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What happens to the Bruins' lines when David Pastrnak returns?

It’s a good problem to have.

Carolina Hurricanes v Boston Bruins - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

There is absolutely no question that David Pastrnak returning to the Bruins lineup, possibly as soon as this weekend, is great news for the Boston Bruins.

In his short career, Pastrnak has become one of the most dynamic and gifted scorers in the NHL, and his return to the Bruins will undoubtedly bolster the offense both at 5v5 and on the power play.

But the addition of Pastrnak will have a ripple effect on the rest of the lineup, and a player who has been a regular to this point is going to have to sit out.

In particular, the wings on the forward lines will have to change to make room for Pastrnak on the the first line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, as Bruce Cassidy has already emphatically stated that he’s not messing around with a new first line.

So who sits?

We know that at this point, Marchand, Craig Smith, Nick Ritchie, and Jake DeBrusk (if healthy) are wings who are locks to remain in the lineup for the time being, which leaves four real candidates for the press box when Pastrnak returns: Anders Bjork, Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, and Chris Wagner.

Let’s start with the name that you may be surprised to see on this list: Chris Wagner.

Wagner has been a regular in the Bruins’ lineup on the fourth line ever since signing with the Bruins, and for good reason: his first year in Boston blew everyone’s expectations for him out of the water, and even though year two saw a sharp decrease in offensive numbers (as well his possession metrics), Wagner was still mostly effective as a fourth liner.

In the first six games of the season, we are seeing more of the same from Chris Wagner, which is fine. But the reason Wagner is on this list isn’t because of his play: it’s because of the play of Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka.

Both have been far more impactful than Wagner on the offensive side of the game, and Frederic has brought a similar physical game to that of Wagner.

Luckily for Wagner, Anders Bjork has once again found himself in Bruce Cassidy’s doghouse, a place where (sadly) Bjork belongs for his early performance this season.

In his six games this season, Bjork has just one shot on goal to go with 4 penalty minutes and -1 rating.

Bjork has consistently been a mystery to Bruins fans, as he seems to have all the skills necessary to thrive in the NHL, but seems to struggle to put it together once he’s on the ice.

Given his lack of positive impacts on games thus far this season, it wouldn’t be hard to see Bjork end up out of the lineup when Pastrnak returns.

However, it’s also important to note that who sits for Boston could also depend on whether or not Frederic and Studnicka have earned the trust of Bruce Cassidy and his staff yet.

We’ve seen this happen in the past when guys like Par Lindholm inexplicably take the spots of younger guys, simply because of Cassidy’s trust in veteran players.

There’s also the question of whether of not it serves Studnicka well to play a fourth-line role on this team, which may be the likeliest landing spot for him when Pastrnak returns.

Studnicka has at times seemed a little weak on the puck, and his three hits in six games this year certainly don’t fit the typical crash-and-bang role of a fourth-line grinder.

And while Frederic has a game that is very suitable for a bottom-six role, he also seems to be gelling with his linemates on the third line, making it a tough call to pull him from that spot.

So...what happens to Boston’s forwards then?

We’ll leave the first line out of this, because we know that’s staying as is.

Next, we’ll assume that DeBrusk, who played his best hockey of the year so far next to Bergeron and Marchand, is healthy and will slot back in next to David Krejci on the second line.

Finally, it’s highly likely that Smith will continue to pair up with Charlie Coyle on the third line, as Cassidy seems intent on building chemistry between the two.

But after that, things get a little murky.

Case in point: what do the Bruins do with Nick Ritchie, one of their team’s biggest surprises to date?

Ritchie, who started playing with Coyle and Smith, has played with Krejci over the past two games, and seems to be a good fit there for the time being.

Then there’s Studnicka, who has also been playing beside Krejci.

If DeBrusk comes back and takes his regular spot and Ritchie stays with Krejci, where does Studnicka go?

Do the Bruins want to break up a third line with Frederic, one that seems to be getting better and better, just to keep their top prospect in the lineup?

As mentioned above, Cassidy could also move Studnicka to the fourth line, but that doesn’t seem like the best fit for him.

Finally, there’s Bjork, who’s done very little to show that he belongs in the lineup, but is probably more suited for the fourth-line role than Studnicka.

If DeBrusk is healthy enough to play when Pastrnak returns...

...the Bruins lines (in my opinion) should look like this:

Marchand - Bergeron - Pastrnak

Ritchie - Krejci - DeBrusk (One guy has to play on his off wing here, so pick who)

Frederic - Coyle - Smith

Wagner - Kuraly - Bjork

While Studnicka has shown flashes of what made him a first round pick, it’s hard to see Cassidy sending him out with Wagner and Kuraly. Instead to maximize his talents, he needs to be played with othr offensive-minded players.

If DeBrusk is still out when Pastrnak returns... takes some of the mystery away and you can expect the Bruins’ lines to look like this:

Marchand - Bergeron - Pastrnak

Ritchie - Krejci - Studnicka

Frederic - Coyle - Smith

Wagner - Kuraly - Bjork

There’s a good chance that many people reading this article really don’t care who stays and who sits, because, well...DAVID PASTRNAK IS BACK, BABY!

Still, there are lineup decisions to make, so: who do you think deserves to sit and what do the Bruins’ lines look like when Pastrnak is back?

(Also worth considering: we get to do all of this again whenever Ondrej Kase is ready to play again!)