With Marc Savard down-checked for at least the season, the Bruins have an opportunity at third line center. Tyler Seguin who many believe to be a franchise quality player appears to be in the grooming process in this his second season. Not to be overlooked are returning veterans Rich Peverley who has looked top notch thus far, or Chris Kelly who was a defensive juggernaut last year assuming Herculean penalty kill time and responsibility for being catching the defensive lapses of then rookie Seguin and the offensive minded Michael Ryder.
In all likelihood Seguin will be slotted in to third line center duties for at least the first ten to twelve games of the season. There’s also a high probability Chris Kelly will be riding shotgun on this line. That leaves two major questions for this line. The first is which player will make the team. And the second is who will play this position the majority of the early going considering that much as many Bruins fans would like to you can’t overlook Benoit Pouliot.
Jordan Caron is to many the clear front runner as he made the team last year before fading out, then recovered his game in Providence. Jared Knight is a favorite of those who are concerned about the powerplay and want a player who has no issues driving the net. Max Sauve is a slick handed player who has struggled to stay healthy but was both productive in Providence and one of the few players with a positive +/-. Jamie Arniel was a late cut last year and was the first call up among forwards as well, he also led the Providence Bruins in most offensive categories. Zach Hamill has reopened some eyes to him this preseason and was the second leading scorer. Worthy of mention for pure skill is Ryan Spooner who like Knight was a second round pick in 2010 who looked good in both development camp and early pro-camp.
As talented and engaging as they are both Spooner and Knight have to be considered dark horses. Spooner is quite small and spends his time at center where the Bruins have a lot of depth, Knight while physically larger is still a risk to hit a serious slump that could stunt his growth if he didn’t manage to break it quickly. The Providence crew all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Hamill who led the P-Bruins in assists and had a very high +/- in comparison to the rest of his team, he’s not a particularly adept goal scorer and hasn’t sustained a high level of play yet. Caron had one of the worst +/-‘s but is a productive big body who can skate well in a system that lacks players with all three qualities. Arniel is another mid-sized to small forward with good skating, great work ethic and the ability to put up points at the AHL level.
Given the coaches inclinations, I just don’t see Knight or Spooner making it as much because of the older players as because of how young they are. That said, Bergeron, Lucic, Kessel, and Marchand are all guys who weren’t expected to make the team straight out of juniors and did. If i had to go with an older player (Arniel is worn and spent 21 and Caron is creaky and dusty 20 while Hamill is nearly social security eligible at 22) I’d have to lean towards Caron or Aniel (in no particular order) over all the others simply based on goal scoring.
That leaves six forwards to make up the top two lines assuming Paille Campbell and Thornton reprise their roles as the NHL’s best fourth line. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Nathan Horton, and Rich Peverley. While it is possible that last years lines will remain intact with only Peverley replacing Recchi, I don’t see it as especially likely. One of the issues with the top two lines last season was that the two lines were a bit unbalanced. The Bergeron line was fairly small with his own 194 lbs being the largest on the line giving them good speed but not a great deal of heft. The Krejci line had good size and physicality, but Horton was the lines best skater and they were occasionally victimized by this.
One of the interesting parings in camp was Lucic and Marchand practicing as a pairing in two on two drills. I can imagine some opponents having fits just at the thought of the two of them on the ice at the same time, Montreal in particular. While I don’t mind this paring, both players were at left wing last season and each had a good year in that position in order to be together one would have to make a transition that might soften their production. For me ideal lines for balance of assets would be something like Marchand – Bergeron – Horton and Lucic – Krejci -Peverley. Each line gets a healthy dose of size, scoring, speed, attitude and three zone commitment. With those configurations you can put either line out against any opposing line and be able to both contain them and create offense.