Boston Bruins Season Preview

Boston Bruins Season Preview

The Bruins are stacked with offense yet questions remain about whether their defense and goaltending can hold up. The Joe Thornton led offense should maintain their goal production from last year. If Berard returns, goal production could possibly even lead the league. The Bruins defense will be led by young Nick Boynton as he continues his rise to prominence. The goaltending duo of Potvin and Raycroft could prove to be a formidable shot-stopping duo or they could collapse and have the Bruins fighting for 8th spot.Boston Bruins Season Preview

Offense

The Bruins’ offense is the strongest part of their team but this year there are a few serious question marks. As of this writing, not even coach Sullivan can tell us anything about the Bruins’ lines except that Thornton and Murray will be together.

The Top Six

The Bruin’s first line is arguably the strongest in league with Thornton at centre, Murray at right wing, and Samsonov or Knuble at left wing. Ideally, Joe Thornton will build on his 101-point season and continue to challenge for the Art Ross/Hart. Murray’s play over the last two seasons has proven he is no flash in the pan. Expect around 40 goals from Murray. . Samsonov is a lock for 65+ points. Knuble will start the year on the right wing of the second line at least until Lapointe comes back. He should get 40-50 points. Rolston’s position for the first ten games or so depends on whether Ivan Huml sticks with the big club and whether O’Connell signs Patrice Bergeron.

Rolston will put up 60 points no matter where he plays because of the time he gets on special teams. I’m concerned about Rolston as a 2nd line centre. He is a natural winger as he really isn’t much of a playmaker. If Rolston can’t cut it as the second line centre and Bergeron doesn’t step up, the Bruins will need to get creative. Bergeron is an 18 year old centre straight out of the draft. He has had an exceptional pre-season and will get a shot with the big club. GM Mike O’Connell has publicly stated that he is optimistic that Bergeron will get signed in time and will play with the Bruins. He will probably get a cup of NHL coffee and then get returned to his junior club unless he does something special.

Since Green and Stock are the 3rd and 4th line centres, Bergeron would play as the 2nd line centre sending Rolston to his natural position, left wing. Huml can play on the left wing or the right wing so we could see him on the second line but realistically, he could be a victim of the numbers game and sent back to Providence. If neither Huml or Bergeron stick with the B’s, Lapointe will be the 2nd line right winger when he comes back and Knuble will shift back to the left side wth Rolston returning to the middle. Lapointe should put up 40+ points if he returns quickly and doesn’t run into injury problems during the year.

Wild Cards:Rolston as a 2nd line centre. The success of Bergeron and Huml. Thornton’s vulnerability to infections (i.e. staph infection).

Watch for: Joe Thornton to continue to dominate the league and Samsonov to rebound from a lost season.

Verdict: A

The Other Six

The Bruins third line should be quite solid with a good mix of physical play, speed, and defensive respnsibility. P.J Axelsson has prven to be a relaibale third liner who is an excellent skater and defensively responsible. He also demonstrated a bit of offensive flair last year, potting a career-high 17 goals. Look for 35 pts and 15 goals from Axelsson. Travis Green is a great pickup as he gives the Bruins a real “checking line” centre who can win faceoffs, kill penalties, and chip in some timely offence. Its hard to predict what Green will put up because of his inconsistency but he should be able to get 30-40 points with enough playing time. Martin Lapointe will continue to contribute via his bruising physical play and two-way game.

Lapointe will miss the first 4-5 games of the season recovering from arthoscopic knee surgery but he should be able to rack up 40+ points with some huge goals along the way. Martin Samuelsson or Sandy McCarthy will fill in for Lapointe in the first few games.

The Bruins fourth line is pretty standard. P.J. Stock will act as a mini-goon at cente. Rob Zamuner will continue to provide physical play and good defense. He should get some good time on the penalty kill. Zamuner has suffered a nasty hamstring strain and it isn’t known how long he will be out. Ted Donato and Michael Grosek will fill in for Zamuner and battle for playing time throughout the season as injuries occur. We might even see Huml on the 4th line if he can’t make the top six yet manages to stick with the team. His production is completely dependant on where and how much he plays. The Bruins have fantastic 4th line depth.

Wild Card: Extent of Zamuner’s injury

Watch for: The fourth line to have at least five different people playing on it throughout the year

Verdict: B

Defense

The Bruins defense is in good shape since they managed to sign Boynton. The Bruins have a solid if unspectacular top-4 but there are a few questions about their 5th and 6th spots. Boynton and Gill wil continue to be a strong pair. Boynton should be able to boost his offensive totals while keeping up his strong physical and defensive game. Expect 30+ points and 25 minutes a night from him. Hall Gill will continue to be a crease clearing, body checking monster who will log a lot of ice time and be counted on in defensive situations. Gill can’t be counted on for any more than 10-20 points but should log 22+ minutes and lead the team in +/-. Dan McGillis and Sean O’Donnell will be strong and well rounded pairing that provides some offense and intimidates fowards entering the Bruins’ zone. McGillis should get some powerplay time just don’t expect him to lead the team in scoring scoring like he did in the playoffs.

Pencil McGillis in for 20+ points and O’Donnell in for 20+ points. These two just need to stay out of the penalty box and they will be a very effective pairing. The 3rd pairing will most likely be Ian Moran and Jeff Jillson. Ian Moran is only here because of Girard’s injury and the loss of Berard. He should play 12-15 minutes a game and move the puck well. Jeff Jillson has a golden opportunity to establish himself as a NHL regular and with the loss of Berard and Girard, Jillson could get a bunch of powerplay time. Jillson should play 15+ minutes and could rack up 25+ points if he plays well, Jillson and Moran will have Milan Jurcina and Shaone Morrison breathing down their necks.

Wild Card: Nick Boynton’s offensive abilities and Jeff Jillson’s development

Watch for: Berard to possibly re-sign with the Bruins as powerplay struggles.

Verdict: B

The Keepers of the Crease

Despite a shaky start in the pre-season, Felix Potvin and Andrew Raycroft finished strong and have have emerged as Boston’s netminders. Obviously this isn’t one of the NHL’s elite goaltending tandoms but if Potvin can rebound from an off year and Raycroft can continue his succuss with Providence, the Bruins should have a solid, average duo. However, since those are big ifs, the Boston Bruins goaltending is below average.

In any case, things will be better here than last year. Potvin is capable of playing 70 games if he remains injury free. He has great reflexes but as he is now past 30, we have to wonder when his “cat” like reflexes will start failing him. Andrew Raycroft has been the up and coming goalie in the Bruins and has played very well in his limited NHL action. He bulked up this summer to adress concerns about his strength and he still has ice water running through his veins. Raycroft will have to play well this year as he will have Hannu Toivonen breathing down his neck. Look at it this way, Potvin is better than Hackett and Shields. Potvin should play 60+ games and Raycroft should play 20+ games.

Wild Card: Everything

Watch for: Raycroft becoming a solid NHL goalie

Verdict: B/C- (depends on which Felix Potvin we get)

A View from the Bench

This year is Mike Sullivan’s first year as an NHL head coach. Sullivan wasn’t seen by experts as a great up and coming coach like Peter Laviolette was when he was in the Bruins system. Sullivan is the Bruins fifth coach in three seasons and is also the NHL’s youngest head coach. Mike O’Connell will be in the hot seat if Sullivan doesn’t prove that there was no need for teh Bruins to go out and get a veteran head coach. We will have to wait and see to tell if Sullivan will be a Bryan Trottier or a Mike Babcock.

Rookies to watch for: Patrice Bergeron, Ivan Huml(kind of), and Jeff Jillson(kind of). Bergeron is the only true rookie here but all three are prospects. Bergeron, 18, is an offensive playmaking centre out of the QMJHL who was drafted 44th overall in the second round of the 2003. He has had a great camp and will get a cup of NHL coffee if O’Connell can get him signed.

The odds of him actually sticking with the team for the whole season are low but he should get a chane to play on a scoring line for a bit. Ivan Huml, 22, has had a less than impressive camp but he will still get a shot to stick with the big club. Last year Huml started off hot but hit the rookie wall quickly and got sent back to Providence after tallying 17 points in 41 games. Because of the injuries to Lapointe and Zamuner, Huml will get a good chance to play this season. Huml can play both wings but he was been playing on the left wing throughout camp. He is a risky pick for fantasy hockey. Jeff Jillson, 23, played 48 NHL games in 2001-2002 but could only make the Sharks for 26 games last season. Jillson should get signifigant power play time as the Bruins lack a true power play quarterback since Berard and Girard are not with the team. Now is the time for Jillson to have a breakout season and make the Bruins forget about Kyle McLaren.

Playoffs: The Bruins will make the playoffs but they could find themselves in a tight race if Potvin falters and Raycroft can’t take over. If Potvin has a good season the Bruins could finish 4th or 5th. If the goaltending duo of Potvin and Raycroft fails, the Bruins will end up in 7th or 8th. Joe Thornton will not allow this team