Bruins preview '18-19: Breaking down the Bruins position by position

Matt Kalman
October 03, 2018 - 10:36 am

Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs succinctly summed up expectations for this season earlier this week when he said:

“My expectations never lessen so far as this team is concerned. ... They’re young, we’ve got that on our side and we’ve got a good warehouse of talent. I expect them to improve on last year.”

The goal of every team is to keep taking the next step. The Bruins lost in the first round in 2008, won one round in 2009 and 2010, and then won the Stanley Cup in 2011. Under coach Bruce Cassidy the Bruins advanced to the first round one year, the second round the next.

But there could be more question marks about this Bruins lineup than there were last year. No one can guarantee that the Bruins are an improved team that can match last season’s 50-win output.

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the projected Bruins lineup that will open the season in Washington tonight:

Forwards

First line: Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak

Bergeron’s back spasms during his return from offseason groin surgery kept him out of the preseason and didn’t allow Cassidy to mix and match to balance out his lines. It’s just as well because the Bruins will probably need this line, which combined for 228 points last season, to carry them through the early portion of the season. Chemistry and talent is never an issue for these three.

Second line: Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-Danton Heinen

Rick Nash’s semi-retirement left a hole that general manager Don Sweeney decided to try to fill from within ... again. It’s almost a lead-pipe lock the Bruins will have to make another deadline trade to put a high-end scorer next to Krejci for the second straight season. But for now it makes sense to keep DeBrusk and Krejci together for a second straight year and give Heinen, who has a full year of NHL experience and a better-rounded two-way game, the first shot at the right wing spot. But this could become a revolving door with rookie Ryan Donato probably getting the next chance and Anders Bjork landing in that spot at some point. Krejci seemed reinvigorated when he briefly played with DeBrusk and Bjork last season, so it’s worthwhile to try out the youth on the center’s wings at the outset of the season.

Third line: Ryan Donato-Sean Kuraly-David Backes

If Kuraly, who had six goals in 75 games last season, wasn’t feeling the pressure of replacing the 15 goals and 41 points Riley Nash put up in this position last season, the second-year center should be feeling it now. Asked whether he believes Kuraly can replace Nash, Cassidy was brutally honest:

“You know what, I don’t know. That’s part of the experiment. He’ll give you the effort, he’ll possess pucks. Being on the third line I don’t think will affect his defensive game. He’ll get increased minutes. So that’s an area, how does the player go from 12 to 15 minutes, does he handle that well? You know Riley we weren’t sure on either.”

Backes is also a question mark as he tries to find a quicker gear at 34 years old. If he can’t keep up, this line is in trouble.

Fourth line: Joakim Nordstrom-Noel Acciari-Chris Wagner

The Bruins got 28 goals from their fourth line, in addition to gritty play, last season. Only Acciari, who had 10 of those goals, returns after the departure of Tim Schaller for Vancouver and the promotion of Kuraly. Fourth lines don’t usually have trouble finding chemistry because they’re all going to be able to grind, but will they be able to cash in on their chances? Nordstrom had just two goals in 75 games last season, two seasons after he had 10 in 2015-16. Wagner had a career-high seven goals in 79 games last season. The fourth line will never be judged on points, so it better be able to have momentum-changing shifts for this line to avoid being a sore spot.

Defense

First pair: Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy

Like Cassidy is doing with the first forward line, this first pair is sticking together so the Bruins have some semblance of consistency heading into the new season. You can’t argue with the results the Bruins got from this pair last season, as Chara was rejuvenated and McAvoy fended off the rookie doldrums despite a couple fluky injury/illness absences. For the Bruins to grow this pair may have to split up later in the season.

Second pair: John Moore-Brandon Carlo

You can make an argument this will be the third pair, and Moore and Carlo’s play will determine their ice time. Considering this would’ve been Torey Krug’s spot, they’re the second pair to start out. Moore has been every bit the dynamic skater and puck-mover through the preseason, but there’s no telling how that will mesh with Carlo’s sometimes iffy decision making for the long haul. If Carlo regresses and can’t pick up where he left off when he was injured last season – and he was playing his best hockey up to that point – he might be better suited playing with Chara.

Third pair: Matt Grzelcyk-Kevan Miller

No one benefits from the Krug injury more than Grzelcyk, who may have been scratched to start the season with Krug in the lineup. Now Grzelcyk gets to quarterback the first power play and try to play his way into the top four. At the very least, he can boost his trade value for when Krug returns. Miller’s become an underrated puck mover and both these guys give Cassidy flexibility to mix and match his bottom two pairs.

Goalies

Tuukka Rask

Jaroslav Halak

Rask had a .911 save percentage in the preseason; Halak had a .924. The Bruins could be improved in goal after finishing fourth in goals-against per game (2.57) last year. The competition between the two goalies will only benefit the Bruins. Be set for at least one couple-week stretch of the winter when people are calling for them to flip their roles as No. 1 and No. 2.

Spares

Bjork is still rounding into game shape after playing just once in the preseason. ... Defenseman Urho Vaakanainen won’t be in the NHL long unless there’s an injury. The 19-year-old has to continue to develop, and that means playing somewhere. After a strong camp he’ll probably be the first call-up if there’s an injury. ...  Defenseman Steven Kampfer might be the perfect guy to be the seventh or eighth defenseman. He’s been a pro for a decade, he makes $650,000 and he doesn’t complain about a lack of playing time.

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