Bruins

NHL Notebook: Where do the Bruins stack up against their Atlantic Division rivals?

(John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Bruins haven’t made any wholesale changes to their team while Atlantic Division counterparts have chased and landed top-tier talent.

Aside from pursuing exceptionally skilled players when the opportunity presented itself, such as seriously joining conversations for free agents Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares, Don Sweeney has shown a steadfast commitment to the players developing within the Bruins organization.

Marginal improvements were made in free agency. John Moore is expected to add some grit and bite to the Bruins defense. Jaroslav Halak, who brings a wealth of NHL experience, should be a steady backup and may even push Tuukka Rask in certain moments. Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom will be counted on to add depth and energy to the Bruins bottom-six rotation.

Bigger holes, though, such as the one on the second-line right wing and third-line center? Sweeney and the Bruins are counting on their younger players to deliver, much like Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Anders Bjork, and Sean Kuraly did last season.

It worked well. The Bruins seemed to strike the right balance between a veteran core and an infusion of young talent. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak emerged as the best trio in the league. Charlie McAvoy had a rookie season that probably should have landed him as a finalist for the Calder Trophy. Zdeno Chara proved that at age 41, he’s still capable of defending other teams’ best while playing heavy minutes on the top pairing.

The looming question: Can the Bruins find that same success? Kuraly may play a bigger role on the third line. Prospects Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jack Studnicka, and Trent Frederic will push for a roster spot. Ryan Donato could be capable of providing an answer on the second line. It all remains unseen, which could constitute as the biggest hurdle for the Bruins to replicate it.

“My only concern with the Bruins, and I jumped on the wagon pretty hard the way they played, but my only concern is that generally when you have a situation where it seems everyone has a good year, it seems hard for everyone to come back and have a good or equal year,” said NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp, who played more 600 NHL games for six teams. “I don’t even need to entertain another top line than Boston’s. Can you bank on all three of them doing that again? They’ll be good. That's probably your best bet is that they'll be the same.

“There were just so many other things that were very good. Do they have to do it a different way? I don’t know. The one thing Bruce Cassidy does really well is he puts players in position to succeed which is why the young players do so well for him. The coaching staff will have to push buttons. I don't think last year was a fluke, I think this team’s good, I just think it's going to be tough to be as good this upcoming season.”

It could be harder for the Bruins to carry out this philosophy in an Atlantic Division that’s rapidly improving. It could also all workout, and the Bruins decision to trust their roster development could be a moot point come playoff time.

Still, the Bruins are a top contender in the Atlantic Division after last year's success. Here’s a look at the rest of the teams and who will likely challenge the Bruins most next season.

The contenders