With another round of cuts in the books, here’s a (still somewhat early) roster projection for the Bruins:
Forwards (13): Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Ryan Spooner, Chris Kelly, Brad Marchand, Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Zac Rinaldo, Loui Eriksson, David Pastrnak, Brett Connolly, Max Talbot, Joonas Kemppainen
Boston’s top nine forwards (in no particular order/alignment) are already locked in. It’s the fourth line and 13th forward where things get tricky.
A line of Chris Kelly between Zac Rinaldo and Max Talbot could potentially be infuriating to play against (Kelly gets under his opponents’ skin enough to draw a good number of undisciplined penalties, Talbot is a pest and Rinaldo is Rinaldo), but it would lack skill. The B’s could try Alexander Khokhlachev on the fourth line to remedy that, but that likely wouldn’t happen unless the B’s were to trade Kelly, who is due $3 million against the cap.
Given what a tough time veteran forwards had finding jobs this summer, the guess is the Bruins would have difficulty trading the 34-year-old center this time of year even if they wanted to.
As such, assume for now that Kelly isn’t going anywhere and that Khokhlachev is the odd man out. Kelly and Talbot provide upgrades over Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, so the B’s should hope to ice a better fourth line than they had last season.
Pushing for a job, however, is Kemppainen, a defensive forward who comes to the NHL as a 27-year-old after years in Finland. To this point, Kemppainen has been put on lines this preseason with Rinaldo and Talbot more than Kelly has. That could simply be because the Bruins feel they already know what they have in Kelly, though giving him some reps with Rinaldo couldn’t hurt.
Early guess at lines:
Defensemen (8): Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Zach Trotman, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Matt Irwin, Joe Morrow, Colin Miller
Injured reserve: Dennis Seidenberg
The Bruins came into camp with nine NHL-caliber defensemen. With at least one of them hurt, it should be a no-brainer to just keep the other eight. The Bruins have not carried eight defensemen often in recent years, but it makes sense to here. Because the Bruins would likely lose him to waivers if they tried sending him to Providence, Joe Morrow pretty much has to make the team. Depending on the opponent, the more offensive Colin Miller can sub in for Kevan Miller or Zach Trotman on any given night.
Assuming Chara is healthy to begin the season — an optimistic assumption given that “day-to-day” really doesn’t mean anything anymore — keeping these eight would mean the Bruins would have four left-shot defensemen and four righties. Seidenberg’s injury could be something of a blessing in disguise, as the Bruins could give guys like Morrow, Irwin, Kevan Miller and Colin Miller the chance to separate themselves from the pack and become a fulltime blueliner for the B’s going forward.
As the Bruins await further word on Chara (he’ll be re-evaluated Monday after being given the weekend off), Krug and McQuaid should be attached at the hip. Worst-case scenario, they’ll face a major challenge of being a top pair, yet they should stay together as Boston’s second pair even if Chara is healthy.
Early guess at pairings:
Morrow/Irwin-C. Miller/K. Miller
Goalies (2): Tuukka Rask, Jeremy Smith
The Bruins sent Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre to Providence on Sunday, leaving Rask, Jonas Gustavsson and Smith as the only goaltenders remaining in camp for the B’s. The Bruins can always bring Subban and/or McIntyre back up during camp (as they did last fall with Spooner), but the assumption here has been that Smith would be the guy all along.
The 26-year-old Smith has taken a common path for recent Bruins backups: He started elsewhere (a second-round pick of the Predators in 2007), took a while to develop before becoming a solid AHL goalie. That worked for the Bruins with Anton Khudobin and Chad Johnson; it did not with with Niklas Svedberg. Still, Smith was strong enough last season (.933 save percentage in Providence) to deserve a crack at the backup gig.