forward Jake DeBrusk on the second trio.
Wednesday’s lineup looked slightly different from the original first and second-line projections before training camp. But the personnel remained the same and will likely stay intact, barring injuries or other unusual developments.
Perhaps the first preseason game provided some insight into Montgomery’s thought process after witnessing the initial chemistry between DeBrusk and van Riemsdyk. The duo skated with Matthew Poitras against the Rangers, forming a unique mesh of size, speed and skill in the first glorified scrimmage of the season.
Now nearly a week removed from the start of camp, the Bruins swapped Poitras and Coyle. But with initial cuts looming, Montgomery will likely continue lining up prospects with veterans in upcoming preseason tilts.
“We’re just looking at different things, right? And different players are going to play different games,” Montgomery said of his preseason lineup approach. “We typically don’t want to play vets — who we know are going to get a lot of minutes — more than three games in the exhibition season, and we want to get looks at [other players]. So sometimes it’s a management of numbers, and sometimes it’s just switching players around whether it’s practice or games.”
The Bruins will have a better idea of their top-six outlook entering the final week of camp. But it wasn’t too early to get a glimpse of the potential upside of the top six, especially with Zacha returning to center
Zacha blossomed into a top-six role during his first season with Boston, notching a career-high 57 points in 82 games. He entered last season hoping for a fresh start after six seasons of mixed results in New Jersey and embarked on a breakthrough season at wing.
The ex-Devil and 2015 first-round selection provided a glimpse of the post-Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci era after posting productive results during the first few games of Boston’s first-round matchup with Florida. He’s a year wiser and more confident after his first season, which will only ease his transition back to his natural position.
“When you play with players like I did last year with Krejci and Pasta, it was comfortable playing at the wing,” Zacha said. “But I’ve played my whole career at center, so I feel a bit better there.”
Pastrnak and Zacha developed cohesive chemistry in their time together last season with Krejci. They’ll likely remain a duo with either Marchand or van Riemsdyk when Connor Bedard, Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno and company arrive at TD Garden in two weeks.
Wednesday’s look provided plenty of upside, especially with the Marchand-Zacha-Pastrnak trio. But until then, everything remains a work in progress.
“They’re obviously great players. I thought we clicked pretty well,” Marchand said. “But I don’t really look too much into it. I’ve been on a different line every day, so [the coaches] will be trying all different line combinations throughout camp. Obviously, they’re two great players. Pasta [Pastrnak] is one of the best goal scorers in the league and Zacha took a big step last year, and he’s really an incredible two-way player, like Bergy.
“But yeah, I really had fun playing with them. And if I’m there tomorrow, we’ll just keep building and keep working together,” Marchand said. “It will definitely be a work in progress. We weren’t completely in sync out there, but that’s expected, especially when you have a new center. We’ve played with different guys the last few years, and you have to get used to one another. We’ll keep working on it, and we’ll get to where we want to be.”
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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