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The Bruins open the 2013-14 season on Thursday, October 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely have worked hard to keep the core of this group together, but young talent, salary cap constraints, and the Seguin Situation necessitated change up front. Nathan Horton, Tyler Seguin, Jaromir Jagr, Rich Peverley, and Kaspars Daugavins have all departed. Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser all came to Boston via the trade that sent Seguin and Peverley to Dallas.
The forward lines should look like this Thursday night against the Lightning:
The most impressive line of the preseason. David Krejci has premier ice vision, hands, and playmaking ability. Milan Lucic cannot play a full regular season slate with the brutish physicality he displays in the playoffs, but when he does he’s the best power forward in hockey. Even at 36, Jarome Iginla has great ability to find open space to set up his shot. He can still drive to the net and should be a power play staple. He will benefit from Krejci’s intelligence and puck control as well as Lucic’s ability to create space with his massive frame. No line was more dominant than the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line when it was on, but I like what Iginla brings to this group and the power play. It will be interesting to see if the Bruins stick with Chara in front of the net and Krejci quarterbacking a power play unit as they showed in preseason play.
Marchand and Bergeron have become a package deal displaying outstanding chemistry over the past three seasons. Bergeron is excellent in all zones and widely regarded as a premier two-way center and faceoff expert. Marchand’s scoring pace in 2013 was a career high with 18 goals and 18 assists. Eriksson recently scored a beautiful preseason OT winner skate-to-stick-to-roof off a 2-on-1 feed from Ryan Spooner in Winnipeg. Eriksson is also a massive defensive upgrade over previous linemates Jaromir Jagr and Seguin. Eriksson does not have the same natural offensive skill as Seguin, however, he has plenty of talent and work rate to make this line a nightmare to match up against.
Dan Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton reprise their Merlot line role as the Garden-favorite glue guys. Paille, a former 1st round pick, showed his offensive prowess when bumped up due to injury scoring several key goals including the OT winner in Game 2 of the Cup Final. Campbell anchors this line, having recovered from the fractured leg he suffered heroically blocking Evgeni Malkin’s shot in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Both Campbell and Paille are stellar penalty killers. The great chemistry of this line is tied together by Shawn Thornton. Thornton is able to cycle the puck well, is one of the toughest players in the league, and creates space for his linemates with his relentless checking game.
Winning the 3rd line right wing job, Reilly Smith joins Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg. Smith was battling Matt Fraser, Nick Johnson, Ryan Spooner, Jordan Caron and Matt Lindblad for one of the final two forward spots. Smith was a collegiate star alongside Carter Camper at Miami (OH). Smith seems to have landed where management foresaw him, having played with Kelly and Soderberg from the beginning of camp.
Caron will be 23 in November and has made the roster out of camp, yet it feels like he’s been a fringe forward forever on this team. He has good size at 6’3” and 200+ lbs., but the pieces have not entirely come together for Caron who first made the Opening Day roster in the 2011 Stanley Cup winning season.
Waiting in the wings, these players will have plenty to add should they be needed due to injury, trades, or management decision. Fraser put up 33 goals in 63 AHL games for the Texas Stars last season. Nick Johnson, 27, joins the Bruins after a meandering few seasons that finished last year in Phoenix. Johnson cleared waivers over the weekend and has been assigned to Providence. He has played a strong two-way game this preseason and seems to turn up in the right spot. Spooner was dynamic this preseason, showing speed entering the zone and good playmaking ability while also seeing power play time. The Ottawa native was the 45th overall selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and he has the most offensive potential of any forward in Providence. It’s likely that Spooner will be the first to make the trip up I-95 due to injury or anemic offense.
Tags: Boston Bruins, Brad Marchand, Carl Soderberg, Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille, David Krejci, Gregory Campbell, Jarome Iginla, Jordan Caron, Loui Eriksson, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, Reilly Smith, Shawn Thornton