The sun has risen, it is a new day in Boston. With it comes a new season for the Boston Bruins, one that starts with much promise. The Bruins came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup a season ago, and will again be a contender to lift Lord Stanley this spring. The Bruins aren’t opening training camp without questions, however.
There are plenty of things to keep an eye on during Bruins training camp, including the future of two key defenders, the battles for open roster spots and much more. Today starts a three week journey that will lead the Bruins to opening night in Dallas. Enjoy the ride, there will be plenty to keep an eye on over these next three weeks.
When Do Carlo, McAvoy Sign?
The biggest question entering camp, without doubt, is the fate of RFA’s Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy. McAvoy is arguably the Bruins best defender, while Carlo has settled in as a strong second pair option. The club is significantly better with both of them in the lineup.
Alex Petrovic has been brought in on a PTO to fill in for the missing defensemen. He’s not a long-term replacement, however. There is urgency to get both of these players signed, and that urgency will only increase as the days pass.
Could a trade be needed to create the necessary cap space? The Bruins did attempt to move David Backes this summer to open cap space. They also have a glut of depth defensemen on inflated contracts that could be moved to create room.
When Carlo and McAvoy sign, and for how much, is the biggest story of camp. Everyone will have their eyes on this.
Youth Gone Wild
One thing the Bruins have done well in recent years is incorporate young players into the lineup. A young wave of players, led by Carlo, McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk, stole the show early in 2017-18 as the Bruins burst onto the scene. The next wave is pushing and could be ready as early as opening night.
Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, Jakub Lauko, Zach Senyshyn and Anders Bjork will all be pushing for NHL minutes this camp. Frederic could very well make the roster out of camp as a depth center with two-way ability. Bjork and Senyshyn will be in the battle for minutes on the skill lines, with an outside chance for both Lauko and Studnicka to be there too.
Defensively, it would be unwise to discount Urho Vaakanainen’s chances of making the club. He impressed during his rookie season in North America.
All of these young players will be worth watching as they attempt to push out veteran depth options.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, injuries are already a factor. John Moore won’t participate in camp and could be out until December with a shoulder injury. That will hamper the depth on the Bruins blueline. Kevan Miller is uncertain for the start of the season, and likely will miss some time as he continues to work his way back from a knee injury.
Patrice Bergeron and Joakim Nordstrom are both probable for the start of the season. It’s always worth watching when Bergeron is on the injury list. The Bruins cannot afford to lose their top forward for an extended period of time.
Captain Zdeno Chara is questionable for the start of the season with an elbow injury. His status will be interesting to watch, especially with the McAvoy and Carlo situations unfolding. The Bruins would be in tough without three of their top four defenders to start the season. It’s a possible outcome no one is discussing.
Second Line Right Wing
The Bruins will have one spot open in their top-six forward group in camp. The second line right winger, who will line up with DeBrusk and David Krejci, is still yet to be determined. Most pundits expect Karson Kuhlman to enter camp as the favorite, but he is by no means guaranteed the job.
Senyshyn showed well at the end of the season, scoring a goal in a two game stint with the Bruins. His AHL numbers, 24 points in 66 games, don’t scream top-six forward however. He does possess speed and skill and will be given a chance based on draft pedigree. Bjork, who was a lethal goal scorer in college, will also get a look but comes with warts. His game hasn’t translated to the professional ranks and he has struggled to stay healthy. He does have a good shot and can play with skill.
The club could also give looks to Danton Heinen and Studnicka in this spot. Barring an outside addition, this is the list of candidates to watch for the job.
Where Does Backes Fit?
The Bruins tried to off-load David Backes’ contract this summer but were not successful. Now, the veteran forward returns with no defined role. He isn’t skilled enough to play a top-six role anymore. He’s too expensive for a bottoms-six position, but the club might not have a choice. Will Backes play on the third line with Charlie Coyle and possibly Heinen? If not there, he’ll be relegated to fourth line duty.
How Bruce Cassidy handles the Backes situation is one of the most intriguing storylines of camp. Backes has the respect of his teammates, but the Bruins must find a place for him in the lineup. There isn’t an obvious one.
This could be the most difficult puzzle piece for Cassidy to figure out in the next three weeks.