The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Boston Bruins, who will play in the East Division.
Coach: Bruce Cassidy (fifth season)
Last season: 44-14-12 (.714 points percentage); first place in Eastern Conference, lost to Tampa Bay Lightning in Eastern Conference Second Round
1. Filling in the defensemen
The Bruins have lost at least one major piece of their defenseman group, with Torey Krug signing with the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 9. The status of Zdeno Chara, an unrestricted free agent and the Bruins captain, is up in the air, so they will turn to some younger options, trying to see if they can shore up the left side with Urho Vaakanainen, who turns 22 on Friday; Jeremy Lauzon, 23; or Jakub Zboril, 23. That also assumes Charlie McAvoy can continue the trajectory he’s been on and officially take over as the No. 1 defenseman.
2. Rask’s return
The last time Tuukka Rask played for the Bruins was Aug. 13, a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference First Round. Two days later, the goalie opted out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, returning home because of a medical emergency with his daughter. Cassidy and general manager Don Sweeney have said that nothing has changed with Rask’s status. Still, with Rask crucial to the Bruins’ Stanley Cup hopes and his status as a pending unrestricted free agent, he will need to return in the form he showed in 2019-20, when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist (26-8-6, 2.12 goals-against average, .929 save percentage).
3. Powering the power play
The Bruins have relied heavily on their power play in recent seasons — and for good reason — as they’ve had the best man-advantage in the NHL over the past five seasons (23.4 percent), including second in the NHL (25.2 percent) to the Edmonton Oilers (29.5 percent) in 2019-20. But now Krug is gone, and the first unit will have to find a replacement for his unique skill set. Matt Grzelcyk will likely be the first man up, with the Bruins hoping he can blend in seamlessly with forwards Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and David Krejci.
Making the cut
Although McAvoy, Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo are locks at defenseman, there are spots that need to be filled. The Bruins will pick from Vaakanainen, Lauzon, Zboril, Connor Clifton, John Moore and Kevan Miller to complete the group.
The goalies are set, with the 1A/1B of Rask and Jaroslav Halak, but the forward group is not. The Bruins have not yet set return dates for Marchand (sports hernia) and Pastrnak (hip), who each had surgery in September. They also need to see some chemistry between Ondrej Kase, Jake DeBrusk and Krejci on the second line. Craig Smith, who signed a three-year contract Oct. 10, can be moved up and down the lineup, but his optimal spot is either second- or third-line right wing. On the fourth line, which became a black hole at the end of last season, the Bruins are hoping Sean Kuraly can regain some magic with Chris Wagner and possibly Nick Ritchie, otherwise some young players might get an audition.
Most intriguing addition
The Bruins made one significant pickup in free agency when they signed Smith, who played nine seasons for the Nashville Predators. He scored 31 points (18 goals, 13 assists) in 69 games last season and has had five seasons with at least 21 goals. The hope for the Bruins is that he helps provide some much-needed secondary scoring.
Biggest potential surprise
Kase didn’t exactly have the introduction to the Bruins that they had hoped. He had one assist in six games after being acquired in a trade from the Anaheim Ducks prior to the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. Though he didn’t score any goals during the postseason (four assists in 11 games), he showed some chemistry with Krejci. The hope is that he can increase the ability of the second line to be a threat.
Ready to break through
The reviews on Zboril have been getting better. He scored 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in 58 games for Providence of the American Hockey League last season and was its best defenseman. He’s continued that ascension in his native Czech Republic, where he was on loan to Brno Kometa. Cassidy said in November that Zboril “piques our interest,” and Zboril, who was taken with the No. 13 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, will be given a chance to take the next step in training camp.
Smith (average draft position: 155.1) could play on the second line with exposure to center Krejci, who can be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Smith could also potentially fill in on the top line with Bergeron if Pastrnak is not ready for the start of the season. Smith scored at least 21 goals and had at least 199 shots on goal in five of his eight full seasons with the Predators. — Pete Jensen
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk — David Krejci — Ondrej Kase
Anders Bjork — Charlie Coyle — Craig Smith
Nick Ritchie — Sean Kuraly — Chris Wagner
Matt Grzelcyk — Charlie McAvoy
Jakub Zboril — Brandon Carlo
Jeremy Lauzon — Connor Clifton