September 10, 2013

From NEHJ: Bruins 2013-14 outlook by position

By Jesse Connolly

Here's a position-by-position look at what to expect from the Bruins during the upcoming campaign:

GOALTENDERS

After backstopping the Black and Gold to the Stanley Cup Final in his first year as the team’s No. 1 netminder, Tuukka Rask will now embark on his first full 82-game slate as Boston’s go-to goalie. Expectations will be high. After a great regular season and a Tim Thomas-like showing in the playoffs, Rask (right) was rewarded with an eight-year, $56 million deal that makes him the highest paid goalie in the NHL. He’ll have to deal with the pressure that comes along with that while showing he can play at a high level and remain injury-free over the course of a legitimate full season.

The battle for the backup spot will come down to Chad Johnson and Niklas Svedberg. Johnson, 27, was with the AHL’s Portland Pirates last year after three seasons in the Rangers organization. He was impressive when called up by the Coyotes, going 2-0-2 with a 1.21 goals-against average in four appearances. Svedberg took home the Baz Bastien Award as the best goalie in the American Hockey League in 2012-13, which was his first season with Providence. The 23-year-old Swede went 37-8-2 in his first year of North American hockey, leading the P-Bruins to the best record in the AHL.

The odd man out likely will get the lion’s share of starts in Providence, with Malcolm Subban presumably serving as the No. 2. Subban went 29-11-4 with a .934 save percentage in 2012-13 for the OHL’s Belleville Bulls. Adam Morrison is the only other goaltender on the books. He’ll likely begin the year with the Bruins’ ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays.

DEFENSE

Strong team defense has been Claude Julien’s bread and butter since arriving in 2007, but his oft-reliable, dynamic duo of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg ended Boston’s 2013 playoff run on a sour note, as the two — hampered by their share of injuries — got lit up by Chicago’s slew of sensational scorers. Healed and refreshed, the two D-men will look to quickly put those memories behind them, but they’ll likely be doing so on separate pairings.

Expect Julien to bump playoff stud Johnny Boychuk back up with the 6-foot-9 captain, while Seidenberg will return to his familiar No. 3 spot in the lineup on the second pairing. Who will flank him remains to be seen, but odds are high it’ll be wunderkind-turned-playoff-spectator Dougie Hamilton (right), who looks to dodge the dreaded sophomore slump after a promising rookie campaign.

The oft-underrated Adam McQuaid will anchor the bottom pairing, with one of Matt Bartkowski or Torey Krug manning the left side. Beyond the top seven, the Bruins don’t have a lot of defenders you’d refer to as “definitely NHL ready.” Given that, it’d be hard to imagine anyone from the big club getting dealt until at least a prospect or two certifies their worthiness down on the farm.

FORWARDS

While the two new big-name forwards, Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson, deserve their fair share of attention — be sure to check out the main feature accompanying this piece — the real intrigue going into camp is how the bottom six will shake out. There are countless configurations that could come to fruition.

The near-certain locks seem to be, at present, Chris Kelly centering the third line, Greg Campbell centering the fourth and Shawn Thornton flanking him on the right side. Julien could keep the Merlot Line together, but Dan Paille’s definitely earned consideration for the third-line left wing spot, especially after scoring 10 goals in 46 games with limited ice time in 2013.

With Paille guaranteed one spot or the other, that leaves Carl Soderberg (right), fourth-year pro Jordan Caron, former Stars farmhands Matt Fraser and Reilly Smith, and B’s draftee Ryan Spooner as the top candidates to fill the remaining two vacancies. Soderberg, who more than held in his own when called upon in the finals, Smith and Fraser, a 22-year-old who scored 33 goals in 62 AHL games last year, should be in the lead to earn roster spots.

KEEP AN EYE ON

After a season almost entirely wiped out by a torn hamstring, Jared Knight (right) will look to make an impact in his second season of pro hockey down in Providence. The hard-nosed former London Knights forward possesses a great balance of skill and grit that, on paper, make him look like a player perfectly suited to be a Bruin. If he can bounce back after a lost rookie season and stay healthy, the former 32nd overall pick will, at the very least, work his way up the list of potential call-ups.

Following a brief, unsuccessful voyage to the KHL, Alex Khokhlachev returned to dominate the Ontario Hockey League before making the jump to Providence. Unfortunately, his showing left something to be desired. “Koko” managed just two goals in 11 games and was one of the odd men out come playoff time, appearing in zero postseason tilts for Bruce Cassidy’s squad. The Russian winger has a wealth of raw talent. Now with some pro experience on both sides of the pond under his belt, expect him to make major strides in 2013-14.

Flashy has never been Tommy Cross’ style, but luckily that’s not a prerequisite when it comes to making the leap to the NHL. After beginning the year with a solid showing down in the ECHL, the Simsbury, Conn., native was promoted to Providence. There, he notched 11 points but, more impressively, led the entire team with a plus-15 rating in 42 games. If he can repeat that success this coming season, don’t be surprised if the former Boston College captain is called up to the big club if the Bruins are in need of a steady defender who can jump into the lineup and eat minutes.

Photos: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal (Knight); Getty Images (Rask, Hamilton, Soderberg)

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com