The Boston Bruins’ 2016-17 opening roster was submitted to the league on Tuesday, but multiple injuries have made it a fluid document with the team’s first regular-season contest approaching Thursday in Columbus.
Boston initially placed blueliners Kevan Miller (fractured left hand, out six weeks) and Adam McQuaid (upper body, day-to-day) on Injured Reserve, in addition to winger Frank Vatrano (foot surgery, out three months). McQuaid will miss at least three games with the league’s mandated seven-day stay on IR.
The team then announced on Wednesday that top-line center Patrice Bergeron will be a scratch for at least the season’s first game with a lower body injury. Tim Schaller, a 25-year-old Providence College product, was recalled for roster insurance. Schaller signed a two-way deal with Boston in July after starting his career in the Buffalo organization.
For now, the teams’ 13 forwards are: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner, David Krejci, David Backes, Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Dominic Moore, Riley Nash, Danton Heinen, Noel Acciari, and Schaller.
The seven healthy defensemen that begin the season with the big club are: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, John-Michael Liles, Colin Miller, Brandon Carlo, Joe Morrow and Rob O’Gara.
Based on recent action, projected line combinations when Bergeron is healthy could be:
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Ryan Spooner – David Krejci – David Backes
Matt Beleskey – Austin Czarnik – Jimmy Hayes
Danton Heinen – Dominic Moore – Riley Nash / Noel Acciari
Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo
Torey Krug – Rob O’Gara
John-Michael Liles – Colin Miller
7th: Joe Morrow
For Thursday’s contest, Backes may revert back to his natural center spot to fill for Bergeron, with Wednesday practice indicating Heinen may get a look at wing on the Krejci line.
The forward unit features seven players (Bergeron, Krejci, Backes, Spooner, Moore, Nash and Czarnik) in all that have played mostly center during their careers, a collection GM Don Sweeney described as a fortunate one.
“We look at it as a real positive for our hockey club,” said Sweeney. “Versatility that centers have to be able to go to the wing. Team Canada had 10 of their 12 players that were centers. Their ability to play down low, take draws on both sides — lefties, righties, depending on the situation; as a defenseman there’s really nothing better than knowing a center is their support-wise presenting for a pass. So we feel really good that our players are versatile enough to go to the wall, or if we have situations that call for it move back to the center of the ice.”
Top-line pivot Patrice Bergeron and his left wing Brad Marchand enter the season off the momentum of helping Team Canada win a World Cup of Hockey title, in addition to Marchand inking an eight year, $49 million deal. Marchand also comes off a season with a career best 37-goals, good for sixth most in the league.
“I’m feeling pretty good, things went well at the World Cup,” said Marchand. “It can hang over your head if you go into the season without a [contract], but now it’s all about playing a team game. It’s been a good start to the season already, but it’s time to put that behind us and look forward to having a big year here.
Marquee signee David Backes brings 727 games of NHL experience to the roster, not to mention 20-plus goals in each of his last five non-lockout seasons. The 32-year-old sheds the pressure of wearing the captain’s ‘C’ that he has in St. Louis, while adding the willingness to move between center and wing. “All the guys in this room have welcomed me with open arms,” Backes said. “You see why these guys have won in the past with all the character guys leftover from their Cup-winning team. That really translates into the play on the ice.”
David Pastrnak has reached his 20’s in age, and is hoping to follow suit in the goal department as he is getting first dibs at top-line wing with Bergeron and Marchand. This comes after compiling 15 last year over 51-games while dealing with multiple injuries over the course of the season.
Ryan Spooner, 24, is coming off his first full season in the NHL, finishing with 13 goals and 36 helpers over 80-games last season playing primarily at center between Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes. He begins this year at left wing, however, instead of that normal middle position.
“I felt a little bit better [Saturday],” Spooner said. “I watched some tape and found against Montreal [last Tuesday] I was lost in my own end a little bit. Felt like I was drifting to the middle of the ice. [But] it’s going to take some time.”
Joining Pastrnak and Spooner among the young guns, 23-year-old Austin Czarnik has cleared concussion testing after a hit Saturday, and appears to be back in the lineup in Spooner’s old position between Beleskey and Hayes.
“I think he’s a real smart player. I think he’s a headsy player. He’s got great hockey sense, great hockey vision,” Julien said. “He’s definitely a player who’s had a great camp, certainly opened a lot of eyes.” Last year in Providence, the 5-foot-9 Czarnik was third on the club in points with 61 (20 goals), and brings a playmaker’s skillset.
The physical Beleskey put in 15 pucks for goals last year over 80 games, while 26-year-old Dorchester native Hayes buried 13.
Joining the club in his first year out of college is the 21-year-old Heinen, a third-round pick of the Bruins in 2013. Heinen played two seasons at Denver University, leading his team in scoring last year with 48 points in 41 games.
“Every once in a while you look around and see all these great players and you do pinch yourself,” said Heinen. “But you’ve also got to stay focused, stay locked in and realize you’re here for a reason. I’m going to work as hard as I can and try to play the system as well as I can. I’ve been used to [thinking] offense a lot but to play in this league you’ve got to play all over the ice, that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Finally, offseason additions Riley Nash and Dominic Moore fill out the new-look ‘Merlot’ line with 24-year-old Noel Acciari in the mix for ice time at wing. “We try to be tough to play against,” said Acciari. “From practice we’ve showed some good chemistry already, and I think it’ll carry over to the games. [Moore] is a good guy, very helpful, talkative and great to have around.”
Earlier in the week, the Bruins had placed forwards Seth Griffith and Tyler Randell on waivers, with Randell clearing while Griffith was claimed by Toronto on Tuesday. The 23-year-old Griffith was second in the AHL in points (77) last season while earning two separate two-game call-ups.
Randell, 25, played in 27 games for the team in 2015-16 while not dressing for 51 others (due to coach’s decision).
Captain Zdeno Chara is back for his 11th season with the Bruins, again as the team’s captain at age 39 and coming off action in the World Cup as well on Team Europe. “I didn’t take the World Cup as a preparation for this season, because it was such a big stage everybody was ready for that. High stakes, high quality tournament.” Chara played 80 NHL games a year ago despite the 1,200-plus NHL games that have taken their toll on his body.
Chara looks to be paired early with Carlo, a 6’5”, fourth-round pick of Boston’s from 2015. The 19-year-old Carlo played seven games with AHL Providence last year after wrapping up his third season of junior hockey in Tri-City of the WHL.
“Pretty cool to look across the faceoff dot and see guys that you watch on TV when you’re not in this league,” Carlo said after playing in Saturday’s exhibition finale’ against Philadelphia. “I’ve been more confident in myself that I can play in this league, felt like I got better at puck-moving this camp. The leadership in the room has helped me, so that’s been great.”
Veteran defensemen Christian Ehrhoff decided to return to Germany after three exhibition games with the Bruins on a Pro Tryout Agreement, apparently unconvinced that he would be part of Boston’s top-six defense grouping.
Ehrhoff’s departure, coupled with the injuries to Kevan Miller and McQuaid, ensured that rookies Carlo and Rob O’Gara made the squad.
O’Gara is in his first full professional season after finishing his fourth year with Yale University. The 23-year-old O’Gara was a fifth-round pick of Boston’s in 2011 and earned two All-American nods at Yale while twice being named ECAC Defenseman of the Year.
Torey Krug, 25, and John-Michael Liles, 35, both re-upped with the Bruins in the offseason and may be counted on to groom young defensive partners like O’Gara this year. “I was a young guy at one point,” said Liles. “I had older players who walked me through certain situations and helped me both on and off the ice. Now I’m one of those older guys, hopefully I can pass on a little feedback.”
Colin Miller, 23, figures to get extended playing time with Kevan Miller on the shelf, getting a chance to build on his 42-games of action last year in the NHL. “The comfort is a little bit better,” Miller said. “Last year I learned a lot. Definitely want to play with pace.”
Tuukka Rask starts his 10th year in a Bruins’ sweater, coming off a 31-22-8 campaign in 2015-16 with a 2.56 GAA and a .915 save percentage. “Just trying to stay even-keel, patient,” said Rask of his season-opening mentality. “You want to be solid and just go out there and play. You play the best games when you’re not thinking.”
Rask’s backup in net will be 30-year-old Anton Khudobin, who signed a two-year, $2.4 million deal in July to return to Boston as a free agent. Khudobin started 15 games for the Bruins over two seasons from 2012 through 2013 before departing for Caroilna. After being traded to Anaheim in the summer of 2015, Khudobin played in nine games with the Ducks while spending the majority of last year in in the AHL, compiling a 19-8-3 record with a 2.46 GAA and a .921 save percentage.
“We have a great relationship,” Rask said of Khudobin. “He was here a few years ago before he went on a traveling spree. Happy to have him back, he’s a great team guy and great goalie. He’s Russian, so that says it all; almost as odd as a Finnish goalie.”
Goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban, the team’s 2012 first-round draft pick, will again begin the year in Providence where he’s spent the majority of the past three seasons. Subban last season had to recover from a fractured larynx after being in the throat by a puck in early February.