Even with a date for full training camp still pencilled in for July 10, it’s pretty evident these days that just about nothing is set in stone when it comes to the NHL’s (or any other sports league’s) efforts of returning to action in the midst of a pandemic.
Even if the NHL and NHLPA manage to weather the following weeks (with additional positive cases for COVID-19 all but a certainty) and welcome full rosters back to team facilities — both the rapid ramp-up of on-ice work and the looming threat of the pandemic could create a scenario in which injuries (and quarantines) could sap a club’s roster once games do get underway later this summer.
As such, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the NHL is planning on expanding rosters by the time Phase 3 is implemented — giving each of the 24 teams included in the expanded playoffs some necessary insurance in case of some unexpected misfortunes.
According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, teams will be allowed to bring 30 total players to camp once Phase 3 begins, while 28 skaters will be available to play once actual games in Phase 4 get underway. In addition, clubs will be able to bring an unlimited amount of goaltenders — a preventative measure, given the lack of suitable EBUGs at these two neutral-site venues.
As such, with training camp now less than three weeks away, let’s take a look at which 28 players are going to make the cut for Boston once playoff hockey resumes.
1: Patrice Bergeron — Well, duh. While Boston’s top-line center, like many other NHLers, will need to shake off the rust over in the next month, the extended time off should also help a veteran pivot that is often saddled with nagging injuries year after year. Any deep Cup run this summer will have No. 37 leading the charge.
2: David Krejci — While it remains to be seen who will be skating to both the right and left of him during 5v5 play, Krejci is going to entrenched in his usual spot as the B’s second-line center. Getting him rolling — by finding suitable wingers — will be a major focus of Phase 3 and potentially the round-robin games.
3: Charlie Coyle — He might have value as a top-six winger if other options are unable to bring much of a spark to Krejci’s line, but Coyle is at his best when tasked with driving a grouping as Boston’s third-line pivot. Like Krejci, it remains to be seen who Coyle’s consistent linemates are.
4: Sean Kuraly — The key cog on Boston’s fourth line, Kuraly could find himself higher up in Boston’s lineup if Bruce Cassidy is looking for a bit more speed and straight-line contributions next to either Krejci or Coyle. A line featuring both Kuraly + Coyle has combined for five goals scored (3.23 GF/60) in 93:00 of 5v5 TOI together.
5: Par Lindholm — The next man up if Kuraly gets bumped up to the wing, Lindholm has been solid in his role as a depth piece in Boston’s bottom-six corps. Despite unfavorable matchups on the fourth line, few opposing clubs managed to land punches against Boston when Lindholm was on the ice — with the Swede ranking first among B’s skaters (min. 300 minutes of 5v5 TOI) in goals against per 60 minutes at 0.64.
6: David Pastrnak — Another easy one here. While Boston could experiment and slot Pastrnak down to the second line with Krejci in order to balance out the scoring, let’s be frank — the 2019-20 “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner is going to make an impact wherever Cassidy places him this summer.
7: Brad Marchand — A 5v5 dynamo, Marchand’s individual 5v5 points per 60 minutes rate of 3.05 ranks third overall in the NHL (min. 500 minutes played) behind only Evgeni Malkin and Artemi Panarin. While Pastrnak could get moved around, Marchand goes where Bergeron goes. That’s it — that’s the rule.
8: Jake DeBrusk — Even though DeBrusk has primarily logged most of his minutes next to Krejci throughout his young career, he was actually bumped down to the third line during Boston’s final regular-season matchup back in early March. Often plagued by peaks and valleys as far as offensive production goes, Boston’s top-six grouping is often unstoppable when DeBrusk gets into a groove.
9: Ondrej Kase — An analytics darling that often peppers the net when out on a shift, Kase failed to settle into a defined role with his new club before the regular season was paused. Kase’s shoot-first style makes him a natural fit next to a playmaking Krejci in the top six, but the Czech product could also slot in next to Bergeron + Marchand if Pastrnak is bumped down to balance out the B’s offense.
10: Nick Ritchie — While he managed to leave a bit of an imprint with his new team thanks to his willingness to throw his weight around, Ritchie still doesn’t exactly have a defined spot in Boston’s lineup quite yet. The power forward could start on Coyle’s line, but might could also earn a look with either Krejci or down on the fourth line, where his size could be effective.
11: Chris Wagner — Boston missed Wagner’s willingness to both eat up pucks and drop opposing skaters during last year’s Cup Final against the Blues. He should be a lock for the fourth line’s RW spot.
12: Joakim Nordstrom — A versatile forward that will likely get the first crack at a starting spot as Boston’s 4LW , Nordstrom is everything you’re looking for in a reliable bottom-six skater. Had a strong playoff run last season when called into action, logging plenty of PK shifts while blocking 21 shots. Averaged 14:49 of ice time against St. Louis in the Cup Final.
13: Anders Bjork — One of many promising wingers that will be scrapping for a middle-six role come training camp next month, Bjork was on the outside looking in at regular minutes at the time of the pause. Still, given his two-way play and ability to push the puck through the neutral zone, don't sleep on Bjork's ability to be an impact player this postseason.