The hole Riley Nash left behind in the Bruins’ third-line center spot has proven more difficult to fill than general manager Don Sweeney anticipated.
On Saturday, coach Bruce Cassidy conceded that Sean Kuraly, who was limited to two preseason games by injury, basically beat out Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka for the position by default because the Bruins didn’t deem the younger player ready for the NHL.
After two games, Kuraly will now be shifted back to his old fourth-line role and David Backes will be elevated to the spot between wings Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork on the third line for the home-opener against Ottawa on Monday. The new bottom-six alignment debuted Sunday in practice at Warrior Ice Arena.
“Well we took a look at it today, it’s something we discussed as a wanting to see type of thing,” Cassidy said.
Kuraly had no points in the first two games of the season. The Bruins have were hoping it’d be easier to replace Nash, who had 41 points in 76games last season before leaving as an unrestricted free agent for Columbus.
Backes has been used almost exclusively as a right wing since he signed with the Bruins as an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2016 for $6 per season for five seasons. Asked how he felt about shifting to the middle, Backes responded:
“I guess willing. I think it’s an opportunity to play with two really young, skilled players. And if I can be the old wisdom between their skill and usefulness, maybe it’s a good fit. But I think it was pretty good in practice today, we were making some plays and feeling the puck and trying to get on the same page for good competition tomorrow in the home-opener.”
Backes had no points in the Bruins’ first two games.
Tuukka Rask will start against Ottawa. Here’s how the rest of the Bruins will line up:
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-Ryan Donato
Danton Heinen-David Backes-Anders Bjork
Sean Kuraly-Noel Acciari-Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk-Kevan Miller
John Moore-Brandon Carlo