1) Who is going to step up and fill the defensive void?
Everyone knew the Bruins’ biggest issue heading into this season would be defense. The Bruins responded to that knowledge by...doing nothing, really. This past week’s signing of Christian Ehrhoff to a PTO could prove to be a shrewd step in the right direction, but the B’s didn’t make the defensive splash many fans were hoping for.
Instead, they’ll plug onward with what they have: Zdeno Chara (aging), Kevan Miller (used above where he should be), Adam McQuaid (oft-injured), Torey Krug (USA!) and then throw the rest in a blender: Ehrhoff (should he make it), Joe Morrow, Brandon Carlo, Colin Miller...the list goes on.
For the Bruins to have any shot at success this season, some of the younger defensemen are going to have to take big developmental steps. Ehrhoff could be serviceable on the middle pair if he has any juice left, which could ease some of the burden on the Millers and McQuaids of the world.
However, if none of the younger defensemen (looking at you, Morrow and C. Miller) can make the jump, we already know what we’ll see: 25+ minutes a night for Chara, 20+ for K. Miller and another DNQ.
2) Where is the secondary scoring going to come from?
You could argue that the Bruins have as deep a top-6 as any other team in the division, and possibly even the conference. Any team that can ice Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, David Pastrnak and “wings A and B” should have enough firepower to cause headaches for the opposition night in and night out.
You should be able to pencil Bergeron and Marchand in for two more 30+ goal seasons. Krejci, if healthy, is as reliable (in terms of production) as they come.
But what about the rest?
For the Bruins to have success, they’re going to need guys not named Bergeron, Marchand and Krejci to improve on last year’s numbers. Matt Beleskey had a good start as a Bruin, but will need to find the back of the net more. Pastrnak should make strides this year and crack the 20 goal mark.
Two key players: David Backes and Ryan Spooner.
Backes, fair or unfair, will have to replace Loui Eriksson’s production. If he can find a bit of rejuvenation as a Bruin and break 25 goals, the Bruins should be in good shape. If he continues to regress, they’ll be in trouble.
However, perhaps no player is more pivotal than Spooner. He made great strides last season, showing a great commitment to improving his game on both ends of the ice. When he’s “on”, his speed and vision are a deadly combination.
The Bruins know what they have in Bergeron and Krejci. They should spend the early part of the season tinkering with Spooner’s wings (no, Backes shouldn’t replace him as 3C) and ensuring that he’s in the best position possible to utilize his strengths.
3) Can the bottom-6 contribute regularly?
As discussed above, you can pretty much set your watch to more 60-70 point seasons from Bergeron, Krejci and Marchand.
The bottom-6 is where things get interesting.
It seems like Spooner (or Backes) will be tasked with centering that third line. Who slots in on either side depends on who earns a spot on the top line’s wing and who Claude Julien decides to put with Krejci.
Marchand - Bergeron - WING X
Beleskey - Krejci - Pastrnak
Who fills in on that first line wing will be key. It was presumed that Frank Vatrano would get a shot, but he’s out injured. Jimmy Hayes could be slotted in there, as could Backes if they switch him to wing, or Danton Heinen if he makes the team.
However, the bottom-6 has names like Spooner, Hayes, Backes, Austin Czarnik, Heinen, Dominic Moore and Riley Nash to throw around.
The B’s will need to decide a direction for their fourth line: specialized PK-type guys, or a young, dynamic-but-risky unit?
The Bruins have a wealth of options when it comes to choosing their bottom-6 lines, but one thing is clear: this mish-mash group of forwards will need to contribute regularly for the Bruins to have a shot at success.