As the inaugural BEARD Hockey league was starting to take shape, the Boston Bruins took a little longer to find the right person to build and shape their club.
The Bruins have a long and storied history of being a competitive team and the hunt was on to find that person that could continue that tradition. The Bruins ownership was able to sway Tye Graczyk to come out of retirement to take on that task of building a solid and competitive team that can win now and for the next few years.
With the roster pretty much set going into the inaugural season of BEARD Hockey, ownership is confident they made the right decision on who is running the team. Graczyk has built a team that looks like it should hold its own offensively against any team in the league.
The roster, as a whole, is in their prime or on the cusp of hitting their prime with only one notable UFA to be on the roster (Mike Hoffman). There was concern in the media about how a team shaped by a GM that had been out of hockey for 7+ years would shape up against this solid group of GM's that BEARD Hockey has put together.
But when Graczyk was asked about it, he scoffed at the notion.
"Sure, there's more analytics being used now, a few more numbers used from when I was previously running a team," said Graczyk. "But, hockey boils down to a simple game. You want to put the puck in the net and keep the puck out of your own. All we care about is at the end of the game we've scored more than the other team."
"We feel with this roster that our players are more than capable of doing that. Not only this year but, the next few years as well."
Forwards Projected Lines:
Tanner Pearson - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Travis Konecny - Dylan Strome - Mike Hoffman
Alex Iafallo - Travis Zajac - Jordan Greenway
Austin Watson - Colton Sissons - Ryan Hartman
The forward group is where Graczyk is most confident about his team. He took forwards with his first three picks of the draft, led by former teammates Stamkos and Kucherov to anchor the top line and the top power play unit. Konecny was taken in the third round and gives coach Todd Reirden the option of loading up for an enviable top line or going for a more balanced attack playing alongside Strome and Hoffman.
There is concern about the second line being a little too attack-oriented. But with the depth the Bruins have up front, there are many possible line combinations. With Pearson providing grit on the #1 line and Strome being the big bodied centre on the second line, there should be enough size and strength to add that dynamic to the smaller skilled players.
The third line is anchored by Zajac between the smaller, skilled Iafallo and behemoth Greenway. Each player is able to chip in with some offensive contributions while being solid in their own end. The fourth line, again, looks solid in their own end while having enough talent to be able to chip in the odd goal. They should be able to give the team a morale boost when they hit the ice as Watson is not afraid to drop the gloves.
The Bruins look like they won't have any issues scoring goals this year and, when a slump hits, have the talent to make line changes as needed. Expect to see Reirden use four forwards for at least one power play unit.
Defense Projected Pairings:
Jonas Brodin - TJ Brodie
Mike Matheson - John Marino
Ben Hutton - Jordie Benn
With building a team that concentrated on the offensive side, it looks like the defense could be the weak link of the team. The Bruins have a solid top-4, but if more than one injury hits the defense corps, the Bruins could be in for some very high scoring games.
Brodin, Brodie, and Marino are all very similar defenseman. All three have solid defensive prowess and can pass the puck well. Matheson should provide more scoring from the backend, plus some PP time for sure. Hutton and Benn are prototypical bottom-pairing defenseman that are expected to keep their game simple.
David Schlemko and Brandon Manning were signed as depth defenseman and will start the year in Providence. As finances allow, expect Graczyk to make a move to improve the defense, with a potential UFA defenseman being a prime trade target.
Jordan Binnington - Alex Stalock
Binnington and Stalock may have a few nights of frustration ahead of them, but Graczyk expects a Grant Fuhr/Edmonton Oilers philosophy of goaltending out of his tandem.
"If we score four goals, we expect our goalies to only allow three," quipped Graczyk.
Binnington has previously shown that he can carry his team to wins and he will have to do that some nights for the Bruins. With above average ability across the board, quality goaltending is expected of the 27-year old. Stalock has started in the past and looks to be a capable back-up.
1st unit: Konecny - Stamkos - Kucherov - Iafallo - Marino
2nd unit: Pearson - Strome - Hoffman - Brodie - Matheson
Because of the depth of the forwards (and lack of offensive talent on defense), the first PP unit is expected to run four forwards with the defenseman being whoever has chemistry with this group. The one issue with making this work is that a few of the players are set in stone on only playing one wing.
The only set in stone is that Stamkos and Kucherov will be on the top unit with either Konecny or Hoffman. Whoever doesn't play on the top unit will be the main shooter on the 2nd unit.
1st unit: Zajac - Greenway - Benn - Brodin
2nd unit: Sissons - Hartman - Marino - Hutton
The most important player on the penalty kill will be Zajac. The veteran centre has the best faceoff and defensive skill of all forwards on the team. Teamed up with Greenway they should lead to a solid pairing.
Sissons is also good on defense and on the draw, and will team up with Hartman. Austin Watson will see penalty kill time as his checking ability is the highest on the team. Hutton and Benn are expected to give the top-4 defenseman a break by eating up some of the PK minutes.
Expectations are high in Boston this year. With a forward group that has a lot of offensive talent and, hopefully, enough players with defensive ability to play key roles on the checking lines and penalty kill, they match up with any team. If the defense and goaltending can be league average, the Bruins will be a team in contention this year and for the next few years.