Could Bruins opt for youth up front?


The Bruins could slot a 20 and 21-year-old forward into featured roles up front this season.

Boston Bruins' Mason Lohrei (6), David Pastrnak (88) and Pavel Zacha (18) play against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Boston.
David Pastrnak and Pavel Zacha will likely continue to skate together on Boston’s top line. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

There’s more than two months to go before Boston’s training camp officially opens at Warrior Ice Arena. 

But barring any surprise trades, Don Sweeney and his staff likely have just one task left on their summer to-do list. 

The Bruins have already allocated a hefty portion of their cap space toward two of the top targets on the free-agent market in Elias Lindholm and Nikita Zadorov — leaving roughly $8.6 million in fiscal flexibility to craft a long-term deal for Jeremy Swayman. 

Operating with the assumption that the Bruins and Swayman will reach the finish line on a hefty contract extension (especially with both sides opting to avoid arbitration), the Bruins’ depth chart is likely set for training camp at this stage of the offseason.

Boston has addressed some sizable vacancies on its roster this summer while adding a lot more physicality, but there are still a few question marks hovering over the team, especially up front. 

Here’s our first projected depth chart for the 2024-25 Bruins, starting with the forwards.

Pavel Zacha – Elias Lindholm – David Pastrnak 

No need to overthink this one, with Lindholm’s arrival giving Boston a proven, 200-foot center cut from the similar cloth to Patrice Bergeron. 

Even though Lindholm’s baseline offensive production dipped in 2023-24 between Calgary and Vancouver, a full season stapled next to one of the top goal-scorers in the league in David Pastrnak (along with featured reps on the bumper with Boston’s top power-play unit) should allow Lindholm to comfortably surpass the 60-point threshold in 2024-25. 

“Way back in the [2013] draft, we identified Elias as a player that has a lot of Bergeron qualities,” Sweeney said Monday of Lindholm, adding: “It’s kind of been a two-year pursuit to tell you the truth, wondering maybe down the road if he would ever get to free agency. … He’s only played in a top-line role.

“And now he’s got a chance to go play with Pasta like he might have had with [Johnny] Gaudreau and [Matthew] Tkachuk [in Calgary]. I think the bumper spot on our power play is an area that Elias is going to fit in seamlessly in that regard. And he wins his draws. So you start to realize like there’s a little bit of, OK, that’s a little bit of what we had and what we missed.”

With Lindholm in place next to Pastrnak, the Bruins also have the luxury of shifting Zacha back over to wing, but keeping him on a line next to his fellow countryman in Pastrnak. While Zacha did an admirable job slotting in as a top-six center (59 points in 78 games) last season, the 27-year-old should benefit from playing a more simplified game on the wing — especially if he takes a more shot-first mentality with Lindholm setting him up. 

Zacha and Pastrnak have already logged plenty of shifts together over the previous two seasons, with Lindholm providing the proper defensive fortitude and playmaking acumen to round out what should be a very dangerous trio. 

Brad Marchand – Charlie Coyle – Morgan Geekie 

This is where things will get interesting. 

Keeping Marchand and Coyle together in 2024-25 shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering the duo logged over 684 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time last season, per Natural Stat Trick.

The 32-year-old Coyle had a strong season as Boston’s 1C in 2023-24, posting a career-best 60 points while playing in all situations during special-teams play.

He should benefit from getting slotted down to the second line, where he will not be tasked with head-to-head matchups against top-line talents like Sasha Barkov and Auston Matthews night in and night out. 

Marchand turned 36 in May, but the Bruins’ captain is still an on-ice spark plug and top-six talent. His ability to win puck battles and two-way talents meshes well with a player like Coyle. 

The top question mark lies on the right side, with the Bruins now staring at a sizable vacancy in their top-six grouping after Jake DeBrusk signed a seven-year deal with the Canucks in free agency. 

Boston’s decision to sign Nikita Zadorov over a top-six winger gives the Bruins one of the most formidable D corps in the league. But Boston was a pedestrian offensive club last season (14th in goals per game) that struggled to find twine in the playoffs. They scored two goals or fewer in eight of their last nine postseason matchups against the Maple Leafs and Panthers. 

The addition of Elias Lindholm up front helps, but the Bruins still lost some critical scoring depth this summer with players like DeBrusk (19 goals), Danton Heinen (17 goals), and James van Riemsdyk (11 goals) no longer in the equation. 

Based on Sweeney and the rest of his staff’s comments over the last week, the Bruins are likely looking internally at top-six options. And while it might be tempting to roll with a prospect like Fabian Lysell in such a featured role, we have Morgan Geekie being the first man up for top-six reps come September. 

One of the many Bruins who exceeded expectations in an elevated role last season, Geekie scored 17 goals and 39 points over 76 games last season, adding 137 hits while showcasing a knack for finding soft areas of the ice. His steady game should complement a pair of seasoned veterans in Coyle and Marchand. 

Trent Frederic – Matt Poitras – Fabian Lysell

A featured role as Boston’s 3C stands as an ideal springboard for Poitras, who is coming off of major shoulder surgery but showcased plenty of potential as a poised, middle-six playmaker during his rookie season. 

Slotting him next to a physical, two-way forward like Frederic should benefit Poitras, with the 27-year-old forward establishing a pretty steady track record of elevating players around him over the years thanks to his well-rounded game, knack for winning puck battles, and propensity to hover around Grade-A ice. 

Boston could opt to beef up its third line by slotting in rookie Justin Brazeau on the right side (five goals, seven points in 19 games last season), but we’ll tab Lysell as the youngster who earns the spot out of camp.

Lysell has been knocking at the door for NHL reps for roughly a year, with his skating and high-end skill making him an appealing player to slot in next to Poitras. 

“Just pin your ears back, train your ass off this summer, and come with the intent that there will be an opportunity here,” Sweeney said Monday of the message to Lysell and Boston’s next wave of young talent. “If you’re the best player, then we find a way to get you in the lineup. … Those guys should have clear intentions to come and find an opportunity to beat somebody out, because it’ll be there.”

The onus falls on Lysell to seize that spot on the roster with a strong preseason. But if both Poitras and Lysell make the most of their opportunity, both forwards could conceivably push themselves into the top-six grouping if they hit their stride thanks to their playmaking talent.

Such a result would be a welcome problem for Montgomery and his staff to have, especially if it prompts moving some talented players like Coyle or Geekie further down the depth chart where they can exploit more matchups. 

Max Jones – Johnny Beecher – Mark Kastelic

Sweeney and Cam Neely both stressed the need for Boston to get faster up front this offseason. 

While the departure of DeBrusk looms large, the Bruins are set to roll out an intriguing checking unit bolstered by a pair of big-bodied forwards who can close in quick on skaters in Max Jones and Mark Kastelic. 

Kastelic, acquired as part of the Linus Ullmark trade, is a big body at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and racked up 126 hits over 63 games last season.

The right-shot forward has won 56.3 percent of his faceoffs over his three years in the NHL, giving Boston another useful asset on the dot to pair alongside left-shot pivot Johnny Beecher (54.6 faceoff percentage).

Jones projects as a similar fleet-footed, big-bodied skater on the fourth line. The 6-foot-3 winger appeared in 52 games for the Ducks last season, compiling 15 points including five goals and delivering 127 hits.

If the Bruins are looking for an aggressive forechecking unit with a promising offensive ceiling, this trio offers plenty of appeal.

Check back tomorrow as we map out the six skaters who will anchor Boston’s blue line, as well as the plan in net for the 2024-25 season.

Source link


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *