The Boston Bruins ended their seven-game preseason slate on Thursday night in New York. Now, the hard part begins.
General manager Don Sweeney will use the next few days to finalize the opening night roster to begin Boston’s Centennial season. A handful of leftovers from camp may find themselves on the waiver wire in the coming days. The remaining prospects that lasted the duration of camp will find themselves in Providence or elsewhere to continue their professional hockey developments.
Unlike previous seasons, however, this year’s opening night roster isn’t easy to project. Some impressive prospects, like Matthew Poitras, earned their stripes during camp, while others, including Mason Lohrei, will likely head down to Providence for a top defensive pairing billing.
With plenty of new and familiar faces, let’s look at these opening night projections.
Brad Marchand-Charlie Coyle-Jake DeBrusk
The Bruins trotted out the trio against the Marchand-Coyle-Pastrnak trio in their 3-1 win over the Rangers to close out their exhibition slate.
In the long run, I can see Poitras centering Marchand and DeBrusk if the 19-year-old stays in Boston beyond the nine-game threshold and continues to build on his eye-opening preseason. For now, the Bruins will likely transition a reliable third-line centerman in Coyle into a top-six role.
Jim Montgomery may tweak the top six before the opening night and place Zacha or Poitras between Marchand and DeBrusk. But I like the odds of Coyle beginning the first official game of the post-Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci era in this role.
Coyle’s puck-possession prowess will suit him well with a two-way threat in Marchand and a speedy power forward in DeBrusk. But the Bruins have the luxury to return the Weymouth native to the bottom six if Poitras continues to impress.
James van Riemsdyk-Pavel Zacha-David Pastrnak
The second trio looks slightly different from the all-Czech line a year ago, with Zacha returning to his natural center position.
The cap-strapped Bruins may need a winger upgrade if van Riemsdyk doesn’t pan out. But he’ll have his chances to at least bounce back from a tumultuous final year in Philly, skating next to a burgeoning talent in Zacha and the otherworldly Pastrnak.
Morgan Geekie-Matt Poitras-Trent Frederic
Geekie provided solid bottom-six production in Seattle, notching 28 points (9 games, 19 assists) in 69 games and averaging a hare over 10 minutes time on ice per night. After signing a two-year deal in the summer, he’ll receive an extended role in Boston, with secondary special teams assignments included.
Poitras and Frederic connected on an early third-period tally to put Boston ahead for good Thursday night. They’ll have a chance to build on their chemistry in the coming days.
Together, Geekie, Poitras and Frederic will provide some early-season intrigue if Montgomery keeps the trio intact.
Milan Lucic-Johnny Beecher-Jakub Lauko
Ideally, a projected bottom-six forward wouldn’t go in the first round. But, like Trent Frederic in 2016, the Bruins saw some upside in Beecher to select them late in Round 1 of the 2019 Draft.
The former Michigan Wolverine arrived at his second training camp a more confident player after a solid season anchoring the bottom six in Providence. And like Poitras, he took advantage of an opportunity to solidify a vacancy on the fourth line.
Beecher still needs to strengthen his puck pursuit along the walls, but his speed and energy make him an ideal fit to replace Tomas Nosek.
A returning Lucic begins his stint in a mentor role. His best days are in the rearview mirror, but the Bruins could use Lucic’s snarl to counter the toughness and physicality displayed throughout the Atlantic Division.
Lauko provided flashes of skill and grit during his 23-game stint last season. The Czech grinder provided a steady hand when called upon and hopes to turn last year’s audition into a full-time role.
Extra: Danton Heinen
After a few roller coaster seasons following his initial Boston stint — with stops in Anaheim and Pittsburgh — Heinen signed a PTO, hoping his familiarity with Montgomery’s system during his collegiate days in Denver would pay off.
The 28-year-old hardly looked out of place during camp but faced an uphill battle even with several openings up for grabs. He may not have done enough to earn a spot up front, yet Heinen’s scoring touch could provide a unique perspective in a 13th-forward role. Montgomery won’t shy away from using Heinen if the Bruins encounter a scoring rut.
Jesper Boqvist provides a similar skill set. The Bruins could also slot him as an extra forward if they opt to use a de facto 14th forward over an eighth defenseman.
Matt Grzelcyk-Charlie McAvoy
In a year of transition up front, the Bruins should opt for some familiarity on the back end.
Grzelcyk enters the final year of his contract. The cap-strapped Bruins could cash in on Grzelcyk via trade if they don’t envision him in their future plans. Still, they could use his stout playmaking and two-way skillset to compliment an elite blue-liner in McAvoy. Together, the duo possess some of the league’s best 5v5 numbers among defensive pairings, and there’s no reason to think that will change.
Hampus Lindholm-Brandon Carlo
Lindholm’s arrival from Anaheim at the 2022 trade deadline provided a needed boost on the left side of the blue line. The former Ducks defenseman remains in an ideal top-four spot next to Carlo, who encountered his share of turnovers and consistency issues over the last two seasons.
Again, familiarity wins out here. When they’re gelling, the Lindholm-Carlo pair possesses matchup problems for opposing first and second lines.
Derek Forbort-Kevin Shattenkirk
Although his play became erratic in spurts, Connor Clifton’s motor and sparkplug mentality made him an ideal fit on the third pair. The former Bruin departed in the off-season for Buffalo, opening up a spot on the back end.
The Bruins signed Shattenkirk to fill the vacancy in the interim. Like Lucic, he’ll serve as a mentor to some of the younger defensemen. But he’ll likely begin the season with Forbort, a reliable penalty killer who struggled to regain his form during the first-round series with Florida.
Extra: Ian Mitchell
Like Heinen, Mitchell entered camp with previous knowledge of Montgomery’s system during his time at Denver.
The Bruins acquired Mitchell from Chicago in the deal involving Nick Foligno and Taylor Hall. He spent his first three seasons going back and forth from the Blackhawks to their AHL affiliate in Rockford.
The right-shot Mitchell showcased progress on both ends of the ice throughout the preseason. Jakub Zboril, who encountered similar issues with consistency and injuries, struggled.
Zboril likely won’t break through beyond the seventh defenseman role in Boston. Mitchell showcased potential for regular minutes. In this case, Mitchell’s upside trumps all.
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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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