5 players to watch in Bruins’ preseason opener Sunday


Nothing like a classic Boston-New York doubleheader. A massive, potentially season- and franchise-defining Patriots-Jets game, followed by… a Bruins-Rangers preseason game, baby!

Bruins' young centers take center stage at training camp

OK, so maybe the stakes aren’t quite the same. But Sunday afternoon’s preseason opener at TD Garden (faceoff set for 5 p.m. on NESN+) should still be an interesting one for the Bruins, who officially turned the page on last season’s disappointing ending with the start of training camp this past week.

The Bruins aren’t dressing any of their stars (you can see the full gameday roster below), but there will be a couple familiar faces with the likes of Jake DeBrusk and Trent Frederic. A few free-agent signings will be making their Bruins debuts as well with James van Riemsdyk, Morgan Geekie and Patrick Brown all suiting up.

But the most interesting players to keep an eye on, at least in my opinion, will be the younger ones. Here are five players to watch closely:

Matt Poitras

Poitras spent the first three training camp practices skating on a line with David Pastrnak. Pastrnak isn’t playing Sunday, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jim Montgomery give Poitras a shot with another top-six winger in DeBrusk or van Riemsdyk, or both.

Poitras, a second-round pick in 2022, turned heads with the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League last season with 79 assists and 95 points in 63 games, landing him second in the league in assists and fifth in points. Montgomery has praised him as “a high-end thinker” who has “shown the ability to make a lot of plays.”

The 19-year-old hasn’t shied away from saying that he wants to make the Bruins out of camp. If he doesn’t, he’ll be sent back to juniors, as he’s not eligible to play in the American Hockey League this season.

Making the team still seems like a bit of a longshot, but some strong preseason performances could start to change that. That first game opportunity for Poitras will come on Sunday.

Fabian Lysell

Lysell, the Bruins’ 2021 first-round pick, is a little further along in his development than Poitras after spending last season in Providence, but he’s also trying to prove he’s ready to be an NHLer.

It was an up-and-down first pro season for Lysell, as he started strong in the AHL, but then had a rough World Junior Championship for Sweden in December and was more inconsistent in the second half. His season ended with a concussion suffered on a dirty hit in the playoffs that delayed his offseason training. He acknowledged on WEEI’s Skate Podcast in July that he felt “pretty burnt out” at times and was focusing on things like rest and recovery during the offseason.

On the ice, Lysell has shown some flashes but also some areas in need of improvement so far in camp. Asked about Lysell after the first practice on Thursday, Montgomery praised Lysell’s offensive aggressiveness and his willingness to drive to the net, but also said he caught a couple defensive miscues.

With the Bruins needing to replace so much offense from last season that was lost over the summer, Lysell’s skills certainly make him an intriguing option. He won’t be handed anything, though. Games like Sunday’s will be important as he tries to earn a roster spot.

John Beecher

Another first-round pick (from 2019) fighting to make the team. Beecher acknowledged on Thursday that fourth-line center is probably his most straightforward path to cracking the opening night lineup, and that likely means beating out Brown, who was signed over the summer with that exact role in mind.

Beecher’s size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and high-end skating have always made him appealing. He’s a smart defensive player. He’s good on faceoffs, and the Bruins could use another lefty faceoff taker.

The question has always been whether Beecher can produce enough offensively to stick in the NHL. If he can help create some chances this preseason, that could go a long way towards making the team. If he can’t, then everything else will need to be just about perfect if he’s going to have a chance.

Jakub Zboril

On paper, Zboril seems destined to be the Bruins’ seventh defenseman again. But training camp and preseason happen on the ice, and Zboril once again has a chance to make the case that he can be more than that for this team.

On the other side of things, Zboril also has to fend off challenges from the other defensemen on Sunday’s roster, not to mention top prospect Mason Lohrei.

Zboril is set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the year plays out for the 2015 first-round pick, including how it starts.

Brandon Bussi

Montgomery said Saturday that the plan is to play Bussi for all of Sunday’s game. The 25-year-old had an excellent first pro season for Providence last year, going 22-5-4 with a .924 save percentage, which ranked third in the AHL and first among rookies.

Bussi isn’t exactly battling for a roster spot, as we know the Bruins’ goalies are going to be Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman unless there’s a trade or an injury. But he is getting to a point where he should be just about ready for the NHL should something happen to either of those two.

Bussi could be more interesting at this time next year if the Bruins move on from one of Ullmark or Swayman, but getting a preseason game to himself Sunday is still something worth checking out.

Featured Image Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports