With the unexpected departure of David Krejci, the unknown status of injured Tuukka Rask, and a shockingly busy first day of free agency that included adding a number of top names, there are plenty of questions surrounding the Boston Bruins and how they may look next season. With so many possible lineup combinations and the team having yet to even practice together once, it would be understandable to leave fans wondering how the team may be structured in 2021-22. However, head coach Bruce Cassidy is not afraid to hint at his plans. Speaking with beat writer Eric Russo, Cassidy was open about who he sees stepping into some of the most important vacancies in the Bruins lineup.
First and foremost on the minds of most is who will step into Krejci’s role as second line center, especially after Taylor Hall was re-signed following stellar production with Krejci and Craig Smith. Well, despite some speculation to the contrary, Occam’s Razor prevails. Third line center Charlie Coyle will indeed get the first shot at centering the second line, as Cassidy called him the “obvious choice”. Coyle may be coming off of the worst offensive season of his career, but the two-way forward will be healthy this season following off-season knee surgeries and will look to return to form, which is a player whose career full-season scoring pace is 40 points. Cassidy notes that with Hall and Smith having experience playing together and Coyle and Smith also having played together, the familiarity that the three would share makes it an easy initial choice as the team’s second line. However, Cassidy does note that free agent additions Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek both play their best at center as well and could be next in line if Coyle is not a fit.
On defense, while some were content with the Bruins’ most frequent top pair of Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy, not everyone was convinced. Count Cassidy among that group. The head coach opined that the role may have been asking too much of Grzelcyk. He believes that free agent addition Derek Forbort, who plays a much more defensive and physical style, could in fact be the better match with McAvoy. Cassidy stated that between competing for that role and likely playing alongside Brandon Carlo on the top penalty kill unit, Forbort will be expected to play “big minutes”. Of course, Forbort will have to prove himself worthy, as Grzelcyk has the advantage of being the incumbent. Cassidy noted that Mike Reilly will likely continue to play with Carlo, but that too could change if Grzelcyk is bumped from the top pair.
Elsewhere on the roster, Cassidy firmly stated his support for Connor Clifton as getting the first shot as the regular third pair right-handed defenseman in the wake of Kevan Miller’s retirement. However, he also noted that youngsters Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen as well as recovering veteran John Moore all have experience playing their off side and will compete for opportunity. In the bottom-six, Cassidy offered a vote of confidence for Jake DeBrusk retaining his starting job as third line left wing, while also advocating for top prospect Jack Studnicka to get a look for a roster spot. With the versatility of additions Haula, Nosek, and Nick Foligno, there are plenty of potential combinations on that third line and there is a high likelihood of a more offensive fourth line in Boston than in years with the overflow of the third line position battle matched with the likes of Curtis Lazar and Trent Frederic. In goal, Cassidy did not just announce free agent splurge Linus Ullmark as the new starter; in fact quite the contrary. Cassidy expects Ullmark and breakout rookie Jeremy Swayman “to compete for the majority of the starts.” While Ullmark was compensated like a starter by the Bruins in both salary and term, Cassidy notes that Swayman will be given a fair chance to “come in and potentially be the No. 1.”
How it all plays out in Boston remains to be seen, but Cassidy did not hold anything back about his thought and plans for the current roster. That should give fans of the Bruins and their Atlantic Division rivals something more concrete to consider as the days tick down to the start of the regular season.
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