Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2016-17, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2016-17 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Boston Bruins.
Puck Drop Preview: 2016-17 Boston Bruins
It’s safe to say that last season did not go as well as planned for the Boston Bruins. General Manager Don Sweeney‘s first season with the team after the firing of Peter Chiarelli brought the loss of Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton, as well as the acquisition of Matt Beleskey.
The Bruins got off to a rough start, losing their first three games of the season. They continued to be inconsistent, especially at home, and were plagued by an inability to score at crucial times. Their lack of effort when it was needed most led to the team being left out of the playoffs for the second season in a row, losing out to Detroit by a single loss, despite having 93 points.
The acquisition of free agents David Backes, Riley Nash, and Dominic Moore will ideally add to the offensive power that the team desperately needs. Moore will help fill the void left by the departure of short-handed expert Chris Kelly, and Backes will ideally fill the spot left by Loui Eriksson‘s signing with the Vancouver Canucks.
It was reaffirmed by Sweeney that head coach Claude Julien would be staying with the team, as his defensive-minded tactics and excellent leadership were not the core issue with the team.
The tandem of Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron continue to be mainstays in the black and gold, consistently leading the team in scoring and points. Young forward David Pastrnak, under the wing of mentor David Krejci, will hopefully continue to improve himself on the ice, with two seasons played at the professional level.
Jimmy Hayes, whose first season as a Bruin was lackluster with only 13 goals and 60 penalty minutes, has said that he plans to improve his performance and prove himself to his hometown fans, and young players like Frank Vatrano and Tyler Randell, who showed a lot of promise after their call-ups from Providence, are both looking to use their second seasons to grow and improve as players. Other Providence players, such as Noel Acciari and Seth Griffith, have had some experience playing at the NHL level but are looking to make the break to full-time roster members. Moore, a strong veteran center, will be a good mentor for younger linemates.
The blueline continues to be Boston’s weakest point. Since the trade of Johnny Boychuk at the beginning of the 2014-15 season, defense has been lacking. The addition of Liles at the trade deadline was a good one, but the buyout of Dennis Seidenberg‘s contract over the summer just leaves more questions about the direction in which Boston’s defensive core is going. The re-signing of Miller and Krug over the summer will keep them in the lineup for the foreseeable future. Draft picks Matt Grzelcyk (85th overall 2012), Rob O’Gara (151st overall 2011), and Jakub Zboril (13th overall 2015) may be able to break into the NHL for at least part of the season.
Tuukka Rask continues to be the first choice in net. His ability to hold the team was apparent last year, with his talents sometimes being the only thing preventing losses. The signing of former Bruin Anton Khudobin as a potential backup (the two were a tandem before, in the 2012-13 lockout season where the team reached the Stanley Cup Final) should provide Rask some relief. This may also be the season where young goalie Malcolm Subban is finally able to break out.
Players to Watch
New addition Backes, who signed with the team as a free agent in July, is one to watch. The 10-year veteran comes from the St. Louis Blues with over 700 regular season games played, as well as 49 playoff games under his belt. His ability to play both wing and center makes him a versatile forward who will be able to support Bergeron and Krejci as a wing, or center his own line with other players. Three 20-goal seasons in a row, as well as excellent power play performance, proves that he will be a good addition to the team.
Vatrano, who was called up near the end of the season, proved to be as much of an offensive powerhouse at the NHL level as he was in the AHL. With Providence, he averaged a goal a game and led the team in scoring. With Boston, he netted eight goals and three assists in 39 games. Vatrano is looking to earn a spot in the lineup full-time this season, having gained confidence in his first full year as a professional.
Players on the Rise
This may be the season that Subban finally makes the move from the AHL. Despite missing the end of the Providence season due to a scary injury that required surgery on his larynx, Subban is ready to play again and looking forward to having the opportunity to get some starts at the NHL level. He has also updated his equipment to include neck protection.
Players on the Decline
While he remains the hardest-working player on the team, captain Chara is showing signs of his age. The 6’9″ powerhouse has declined in recent years, sidelined by a back injury in the 2014-15 season. Despite this, he still remained the player with the most ice time per game, as well as an excellent captain whose leadership has helped mentor young defensemen like Krug, who is likely to receive the team’s third alternate captaincy left vacant by the departures of Kelly and Eriksson.
It’s hard to say, given the Bruins past two seasons, where this year will lead. Having missed out on playoff berths by tiny margins in both last season and the one before, and after having been to two Stanley Cup Final in the three seasons previous, it is obvious that something has made this team change, and not for the better.
With the addition of new offensive power, in addition to young talent on the blueline and Rask, Khudobin, and Subban’s abilities in goal, this revamped Bruins roster has a lot of potential. While it is not realistic to predict them ending the season at the top of the standings, not with the talent that other teams in the Atlantic have to offer, it is safe to say that Boston will at least be able to fight for the wild card spot that they’ve tried so hard for. A fourth-place standing is not out of the picture for this squad, provided they learn from the mistakes of the last few years.