Bruins 2017-2018 Season Preview: The Year of Home Grown Talent?
Thursday will be a busy day for sports in New England. The Red Sox begin their playoff run in Houston, the Patriots are onto Tampa Bay, and the Bruins play their first game of the 2017-2018 season against Nashville. Though the Red Sox signed Ace, Chris Sale and the Patriots acquired star receiver, Brandin Cooks, the Bruins organization managed their off-season a bit differently and chose to promote their developed homegrown talent. The offense, defense, and management have all undergone transformations within the last year, giving the team the status of a contender for a deep playoff run next Spring.
The projected offensive line-up is flushed with both young talent and proven veterans.
1st Line: Marchand – Bergeron – Bjork
2nd Line: Debrusk – Krejci – Pastrnak
3rd Line: Beleskey – Spooner – Backes
4th Line: Schaller – Nash – Acciari
The Bruins find themselves in a unique position this year; forwards, Jakub Forsbacka-Karlsson, Peter Cehlarik, Zach Senyshyn, Danton Heinen, Austin Czarnik, Sean Kuraly, and many other players remain in the wing, forming a logjam of young talent, eager to join the big league.
Two notable new forwards, Anders Bjork and Jake Debrusk made waves in their careers prior to their projected debuts Thursday. Bjork will be placed on the first line with last year’s best tandem in the league, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron. Debrusk will be given the opportunity to work on the second line with Czech’s, David Krejci and, David Pastrnak.
Marchand led the league in points in the later part of the 2016-17 season, becoming the league’s top performing left-winger. He ultimately fell to 6th overall in points facing constant competition against other future hall-of-famers Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. Pastrnak blossomed into one of the best right-wingers in the game, managing to get to 18th overall in points and 10th overall in goals at the age of 21. The organization signed Pastrnak to an incredibly fair six-year deal at 6.6 million per year on September 17th.
The days of a flawed, inconsistent defense may soon be over as well. Fans noticed a light at the end of the tunnel towards the end of last season. While it may not be perfect, there’s certainly hope for a better future for the franchise.
1st Line: Chara – Carlo
2nd Line: Miller – McAvoy
3rd Line: Grzelcyk – McQuaid
Torey Krug is out for several weeks after suffering a broken jaw in the Bruins’ preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers on September 21st. Fortunately, Krug was seen skating on the ice last week and may return as early as Game 3 (October 11). He’ll be slotted into the Charleston, Mass native, Matt Grzelcyk’s spot. The defense will be in a similar situation as the offense, flushed with prospects. Ryan Lindgren, Jeremy Lauzon, Rob O’Gara, Urho Vaakanainen, and Jakub Zboril will remain in the minors for the time being.
The biggest story for the Bruins defense is newcomer, Charlie McAvoy. McAvoy, an asset from the 2016 draft, left Boston University in the spring to replace an injured defenseman, Branden Carlo, right before the Bruins first playoff appearance since 2015. To say he performed well in the half-dozen games he played in (all were playoff games) is an understatement. Despite having nearly zero professional hockey experience (only four minor league games played), the first-rounder displayed skills of a mid-season top pairing defenseman. He wowed everyone who saw him play and his dominance almost overshadowed Carlo’s efforts. As for 20-year-old Carlo, he had an outstanding inaugural season where he played in all 82 games of the regular season and was placed on the top-line with Captain Zdeno Chara.
Starter: Tuukka Rask
Backup: Anton Khodobin
The goaltending situation will remain the same as last year, but not without well-fought battles for those seeking to backup Tuukka Rask. Rask is to play less than he did last year, as fatigue and frustration will set-in towards the end of the season. An unreliable backup situation haunted the Bruins for the past two years, requiring Rask to pick up the slack – even if he was sick or played the night before. Anton Khodobin’s early 2016-17 performance was mediocre at best, but he rounded up the year with a respectable win/loss and save percentage ratio.
Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre lost the backup goalie position to Khodobin. McIntyre was sent to Boston’s AHL-affiliate (minor league) team, the Providence Bruins and Subban was put on waivers. On October 3rd, Subban was pick up off the waiver wire by the brand-new Las Vegas Golden Knights. Unfortunately for hopeful fans, the 2012 24th overall pick did not perform well during his NHL appearances, but proved to be a more than serviceable netminder in the minors. Had he successfully returned to Providence, he’d be battling McIntyre and Daniel Vladar for starting positions.
General Manager, Don Sweeney may have faced heavy criticism when he first began at the helm in Boston in 2015, but his hard work and development have begun to show up on the ice. February 7th, 2017, Bruce Cassidy was hired as the interim head coach after Claude Julien was fired, and proved to be a legitimate leader behind the bench, earning him the full-time job on April 26th.
SO WHO LEFT?
Both forwards Jimmy Hayes and Drew Stafford signed a one-year contract with New Jersey. Dominic Moore signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Defenseman John-Michael Liles has also left and rejoined the Colorado Avalanche organization’s media department. Defenseman Colin Miller’s employment was left exposed at the expansion draft this year and subsequently taken by the Golden Knights. Joe Morrow (the last piece of the Seguin trade horror) reunites with Julien in Montreal with a one-year contract.
None of their departures hurt the Bruins irreversibly. Their absent slots allow younger members of the organization an opportunity to prove their worth – and they certainly have been doing so.
The 2017-2018 is inarguably the most promising season the Bruins have had in the last few years. Many of the flaws that have been plaguing the team since the 2012-2013 season, have been plugged by up-and-coming prospects. Bjork and DeBrusk have yet to play a professional game, however, if they possess any of the talent that Sweeney and company saw in McAvoy and Carlo, then there is a great chance this organization will be greatly feared once again. It’s a safe bet to add “Big” back to the “Big Bad Bruins” this season.