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Complete 2021 Boston Bruins Preview



2019-20 Season:

The Bruins had an incredibly strong 2019-20 regular season. They finished as the only team to reach 100 points in the shortened season while claiming the Presidents Trophy. Unfortunately, all of the momentum that they generated in the regular season was wiped away by the pause in play because of COVID-19. They began the playoffs in the bubble completely flat, and despite defeating the Carolina Hurricanes in five games in round one, never found their game. They were knocked out with seeming ease by the eventual champs Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.


Forwards:


The Bruins have the best first line in the league. While David Pastrnak will miss the start of the season, that group shouldn't be a concern, and they haven't been for quite some time. Right now, the most pivotal players on the Bruins are Jake DeBrusk and Ondrej Kase. Last season, David Krejci's wings struggled to score. Having both of those guys at the 20 goal range would be huge for Boston. The third line gets a boost from offseason addition Craig Smith, while the fourth line loses Joakim Nordstrom. The Bruins don't have a ton of talent in terms of prospect forwards, but a few of those guys should be in contention for spots on the bottom two lines.


Line #1: Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak

The Bruins first line is the best line in hockey, and it really isn't much of a debate. Brad Marchand finished sixth in the league in points, fifth in assists, and sixth in forward +/- last season. He's no longer just a pest, he is truly one of the best players in the game. He was a second team all star. Patrice Bergeron has been a Selke Trophy finalist for nine straight seasons, an incredible feat. He has won the award four times in that span. He is the best defensive forward in the league, and in addition over the last three years has been over a point per game. David Pastrnak tied for the most goals in the league with Alex Ovechkin last season with 48, and totaled 95 points, which ranked him third. That is now four straight years of at least 34 goals. He has also increased both his goals and points totals in each of his six NHL seasons. Unfortunately, that streak will end with the shortened season, and Pastrnak will miss significant time to start the year.


Line #2: Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Ondrej Kase

The Bruins second line was not great last year. They held their own defensively, but really struggled to spark a lot of offense. Ondrej Kase came over from Anaheim at the trade deadline, but certainly did not fix any of their problems. He failed to score a goal in his 17 games with the Bruins (including the playoffs), and tallied just 5 assists. He also hurt the team because of not being ready to play when the bubble began. The Bruins really need him to stay healthy and get around 20 goals, although those might be too much to ask for. Krejci is ever consistent, although I'm sure he would appreciate some better play on his wings. At 34, he is getting up there in age, although he has never played a speed oriented game. In 2018-19 Jake Debrusk scored 27 goals, but he regressed back to 19 in almost the same amount of games last season. Boston needs him to be a lot more consistent night in and night out, and be a significant contributor on offense.


Line #3: Nick Ritchie - Charlie Coyle - Craig Smith

Charlie Coyle has been an excellent fit in Boston since his trade to the team halfway through the 2018-19 season from Minnesota. Last season his 37 points were sixth on the team. He possesses the puck extremely well, and makes his line mates better. Unfortunately, they usually can't find the back of the net when he sets them up. Nick Ritchie was added at the deadline in last year. He was abysmal in his 15 total games with Boston last season. He had just three points, and a -5 plus/minus. He took terrible penalties, showed a lack of interest, and was generally very slow. Hopefully, he can put that behind him, and get back to his style of play which is a physical game with a bit of scoring touch. Craig Smith is a good signing by Boston. He's not the big name sniper many were hoping for, but he will be valuable. A consistent 20+ goal scorer who does almost all of his damage at even strength is just what the Bruins needed in their middle six forwards. Dailyfaceoff.com actually has this group as the third best third line in the league.


Line #4 - Anders Bjork - Sean Kuraly - Chris Wagner

This line was very strong last season, although they do lose Joakim Nordstrom. Anders Bjork managed just nine goals last year, and while some Bruins fans still have high expectations for him, at 24 years old, he has to start figuring some things out. He could wind up on the trade block if he does not. Nick Ritchie was added at the deadline in last year. He was abysmal in his 15 total games with Boston last season. He had just three points, and a -5 plus/minus. He took terrible penalties, showed a lack of interest, and was generally very slow. He needs to be much better, or he could easily lose his spot in this lineup. He could also get time on the third line. Sean Kuraly is always going to bring a lot of energy, and is the most likely guy on this line to significantly contribute on offense. Wagner is a physical winger who puts pressure on opposing defense and makes his opponents lives tough. This line won't score very often, but if they play tough hockey and get the top lines offensive zone faceoffs like they did last year, then they will have done their job.


Extras:


Jack Studnicka (C/RW):

Jack Studnicka finished 12th in the AHL with 49 points last season. He got just 2 games with the big club. He is 21 and still putting on muscle, but his versatility and skill could lead to a few chances this season to stick in Boston. He is a natural center, but would likely end up at right wing with the big club. He will actually begin the season on the first line with David Pastrnak out.


Trent Frederic (C/LW):

As a left shot center, Frederic is behind quite a few guys on the Bruins depth chart. Despite being a first round pick in 2016, the 21 year old plays more of a grinder/physical style. He had a career high 32 points, while leading the AHL with 148 penalty minutes. He plays similarily to former Bruin Gregory Campbell, in that he has a bit of scoring ability, but is mostly known for his hustle and grit. It won't be a deal breaker, but his fighting ability is a bonus for the Bruins.


Par Lindholm (C/LW):

Par Lindholm played 40 games for the Bruins last year, and is a good penalty killer, which adds value to his stock. Unfortunately, he had just 6 points, and really does not add much of anything to the Bruins lineup 5 on 5.


Karson Kuhlman (C/RW):

Karson Kuhlman is fast straight ahead, but lacks anything special in pretty much every other part of his game. He scored just 1 goal in 25 games with the Bruins last year. His window to have a consistent spot on this roster is closing at 25 years old as there are quite a few guys chomping at the bits right behind him.


Defense:


Of the Bruins defenseman last season, Zdeno Chara played the second most minutes, and Torey Krug was tied for third. Both of those players are gone, so you have to replace those minutes. The Bruins have a lot of depth at the position though. Youngsters like Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakaneinen have both been good in camp, and should get time with the big club (Zboril more than Vaakaneinen). Nothing is certain at the back end of the Bruins defense group though. Veterans Kevan Miller and John Moore could both solidify roles with the team, or lose their spots to younger players. If Miller plays like he was before his injuries, he would be a big boost to this blue line. He is easily the meanest guy among this group.


Charlie McAvoy - Jeremy Lauzon

Charlie McAvoy often doesn't get the attention of other young d-men around the league, but he truly is one of the best at his position. He finished 10th in Norris voting, and despite a terrible start to the season points wise (he didn't score a goal until his 52nd game), McAvoy finished with 32 total points. His offense will improve in 2019-20, and his defense is already elite. He's an incredibly smooth skating defenseman who truly has no weaknesses. When Jeremy Lauzon established himself before the shutdown last season, it was in large part due to his high energy, hockey IQ, and reliability. Like Carlo, he is not someone who will rush up with the puck, but he's a good passer who plays with an edge. He's not stellar at anything, but he is solid at everything, and that is a valuable trait for a young defenseman.


Brandon Carlo - Matt Grzelcyk

Carlo and Lauzon were both drafted in the 2nd round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Bruins, but have taken different paths to this point. Carlo has established himself as an incredibly reliable defensive defenseman for the Bruins. While not very offensively oriented, he did have a career high 19 points in 67 games last year. He is without question one of the most under rated players on the Bruins, and will once again log significant minutes on 5v5, PK, and late in games. Matt Grzelcyk was on the Bruins third pair last season, but he was excellent there. He's going to have to step up this season. His 18:04 minutes per game are likely going to have to go up at the least 3 minutes per game. He will be the guy providing the offensive flair in this pairing.


Kevan Miller - Jakub Zboril

Miller hasn't played since the midpoint of the 2018-19 season due to a slew of brutal injuries. At that point, he was playing like one of the Bruins best defenseman. He was playing physical, strong defensively, and was actually showing off some offensive flair. Unfortunately, it has been a while since then. He has been played very good hockey in camp though. If he can stay healthy, he should be a regular on the Bruins blue line. After being taken 13th overall in 2015, Zboril has progressed in Providence, but it has taken a while, and at 23 years old, it is time that he proves he was worth the high selection. He was drafted as a two way defenseman, but hasn't shown a lot of offensive flair in Providence as he's yet to record a 20 point season. He is a strong skater though, and is reliable in any situation. He's got all of the fundamental skills of an NHL defenseman. Like Miller, he has played very well at camp, and has seemingly earned a spot in the regular lineup to start the season.


Extras:


John Moore - Connor Clifton

John Moore hasn't really been a mainstay on the Bruins blue line the last two years. He has been the guy who gets subbed out for young energy. That will likely be the same in 2021. With youngsters like Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakaneinen who have bright futures, it just seems unlikely that Moore is given many shots over them. Right now, Clifton is looking like the odd man out. He's a high energy guy who plays a physical game and has a bit of offensive upside, but has really struggled with his consistency. Over the last few years at times he has looked great, and others he has looked lost. At 25 years old, he's no longer a kid though, so he has to make the best of his playing time. On another team, with less depth at the position, Clifton would likely be a regular player.


Urho Vaakaneinen

Despite being drafted two years after Zboril, and being two years younger, Vaakaneinen has gotten slightly more time with the big club. He doesn't have the offensive potential that Zboril does, but his strong skating and smarts make him a valuable defenseman. He is also becoming more and more comfortable with the puck in Providence. He is a well rounded player who would likely be in the lineup for most teams, but will be in tough competition for a spot with the B's in 2021.


Goalies:


The Bruins goaltending tandem of Rask and Halak was stellar last season. They won the William Jennings Trophy as the team gave up the fewest goals in the league, and Rask finished 2nd to Connor Hellebuyck in Vezina voting. Halak signed a one year deal this offseason, and Rask's contract expires after this season as well. Bottom line is, this is likely the last year with this tandem. AHLer Dan Vladar, and Hobey Baker finalist Jeremy Swayman both provide a bright future though.


Tuukka Rask

Statistically, Rask was the best goalie in the league last season (he was 1st in GAA, and 2nd in SV% and shutouts). He was also Boston's best player in the 2019 playoffs, as much as Bruins fans want to deny that. When he is on and focused, he is arguably the best goalie in the NHL. Unfortunately, he was not for the 2020 playoffs, which was understandable given family concerns. 2021 very well could be Rask's last season in the NHL, as even though he is just 33 years old, his contract expires, and he has expressed thoughts of retiring and spending more time with his family. Having an elite goalie like Rask is not something to take for granted, leading one to think that this might be the last of the Bruins Cup contending years.


Jaroslav Halak:

Halak very well could have become a starter, but chose to re-sign with the Bruins this offseason. Last season he played just 10 less games than Rask, while finishing 6th in the league in GAA, and 12th in SV%. He is extremely valuable to the Bruins because he keeps Rask fresh, and is still extremely reliable as a backup. You don't really want him as your starter though if you want to win a Cup, and the Bruins found that out the hard way when Rask opted out of the bubble during the 2020 playoffs. Halak struggled mightily after being thrust into action, going 4-5 with a 2.76 GAA, and a .902 SV%, both far worse than his regular season numbers.




Additions:


Craig Smith

Adding Craig Smith, especially at just $3.1 million per year is a good move by Don Sweeney. Smith is an analytics darling, who shoots a lot, and scores a lot in 5 on 5 play. He's not flashy, but the Bruins needed someone just like him who can provide scoring from their middle six. I think he will be a great fit with Charlie Coyle, who can possess the puck and find Smith for scoring opportunities. Hopefully his shoot first mentality rubs off on other guys like Jake DeBrusk and Ondrej Kase, who last year seemed way to hesitant to pull the trigger.


Greg McKegg

McKegg was recently waived by the Bruins, but should be on their taxi squad. He is 28 years old, and signed with Boston for $700,000 after spending the last seven seasons with six different teams. He's not afraid to drop the gloves, but it would be a surprise to see him in Boston's lineup this year considering the younger guys ahead of him on the depth chart.



Subtractions:


Torey Krug:

Krug signed with the St. Louis Blues after 7 full seasons with the Bruins. You can see my full article here, but overall, Boston will miss his offensive game, but not his defensive play. Last season Krug finished 8th among defenseman in points, and 1st in powerplay points. He adds offense from the defense in a way that really only Charlie McAvoy can on the current team, and even McAvoy cannot match Krug offensively. He is also a stellar powerplay QB. On the other hand, Krug was a -4 (the only negative plus/minus on the Bruins blue line) on a team that had the best plus/minus in the NHL. Defensive partner Brandon Carlo also made up for a lot of Krug's defensive deficiencies. Overall, I think Krug will be missed slighlty less than most expect.


Zdeno Chara:

While Chara was a liability for much of the 2018-19 season, he actually improved a lot last year. He no longer adds much offense, but his defensive zone play is still pretty strong. He also logged the most penalty kill minutes on the team last year. It is definitely tough for Bruins fans to seem him sign with Washington, especially for so little money. While it feels like a bit of a stab from Bruins management, they do have to start moving in a younger direction with their d-core. They simply have too many talented young defenseman to let them sit behind a 42 year old who might not be better than them. While saying all of that, he will be missed, especially his incredible leadership. He truly did turn this Bruins franchise around.


Joakim Nordstrom:

Nordstrom was a good defensive forward and penalty killer, but besides that he didn't add much to the Bruins. Last season he played with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner on the fourth line. His departure opens up a spot for some of the younger Bruins forwards to step up.



Special Teams:


The Bruins special teams play won them quite a few games last season. They finished the year with both the league's best powerplay, and penalty kill. They have lost key contributors though on both ends. I would expect a slight regression, but both of these units should still be strong ones.


Powerplay (25.2%, 2nd in NHL):

The Bruins powerplay will be affected by the offseason changes more than any other aspect of the game, simply due to Torey Krug's departure. Krug played 73% of the Bruins powerplay minutes last season. He was the QB of the league's 2nd best powerplay. Matt Grzelcyk filled in for Krug on the first powerplay a few times, and will likely lead that unit in 2021. Charlie McAvoy will lead the 2nd group, or could take the first from Grzelcyk if he is not up to par. Pastrnak missing time to start the year will also hurt this unit, as he had a league high 20 of the Bruins 58 total powerplay goals. Marchand and Bergeron will still flourish on the powerplay though. Last season Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle traded places a few times as the last man (and net front presence) on the first powerplay. Daily Faceoff expects Coyle to start the year with that role, although that could change. The second powerplay was not bad, but they just did not get many minutes.


Penalty kill (84.2%, 3rd in NHL):

Zdeno Chara played 61% of the Bruins penalty kill minutes last year. He and Brandon Carlo were about as shutdown as you can get as the PKs first defensive pair. Chara is now gone, so his minutes will likely be spread out between Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, Jeremy Lauzon, and Kevan Miller. Joakim Nordstrom logged more minutes shorthanded per game than any other forward on the Bruins. He has since signed with the Calgary Flames. Patrice Bergeron and Sean Kuraly will once again be the PK centers, while Brad Marchand, Charlie Coyle, Par Lindholm, and possibly a few others will man the wings. Good news for the Bruins PK? They still have Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak backing them up in net.



Overtime:


The Bruins were 6-5 in overtime last year, and seven times went to a shootout. Torey Krug was a key guy in OT, as was David Pastrnak. The Bruins should be fine though as they have plenty of skilled players.


Shootouts:

The Bruins were a shocking 0-7 in shootouts in the 2019-20 season. While their goalies were not great (Rask had a 54.5 SV%, Halak was 66.7%), it was their scorers that were atrocious. The Bruins used eight different players in shootouts. They had 30 total attempts, and scored just 4 times. Maybe Craig Smith can help?




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