After Friday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden, the Boston Bruins are now halfway through their six-game preseason schedule.
Pavel Zacha goes 1-on-1 with The Skate Pod
That feels like a good time to take a look at how the roster could be shaping up as of right now. As there was to start training camp, there remains a lot of competition for jobs, especially at forward. Several spots could easily go a different direction, especially if a few young players are able to finish camp as strongly as they’ve started it.
James van Riemsdyk – Pavel Zacha – David Pastrnak
Brad Marchand – Charlie Coyle – Jake DeBrusk
Jesper Boqvist – Morgan Geekie – Trent Frederic
Milan Lucic – Patrick Brown – Jakub Lauko
I know what you’re thinking: Where the heck are Matt Poitras and Johnny Beecher? They're close. Both have been impressive in training camp and a pair of preseason games, with Poitras playing well again Friday night after starring in Sunday’s preseason opener. His passing, in particular, really stood out once again.
Both still have work to do, though. As coach Jim Montgomery has reminded us a few times already, finishing camp strong is a tougher challenge than starting strong. Poitras and Beecher have to unseat guys with a lot more NHL experience, and with NHL contracts. If the next week-plus goes as well as the last week and a half, one or both of them might do it. For now, though, we’ll classify both as making a real push, but not quite there yet.
Beecher can be sent down to Providence and recalled at any time, so even if he starts the season in the AHL, he could get his shot at any point if there’s an injury or someone struggles. His most direct path to cracking the opening night lineup is beating out Brown for the fourth-line center job. As we outlined here, the Bruins signed Brown with that exact role in mind. He hasn’t done anything to suggest he can’t handle it.
Poitras, meanwhile, has to either make the NHL or go back to Guelph in the Ontario Hockey League. He is not eligible to play in the AHL this year. The Bruins could keep him in Boston for up to nine regular-season games without burning a year off his entry-level contract. That is certainly a possibility if they decide they want to take a longer look at him beyond training camp. If they do, Greer could end up as the odd man out. Any of the 13 forwards above would need to clear waivers in order to be sent to Providence.
Other notable cuts here include Danton Heinen, Alex Chiasson, Anthony Richard, Oskar Steen, Marc McLaughlin, Georgii Merkulov and Fabian Lysell. Heinen and Chiasson, two veteran NHLers, are in camp on professional tryouts. Neither would look out of place at all in the bottom six. Heinen is probably a little ahead, especially after being one of the Bruins’ best players Friday night. He scored a goal, tied for the team lead with four shots on goal, and led the team with a five-on-five expected goals-for percentage of 85%. He could certainly beat out one of Boqvist, Lauko or Greer, but Boqvist and Lauko are younger and bring a little more speed, and Greer’s physicality might keep him around given the Bruins’ desire to be a more physical team this year.
UPDATE: The Bruins released Chiasson from his PTO on Sunday.
Richard and Steen would both require waivers to be sent to Providence. The guess here is Steen would clear, while Richard would be iffy. Richard has had a good camp and has been skating on real NHL lines – first with Geekie and Frederic, then with Zacha and Pastrnak, which is where he was Friday night. He’s had some good looks in his two preseason games, but has struggled to finish. His speed could definitely be an asset. His defensive game could use some work. Given the style of play and where they could slot into the lineup, Richard’s most direct competition might be Boqvist. Boqvist has more NHL experience and might have the edge right now, especially after Montgomery singled him out for praise Tuesday night.
McLaughlin was close last year and could be close again. He has only played one preseason game so far, so there should be another game or two coming where he could potentially make up some ground. Merkulov had a good game Friday and picked up his second assist of the preseason, but would still appear to be fighting an uphill battle. Lysell has had a bit of a quiet camp, but like McLaughlin, has only played one game so far. The fact that these three can all be sent to Providence without waivers could work against them a little bit. That’s the business sometimes.
Matt Grzelcyk – Charlie McAvoy
Hampus Lindholm – Brandon Carlo
Derek Forbort – Kevin Shattenkirk
Again, I can read your mind: Where the heck is Mason Lohrei? Like Poitras and Beecher, he’s close. Lohrei played well in his preseason debut on Tuesday and was even better on Friday, making several really nice plays to start breakouts, both with his feet and with his passing.
Lohrei has to beat out someone in the top six, though. Being a seventh defenseman who doesn’t play every night would not be what’s best for his development. He probably hasn’t unseated anyone yet, and some time in Providence could certainly be good for the defensive side of his game, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Lohrei in Boston at some point this season.
The Bruins have often liked having eight defensemen on their NHL roster, but right now they don’t have the cap space to keep 23 players. That means one of Zboril or Ian Mitchell is probably getting waived. Mitchell played well on Tuesday, but Zboril’s the better all-around player when he’s on his game, and Mitchell might be less likely to be claimed by another team. Zboril was injured in Sunday’s preseason game, but returned to practice on Friday and doesn’t appear to be in danger of missing regular-season time.
There’s no competition here. Brandon Bussi’s shutout on Sunday was certainly fun to watch, but the only way he gets to Boston is if there’s an injury or trade.