Boston Bruins Opening Night Roster Leaves Questions

Boston Bruins Roster

The Boston Bruins are one of the teams with the latest start to the NHL season. Their first game takes place on October 16th when the season started on the 12th. Of the 32 NHL franchises, 27 start their season before Boston. This delay to start the season has given fans plenty of time to analyze the Boston Bruins roster for opening night. So far, the question marks have been abundant, particularly on a defence that looked improved from a season ago.

Boston Bruins Roster is Underwhelming

There are big expectations for this team. They have been in the thick of the playoff race for several seasons now. The Boston Bruins were expected to put together a roster that could not just be competitive but win a Stanley Cup. With the way the roster and lines have been shaped, that may be in doubt. Of course, changes can be made as the season progresses. If they start slow (which has been the case in prior years), some guys could find themselves being called up or sent down to Providence.

Blidh Over Studnicka

One of the most controversial choices was the decision to go with Anton Blidh over Jack Studnicka. As mentioned prior, that doesn’t mean Studnicka won’t see any NHL time this year. He will surely be one of the first call-ups when injuries inevitably occur. But you have to wonder what the front office saw in Blidh that Studnicka doesn’t provide. Studnicka had an excellent preseason. He recorded four points in four games played. Not many players can do better than that.

While the preseason is certainly not the best gauge of how a player will do in the regular season, it can be a good indication of the way they are trending. Studnicka just passed a test with flying colours and they sent him to the minors anyway. He will be doing everything he can to prove them wrong.

2021-22 Lineup

As we do every offseason, we predicted the lines for the Boston Bruins this season. Bruce Cassidy apparently didn’t see those predictions. What differs between the predictions and reality come in the bottom-six forward group and a swap of positions on defence. Cassidy’s third line will feature Erik Haula at the centre position over Studnicka. On the fourth line, we find it centred by Tomas Nosek with Trent Frederic on his left wing. Karson Kuhlman starts on Nosek’s right side. The defence will see a top pairing of Derek Forbort with Charlie McAvoy instead of Matt Grzelcyk. Grzelcyk was relegated to a bottom pair role alongside Connor Clifton.

Forwards

If Studnicka won’t be on the opening night roster anyway, Haula is a good choice for the third unit. The Bruins acquired a lot of forward depth this offseason and he is likely the best centreman they brought in.

Kuhlman getting the nod over Chris Wagner for fourth-line duties is a move that is somehow surprising, but also not surprising at all. Wagner has been a fan favourite since his acquisition and a Bruins fourth-line staple. But it’s reasonably well known how much Bruce Cassidy likes Karson Kuhlman. After all, Cassidy gave Kuhlman some of his first NHL time in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. The numbers support the switch, but this is a team that hasn’t changed much over the past few years.

Defence

On the defensive side, there has been a substantial change on the left side. The Bruins were able to re-sign last year’s trade deadline acquisition, Mike Reilly. He made an excellent pairing with Brandon Carlo at the end of last year and Cassidy has decided to keep the two together. Last year’s top pairing has been changed, however.

Last season, we saw Matt Grzelcyk elevated to a top pairing role. While he missed some time to injury, he still got into the lineup for 37 NHL games. In those 37 games, he put together a 20-point campaign. In terms of points per game, that is the best of his career with 0.54 points per game. Grzelcyk also saw a major improvement in his possession metrics with a jump in his Relative Corsi For percentage from 2.7 in 2019-20 to 11.7 in 2020-21.  He was considered to be a breakout candidate last year and he certainly acted like one. But Bruce Cassidy has opted to move him to the bottom pair with Connor Clifton this year.

Taking Grzelcyk’s place on the top pairing is free agent signing Derek Forbort. While he is an upgrade on the left side, many figured that he would take the bottom pairing slot. Playing alongside the newly minted $9.5 million man, Charlie McAvoy, should help. But you cannot ignore the fact that Forbort has not posted anything even close to a positive Corsi percentage since his first NHL season (2015-16 when the Los Angeles Kings were still kind of good) when he only played 14 games. Forbort also cannot be relied upon to produce much offensively. All put together, there is no reason for him to be playing on the top line when you still have Matt Grzelcyk.

Looking At Opening Night

The Bruins are taking on the Dallas Stars in their opening game. This roster is still good enough to beat Dallas. There will also surely be changes to the lineup as the season progresses. Almost no team starts the exact same lineup all season long. But if Bruce Cassidy wants to win games this year, he will have to make changes sooner rather than later. And hopefully, Jack Studnicka will find his way to significant NHL minutes this year.

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