Our Boston Bruins 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season!
After their third trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in the last 8 years, the Boston Bruins have earned their place as one of the best teams in the league over that span. A carefully crafted roster featuring exemplary veteran leadership supplemented by a recent influx of energetic prospects has led to the continued success of the team.
As we’ve discussed many times before, including in this blog post written back at the beginning of this year’s Cup Finals, the Bruins have a team that is versatile, excels at every position, is proficient in nearly every skillset a team needs to succeed, and is oozing with intangibles.
Although the team does not have any top-tier, elite prospects, they do have a fairly deep pool of players who project to be at least serviceable NHL’ers. At least one of them is likely to exceed their potential expectations and become a high level NHL player. This will be especially important in the near future as the core leadership group of the team, including Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Zdeno Chara, are all approaching the tail end of their careers.
The Bruins lost Noel Acciari and Marcus Johansson in free agency this offseason. Those two will be big losses. Acciari was an excellent role player contributing to the Bruins’ heavy forecheck and depth prowess. Johansson (along with the rest of his line) were key components of the depth scoring that helped propel the Bruins to the Finals when the Pastrnak-Bergeron-Marchand line was quiet. It has created a perfect situation for some prospects to take the next step in their development. Maybe not in the NHL quite yet, but room will be opening up in the AHL or in injury callups for some prospects to debut. Players like Jack Studnicka, Jakub Lauko, and Urho Vaakanainen will be looked to in the very near future to begin taking steps to gaining a spot on the NHL roster.
Traditionally, centre is where the Bruins excel. They are led by the highly respected, perennial Selke candidate Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron is generally regarded as the best defensive forward in the league, and his offensive game is not lacking either as he is usually good for about 60 points. Living a little bit in Bergeron’s shadow is David Krejci, who is always a reliable contributor and is actually the Bruins’ leading post-season scorer in the post-lockout era. Although he is never the flashiest Bruin player, he is always among the most valuable.
Trade deadline acquisition and perfect Bostonian Charlie Coyle falls as the third line centre, but his scoring touch and physicality may give him a shot at a top-6 winger position. Coyle and Johansson developed quick chemistry and were a threatening duo for the Bruins in the playoffs, so it remains to be seen if he can develop that kind of chemistry with another player on the roster. Filling out the Bruins at centre is a single spot with tons of competition. This could go to someone on the roster, such as Sean Kuraly, or a new signing, such as Brendan Gaunce or Par Lindholm. There are no forward prospects that appear to be fully ready for the NHL team this season. They will need another year or two developing in the AHL first.
At wing, the Bruins are top heavy. Led by Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, the Bruins have the best first line in the NHL capable of elite level scoring, top-tier defending, and everything in between. The top line of Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak is often considered to be the best line in the NHL, justified with the out-of-this-world advanced stats and possession numbers.
After that, the wings are filled with a whole bunch of versatile role players. Common traits among them are speed, physicality and a slight scoring touch. Jake Debrusk leads this group, as he has developed into a perfect fit to continue the identity of what it means to be a Boston Bruin. Fast, physical, intelligent, and possesses a scoring touch ideal for a second liner.
He is joined by Karson Kuhlman, the speedy depth winger that showed promise in his short stints this season, Danton Heinan, who has a very strong argument of being significantly underrated in what he contributes to the team despite his point production dropping last season, and recent acquisition Par Lindholm, who will get a shot at a regular spot in the lineup. Joakim Nordstrom had a strong showing through the playoffs and will be looked at to fill a bottom 6 winger role. Although he is aging and becoming a bit less effective in certain situations, David Backes brings yet another exceptional veteran and physical presence to the team, despite a high cap hit. There will be some competition for Chris Wagner to get one of the last winger spots, brought forth by Brett Ritchie and potentially some of the more NHL-ready prospects, as the Bruins will be on the lookout for another player who can contribute 30 points and energetic play from the bottom-6 forwards.
Led by the 42 year old Zdeno Chara, the Boston Bruins defense has been developing and improving year in, year out. Having such a highly respected and experienced defender to help with the development of Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk has been crucial to getting them to play at the levels they have developed to. There won’t be many open roster spots for defensemen to jump into, so there will be competition between established NHL’ers John Moore, Kevan Miller, and Steven Kampfer, but we may be able to expect a push from the highly touted Urho Vaakanainen, though he likely does need another season or two of development. With the strength of the defense on the NHL roster, there is absolutely no reason to rush Vaakanainen to the NHL.
The offensive aspect of the Bruins’ defense is led by Torey Krug, who has put up 50+ points in each of the last 3 seasons. I think we can expect Charlie McAvoy to make a jump in offensive production as well. Having a player on each of the top two pairings who can be a puck moving, offensive threat will assist with the Bruins’ depth scoring and better utilize the speed they have on the wings and physicality of their forecheck. Especially players of the calibre of both Krug and McAvoy, as both were recently named among the top 20 defensemen in the entire NHL.
Overall, the Bruins have an incredibly strong defense lineup going into next season, provided they can stay healthy. Injuries may cause some concerns but the systems and leadership in place on the team help to ensure that call-ups and fill-ins can jump into the lineup without skipping a beat.
Coming off of a stellar performance in last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tuukka Rask will once again backstop the Bruins. Over the past decade, he has been one of the best goalies in the NHL. He will be looking to continue his dominance moving into next season. Luckily, in front of him is one of the more defensively responsible teams, which does help to make his job easier. But, as we saw through the 2019 playoffs, Tuukka Rask can put the team on his back if he has to, as shown by his .942 SV% en route to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Backing up Rask will be the well-travelled Jaroslav Halak, who had himself an excellent season acting as a 1B to Rask last season, appearing in 40 games. This combination of goalies gives Boston one of the strongest goaltending tandems in the NHL and a definite strong point of the roster. If one is struggling or hurt, they will still have someone else that they know will be able to take over as starter.
Behind them will be recent addition Max Lagace, who joined the Bruins after his stint with the Vegas Golden Knights. Unfortunately, the Bruins do not have much prospect depth in net. Kyle Keyser has shown promise, but is not a top tier prospect. Goalie development is generally voodoo magic so anything can happen, but as Rask and Halak are both in the tail end of their careers, they will need to shift some focus on strengthening their goaltending depth very soon.
Boston Bruins 2019-20 Prediction
2nd – 3rd Atlantic Division
Competition for first in the Atlantic is too strong, with Tampa Bay and Toronto set to duke it out for that spot. I do not think Boston is quite good enough to have that sort of success to beat out those teams for first. Below them, no other Atlantic team is set to make a significant jump. I think it is most likely that Boston will again occupy the second or third place spot in the Atlantic Division.