Before departing for Belfast and Prague, Bruins head coach Claude Julien had this to say:
“We’re in a stage now where we’ve really cut down to our team, I would say camp is basically over. Let’s start working towards putting some lines together and working with them. We’ve got about nine days or ten days here until the real deal starts. We should use that time to make our team better and get ourselves in sync.”
So we know what Julien’s plans are for the nine days he has to get his team in order before the season-opener in Prague against Phoenix Oct. 9. The team got right back to practicing today in Belfast with lines that looked just like the ones the Bruins used in their loss to Washington Wednesday night.
Here’s a quick look at how I think the opening-night lines should look based on camp performances and my own projections for certain individuals.
Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton
This is a combination Julien has used a couple times in the preseason, and it has showed some promise. A spot on the first line at this point might seem like an unjust reward for Lucic, who has struggled this camp. But he deserves to get a little run with a couple great offensive threats and if it doesn’t work out after a week or two, Julien can go to his old ploy of moving Lucic onto the fourth line until he finds his game again. Without Marc Savard around, Krejci is obviously the best play-making option to pair with Horton.
Mark Recchi-Patrice Bergeron-Blake Wheeler
Wheeler takes a lot of heat for the softness in his game, so maybe playing with two of Boston’s most fearless, rugged forwards will bring out a little bit in his game. When he contributed to the cause against Philadelphia last spring, Wheeler worked well as a second in-front option on a line with Recchi both at full strength and on the power play. It’s unlikely Julien would consider breaking up Bergeron and Recchi because he’d probably face a lawsuit from future Hall-of-Fame winger. If Julien wants to add some offensive flair to this line while not losing too much defense, Wheeler is his best option among available forwards. I do not advocate putting either rookie forward on a line that’s first and most important role is shutting down opponents.
Daniel Paille-Tyler Seguin-Jordan Caron
You don’t want Seguin’s talents to go to waste centering two guys that aren’t known as big finishers. But maybe what those wingers need is a speed-and-skill guy to open up the room for them and put them in positions with the puck where they can’t help but score. Paille can act as the defensive conscience in a trio with a pair of rookies. Caron has proven he has a little of a young Lucic in his game with his play along the walls and his protection of the puck. Maybe the two kids can find some chemistry. Paille is one of the few Bruins wingers that can skate fast enough to keep up with Seguin.
Shawn Thornton-Gregory Campbell-Michael Ryder
This isn’t about punishing Ryder. It’s about getting him to do the things he has talked about and do some hitting and play some defense without any pressure to score. As he gets into the flow, and gets some power-play time, the goals will come and the confidence will flow. And then you can move him onto a more skilled line. It’s not like Campbell is a slug in the middle. Plus if Ryder practices what he’s been preaching, this might be Boston’s bets forechecking line. Ryder could even take a cue from Thornton on how to get shots on net more than once a week.
My 13th forward for the opening night roster would be Brad Marchand, who has shown some maturity to go along with his peskiness this camp. To me, Brian McGrattan doesn’t bring enough to the table to warrant a spot on a team needs almost every forward to be multi-dimensional.