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Puck Drop Preview: 2023-24 Boston Bruins

Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2023-24 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2023-24 Boston Bruins.

2023-24 Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins 2023-24 fan base is excitedly anticipating the coming season. This is a season to quickly honour the past, and get moving on with the future. To get it out of the way early, the Bruins are missing a six-time Selke trophy winner and a two-time NHL playoff scoring leader. Of course, they are not the same person, them being Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, respectively. Both players announced their retirements in the offseason. So, what eagerly awaits Bruin fans, is whether management had done enough to prepare them. Do they have the prospects to fill the pipeline? Let’s take a look and find out.

The Unforgettable 2022-23 Season: Review of Last Year

The Bruins version from last year was a record breaking one. The record book logs their season as the fourth-best winning percentage (.823%) of all time. Their total points (135) was a record eclipsing the historic 1976-77, eight loss, Montreal Canadiens. To a more modern observer, they did almost have the feel of a late 90s Red Wing squad. That franchise seemingly always had another star waiting in the wings. Although, when you watched the Bruins last year, there was just something different about them.

It just seemed like the Bruins of 2022-23 were unbeatable, and in the regular season, they nearly were. To that point, it seemed through injuries, it did not matter who filled a hole, they kept winning. Only three players, each of them returnees, David Pastrnak, Pavel Zacha, and Charlie Coyle, played an entire 82-game slate. Whether it was a Trent Frederic or an A.J. Greer, they always seemed to have players to step in and perform. Of course, it would be bad if we did not mention the playoffs. Little did the dominant Bruins realize they would come up against a Cinderella team led by Matthew Tkachuk. After being down three to one in the series, the Florida Panthers battled back. Even in game seven, it happened with less than a minute remaining they tied the game, only to win it in overtime. It really just confirmed the fact it was a magical season, but that magic had been passed on to the Panthers.

2023: Offseason and the Revamp

Now year-over-year for the 2023-24 Boston Bruins, much has changed in Beantown. Besides the retirements, the roster has had much turnover, especially from the post-trade deadline version. Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno are both off to the Chicago Blackhawks to join Connor Bedard. Additionally, Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitry Orlov have moved on. However, there are some new faces in town including James van Riemsdyk and Kevin Shattenkirk. There is even an old familiar face, in bruiser Milan Lucic. That is besides the fact that returning players will have different even expanding roles, especially the centremen. As you can probably tell, and it has been coming for a while, there is a changing of the guard in Boston.

Lineup Projections Starting With the Forwards

The Bruins front office had been preparing for change and it is evidenced by the crop of players aged 25 to 29. They have 11 rostered players fitting that very attribute. Therefore, with a big crop of players who are a good mix of veteran know-how but with youthful passion, they can fit different roles. Look for some of their players, like Jake DeBrusk or van Riemsdyk to wear different hats if the opportunity presents itself.

Who Are the Top Six Guns up Front for the Bruins

For the 2023-24 Boston Bruins top-six forward group, despite the movement, they should still keep the team competitive. The top line is looking like Brad Marchand, Coyle, and DeBrusk. This will be a good test for the 31-year-old Coyle to use his veteran savvy in such a role. The youthful exuberance of DeBrusk and the game of Marchand should provide an excellent complimentary skillset. Next, the second line is where you will find the 61-goal man from a year ago, Pastrnak. He has familiarity with Zacha as the two combined with Krejci last year, to take a regular shift together. As you can tell, there is not a clear distinction between first and second-line arrangements.

For the top six group, there is just enough competition to increase its perceived strength. It seems with all the changes to the forward group nothing will be set in stone. To that point, the two frontrunners to round out the top six are van Riemsdyk and Trent Frederic. Frederic scored 17 last year in just 11:55 of average TOI. Meanwhile, JVR as he is affectionately known, is a member of the 300-career goal club. He is only a season removed from potting 24 goals in 2021-22. Therefore, he provides the perfect push for a player like Frederic to produce in a top-six role. Even a player like Jesper Boqvist, if he can find chemistry, could find himself throughout the lineup.

Bottom Six Forward Group

There is nothing like a little healthy competition, and that description fits the bottom six group forward group well. You could say it seemed to be the theme of last year’s team. The bottom six groups will be solid with the likes of Patrick Brown and Morgan Geekie. These are the types of reliable assets you need in those roles. Furthermore, the man himself, Milan Lucic will be patrolling the fourth line. They also have some prospects, such as Jakub Lauko or Fabian Lysell, who look to push the veterans.

The Defence: Top Four and the Bottom Pair

On defence, the Bruins like where they sit. They are led by Charlie McAvoy, who is accompanied by Matt Grzelcyk on the top pair. Aside from that, they have a strong supporting cast. Hampus Lindholm, Brandon Carlo, Derek Forbort, or even Shattenkirk, could easily slide into a top-four role on any given night. This leaves a bit of depth for their third pairing, with Ian Mitchell having been brought in for stability.

The Story on the Goalies

With the changes to the defensive structure throughout the lineup, will the Bruins be such a stingy team? It is tough to say, and one of the reasons they are not likely to contend for the division title this year. With that said, Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman each put up dynamite numbers in 2022-23. Ullmark ranked second in the league, only to Juuse Saros with a Goals Saved Above Expected of 42.4. He led the league in SV% at .938. Swayman found himself eighth (24.0) and fifth (.920), in the respective categories. Hence, the probability of both goalies slipping a significant amount, especially given the similarity of defence in front of them, is low. Even still, they play a rotation, which again mitigates the chances of one of them not having another highly successful campaign.

Players to Watch in the Organization

The players to watch for the Bruins include a couple of members of the suspected top line. Both Coyle and DeBrusk will be provided the opportunity to succeed. Will they be able to grab the Bruin by the goal horns? DeBrusk could very easily find his stride, and reach the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career. Twice he has peaked at 27. Moreover, in terms of prospects, look for Lauko to prove he is ready. He has never had flashy numbers, but as a centre, sometimes you just need to be better than your opponent. He chipped in with four goals in 23 games with the Bruins last year, look for both of those totals to increase in 2022-23.

Prediction: Where Does the Team Finish?

Let’s be real, the toughest division in hockey will be a blood bath. Who has the stamina to endure until June? It is tough classifying any of the teams in the Atlantic division as regressing from 2022-23, except the Bruins. Some teams will even improve. The Ottawa Senators have Vladimir Tarasenko, Dominik Kubalik, and Josh Norris in their lineup. They are an example of a team that will improve. In contrast, a team like the Florida Panthers, who also will not regress, showed that as long as you make the playoffs you have a chance. Look for the Bs to struggle at times, given the changes from last year. But in the end, they will be right in the thick of the playoff picture.

Main photo: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports


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