Puck Drop Preview: 2020-21 Boston Bruins

2020-21 Boston Bruins

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, where Last Word on Hockey 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 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 Boston Bruins.

2020-21 Boston Bruins

2019-20 Season

To say that the Boston Bruins found success last season would be a significant understatement. The team finished the regular season in first place, capturing the President’s Trophy. David Pastrnak drove the offence with a 48-goal season, good enough to be a co-winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy. Head coach Bruce Cassidy was named the winner of the Jack Adams Award at the conclusion of the season. Although he did not win, Patrice Bergeron was named a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy for the eighth consecutive season. This team had a phenomenal regular season. In the playoffs, that was a different story.

The Bruins began the postseason as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. That all changed after the round-robin. They looked slow and disinterested in the first three games since the league had stopped play due to the pandemic. That changed when they had to play for real. Once the seven-game series against the Carolina Hurricanes began, it was all systems go for the Boston Bruins. In a rematch of the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, the Bruins proved why they ended the season at the top, winning the series in just five games. Going into the second-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston was simply outmatched by the team that would eventually win the Stanley Cup.

2020 Offseason

Boston was highly criticized by both the media and fans for not doing much this offseason during the first few days of free agency. They had three signings that figure to have an impact at the NHL level this season. General Manager Don Sweeney re-signed Kevan Miller and Jake DeBrusk as well as bringing Craig Smith into the fold. While those signings were beneficial to the team’s success, the departures appear to outweigh the signings. The loss of Torey Krug and has left the defence a shell of itself. There still so much uncertainty surrounding Zdeno Chara and what his plans are for next season. If he does not come back the Bruin’s defence will be significantly different. Not to mention the locker room. Chara is one of the Bruins locker room leaders. He brings a calming voice especially when things get tough. The Bruins will definitely miss his presence if he does not return.

Lineup Projections

Forwards

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak

Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – Craig Smith

Nick Ritchie – Charlie Coyle – Ondrej Kase

Anders Bjork – Sean Kuraly – Chris Wagner

Extras: Greg McKegg, Par Lindholm

Top Six

In terms of overall talent, Boston has one of if not the best top line in the NHL. That is something that cannot be mistaken. In the past two seasons, this trio has combined for 498 total points. They are the engine that drives Boston’s offence and brings this team success. Marchand is the ultimate pest who can get under his opponent’s skin with just a look but is more than capable of putting points on the board. Bergeron is a four-time Selke winner and a true franchise center. Pastrnak is the young gun who puts fans in seats with his remarkable dangles and puck handling skills. It doesn’t get much more exciting than this.

The second line is not quite as talented as the first but it is still of high quality. David Krejci is a quality second-line centre and has developed chemistry with Jake DeBrusk over the past few seasons. Craig Smith is an unknown here. The right-wing of David Krejci has been a revolving door of players for many years. Smith is just the newest face. The 31-year-old tallied 31 points in 69 games last season. If he can repeat that success, Boston may have found a winger to be a fixture on the second line. They hope he can repeat the success he found in his 52 point campaign of 2013-14.

Bottom Six

The bottom-six forward group just screams Bruins hockey when you look at what they have assembled. Coyle falls to the third-line centre. He is easily a second line player on most teams. Boston simply does not have room for him in that role. His size paired with that of Nick Ritchie give the Bruins a line that can just plow through anyone that gets in their way. The smallest of the trio, Ondrej Kase should be a nice complementary piece next to Coyle. While he lacks the physicality that Coyle and Ritchie bring, he is just as talented in the offensive zone.

The bottom line is for the grit and grind. Anyone who looks at Chris Wagner the wrong way will find themselves flat on their back from a solid check. Sean Kuraly is a clutch forward who can put points on the board in critical moments. He finds himself on the fourth line simply because he is a mediocre player when it doesn’t matter. Anders Bjork is a player who has shown a spark at times but has not been able to capitalize on a regular basis. McKegg and Lindholm are both players who are fringe NHL players and could see playing time if there are injuries.

The biggest missing piece from the projected 2020-21 Boston Bruins lineup is Jack Studnicka. He is a player who is almost NHL ready. He does need more time to develop in order to capitalize on his skills. Studnicka could find himself as the top extra when the Bruins suffer injuries. He does not appear on the roster simply because he will likely play with Providence when he would be a healthy scratch in the NHL.

Defence

Matt Grzelcyk – Charlie McAvoy

Urho Vaakanainen – Brandon Carlo

John Moore – Jeremy Lauzon

Extra: Kevan Miller

Top Four

Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug were both fixtures in Boston’s top four. With both out of the picture, Boston’s defensive core is very different from what it was a year ago. The left side of the defence is much weaker than the right side. Boston should give Matt Grzelcyk a promotion to the top pairing. He has been a stout defender and could be a viable replacement for Torey Krug. Alongside Charlie McAvoy, the Bruins could have their top pairing for the future. Both are still young and have more room to grow. Now is their chance to step up and prove they are capable of holding down the fort.

The second pair has a familiar new face. Boston’s first-round draft choice in 2017, Urho Vaakanainen is ready to make the NHL. He has had a few short stints on the Bruins roster but injuries have forced him back down to the AHL. Vaakanainen doesn’t have much offensive upside but he is a stout defensive presence. He will likely play alongside Brandon Carlo, who has proven to be Boston’s best defensive defenceman. When the regular season starts, these two could be Boston’s best shutdown pairing.

Bottom Pair

Boston’s bottom unit could very well be a revolving door of players. With John Moore signed to a $2.75 million contract, the Bruins won’t want that money to be wasted for any longer. Jeremy Lauzon is another player we could see more of on the 2020-21 Boston Bruins roster. Lauzon has played in 35 games in his career. He won’t be a liability, but he has yet to prove he can be a full-time fixture on the blue line. This is a prove-it season for him. The last piece on defence is Kevan Miller. He has spent a long time on injured reserve. He just signed a new, incentive-based contract with the Bruins and should be a rotational player on the last pairing. If he can prove he is back to playing at the same level he was prior to his injury, he could become a mainstay on the third pairing. And where does Connor Clifton fit into this fix considering he still has two years left on a contract he signed in July of 2019.

Goalies

Tuukka Rask

Jaroslav Halak

Extra: Dan Vladar

As the reigning Jennings Trophy winners, Boston has a top-notch goaltending duo in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Rask is an elite starting goaltender and Halak is a starter on many teams. The two will likely see an even split of games throughout the regular season. This will give Rask a chance to rest up and be better prepared for a playoff run. Vladar has not had much playing time in the NHL. He was one of the best in the AHL last year and could be given more of an opportunity if Halak or Rask is injured this season.

Players to Watch

Jack Studnicka

Studnicka has real potential and is arguably Boston’s top prospect. He could eventually be Boston’s second-line centre if he develops well. This year could see him in an increased role on Boston’s roster. He got into a couple of playoff games during their run last postseason. With 49 points in 60 games with the Providence Bruins last season, he has the talent to be an NHL player. Only time will tell if he can take the next step.

Urho Vaakanainen

Vaakainainen is another player with high potential. As Boston’s top draft choice in 2017, he should be nearly ready for NHL action. Cassidy was ready to insert him into the lineup last season but injuries have derailed his NHL dreams thus far. If he can stay healthy, he should be an NHL regular this season. With so much changing at the blue line this year, the Bruins will need Vaakainainen to step up and be a presence in their own end.

Prediction for the 2020-21 Boston Bruins

The 2020-21 Boston Bruins can still be very good this season, but they should take a step back. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are both on injured reserve as they recover from surgeries. The defence has been decimated by offseason departures. While they will still be a playoff team, they need everyone to play at the top of their game to get there. There will likely be struggles at the start of the season. They won’t have a full lineup healthy. While they may falter until then, they are a team that is more than capable of lighting up the scoreboard on any given night. In a division that is sure to see fierce competition, Boston is sure to have their hands full.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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