NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Boston Bruins:
1. How does the goaltending situation shake out?
The Bruins have turned to rookie Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark with unrestricted free agent Tuukka Rask out until at least late December after having hip surgery. It appears Ullmark, who signed a four-year contract July 28, and Swayman, who played 10 games for the Bruins last season, will battle for the starter’s job, with the looming possibility Rask could return.
Swayman went 7-3-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and two shutouts in 10 games last season, when Ullmark was 9-6-3 with a 2.63 GAA and .917 save percentage in 20 games for the Buffalo Sabres.
“I think we’ve always left the door open for Tuukka to return, and I think [signing Ullmark] just allows Jeremy to continue to progress at a natural rate, but also give him the opportunity to be at the NHL level,” general manager Don Sweeney said.
Rask said Aug. 25 that he wants to play only for the Bruins and that the sides are on the same page regarding a new contract if he’s ready to return.
2. Who replaces David Krejci?
Krejci has returned home to the Czech Republic to play for HC Olomouc this season, and Boston needs a second-line center.
The job appears to be Charlie Coyle‘s to lose, with coach Bruce Cassidy saying he will get the first opportunity. Coyle is looking for a bounce-back season after he scored 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 51 games last season and had offseason knee surgery.
But he’s not the only option. Sweeney has said the center position would be “a little bit by committee,” one that could include Jack Studnicka, a second-round pick (No. 53) by Boston in the 2017 NHL Draft, and Erik Haula, Tomas Nosek and Nick Foligno, each signed as an unrestricted free agent July 28.
3. Where will goals come from?
The top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak scored 72 of the Bruins’ 164 goals last season, but production will be needed from elsewhere in the lineup.
Boston will mix and match with a collection that includes Haula, Nosek, Foligno, Jake DeBrusk, Trent Frederic, Curtis Lazar, Chris Wagner and potentially Studnicka. No one in that group had more than the 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) scored by Haula in 51 games with the Nashville Predators last season. Foligno scored 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 49 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs.
“There’s always a little level of exposure and fear that you might not be deep enough,” Sweeney said. “But we tried to address it in free agency [by] bringing in players that play several positions. The guys are excited. Ultimately, that’s the path we had to take. The results will dictate whether or not we’re going to do it well enough.”
4. Who plays with Charlie McAvoy?
McAvoy has become one of the premier young defensemen in the NHL. Still, questions remain about his defense partner after he played primarily with Matt Grzelcyk and Jeremy Lauzon last season.
McAvoy plays very well with Grzelcyk, but keeping them together would limit what the Bruins can do with other pairs. Derek Forbort will be an option with McAvoy, according to Cassidy, with the second pair likely being Mike Reilly and Brandon Carlo.
The Bruins, who lost Lauzon to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21, have long been bolstered by their defensive play. But whether they have enough talent at defenseman, especially on the left side, remains a question.
5. What happens to Jake DeBrusk?
DeBrusk has been a bit of a puzzle. He’s a streaky scorer with the potential to be a second-line left wing, but his results and his effort have at times been in question. He’s behind Marchand and Taylor Hall on the depth chart among left wings, which could open things up with DeBrusk facing lesser opposition playing on the third line.
But DeBrusk also needs to increase his production and regain the trust of the coaching staff, especially after a season when he scored 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 41 games, two seasons after he scored 27 goals in 68 games. If he doesn’t, there’s a chance the 24-year-old — a restricted free agent after this season — could become a trade candidate.