(Editor’s note: This post was written prior to the 10/3 game against New Jersey.)
The calendar has finally flipped to October, meaning the NHL regular season is now just days away. The Boston Bruins are looking to finish their preseason on a high note as they enter uncertainty at the start of the campaign.
With a new coach, several key players out injured, and a second-year starting goaltender still developing, the first month of the season will surely answer some questions. But as new skipper Jim Montgomery faces the task of constructing a roster that can contend from the jump. This presents a major opportunity for many of Boston’s fringe players and prospects to earn a coveted NHL roster spot.
Who has made the best case so far? Aside from one or two bubble players, a couple top prospects seem to be in position to start the season with Boston.
In Boston’s preseason opener at Philadelphia, 2019 first-round pick John Beecher was cast for a big role. Winning 58 percent of his faceoffs and featuring heavily on the power play, Beecher couldn’t quite get going offensively. In his second matchup with the Flyers, however, the former Michigan Wolverine gave plenty of reason to be excited about his development.
Beecher netted a pair of goals and was a plus-2 for the game in 14:11 of ice time. Deputized to both the power play and penalty kill, the 21-year-old netted a shorthanded goal late in the game to ice a 4-0 victory for Boston. The shorty was an empty-netter, but Beecher showed his explosive speed to win a race for a loose puck in the neutral zone before sliding a shot under pressure into the vacant cage. With no previous NHL experience, Beecher is still playing with a lot of poise that could help in earn a final roster spot.
This time last year, many in Bruins circles wouldn’t have even mentioned the possibility of signing Billerica, Mass. native Marc McLaughlin. The undrafted forward out of Boston College had a slow, disjointed start to college hockey before eventually closing his four-year career with 32 points (21g, 11a) in 33 games along with a selection to the 2022 United States Olympic Team.
Upon signing a two-year entry-level deal with Boston, McLaughlin appeared in 11 games for the big club and scored three goals — a fairly successful audition. This preseason, the 23-year-old has picked up where he left off, tallying two goals in Boston’s 4-0 win over Philadelphia on October 1 and an assist in an overtime win over the New York Rangers on September 27. Given he already has his feet wet at the NHL level, it might behoove Boston to give the two-way forward another shot.
This is a narrative we’ve been writing for three years now. Will Jack Studnicka finally become an everyday NHL player? This may be his final chance. At 23-years-old, Studnicka seems to have finally found himself as a player and that has translated on the ice throughout the preseason.
Studnicka had two assists in a victory over the Rangers and was one of the team’s top offensive players in the preseason opener at Philadelphia. In 37 prior NHL contests, Studnicka has managed just one goal and six assists, though it appears he has become more comfortable over the past season in the Bruins’ system. Given his experience, it would seem like a no-brainer to start him up in Boston this season.
A big part of battling for a bottom-six forward spot in the NHL is contributing on special teams. For Oskar Steen, in just over 30 minutes of ice time so far in preseason play, 5:57 of that has been on the power play and another almost four minutes on the penalty kill. His shining moment was a game-tying shorthanded goal in a 3-2 overtime victory against the Rangers.
Despite playing in just 23 games for Boston over two seasons, Steen has two goals and four assists and has consistently been a two-way player in his limited NHL tenure. At 24-years-old, slightly older than some of Boston’s more promising prospects, Steen may finally have bridged the gap to the NHL level and should start the year with the big club.
A real outlier, Greer is not a Bruins’ prospect and will turn 26 in December. A product of Boston University and a former standout at Kimball Union Academy, Greer was selected in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft by Colorado. Over six season, the forward has played in just 47 NHL games between the Avalanche and New Jersey Devils while putting up big numbers in AHL play.
Greer netted two goals in Boston’s overtime win over the Rangers and showed his physicality with three hits and a fighting major in the preseason opener. His experience, combined with his physical nature and flashes of silkiness offensively could give him an edge over some of the younger players at making the opening night roster.