BOSTON - Bruce Cassidy and the rest of the Bruins brass will have their work cut out for them when it comes to determining the team's bottom six. Up to a dozen players are competing for spots on Boston's bottom two lines, making for some difficult decisions during the final week of the preseason.
"There will be [hard decisions]," said Cassidy. "We feel there are a lot of, for lack of a better term, qualified candidates for those spots. Some of that was by design when Donny [Sweeney] put the roster together because we talked about wanting to build in some of those young, talented players, but there needs to be a margin for error there if that wasn't going to work.
"I think he specifically wanted some depth players for that reason and to build our whole organization to have better depth. We saw it in one area of our team last year in the playoffs - on defense. We're trying to guard against that and make sure that we have quality people ready to go if there's a next-man-up situation.
"So far, so good. We've had good efforts from guys. I think they recognize the competition is there and that should make our team better."
During Wednesday's practice at Warrior Ice Arena, the Bruins had 19 forwards filling out six lines, meaning up to seven players could find themselves on the outside looking in when the season kicks off a week from Thursday.
Among those challenging for spots on the bottom two lines are youngsters Noel Acciari, Austin Czarnik, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly, and Frank Vatrano, as well as more experienced players like Kenny Agostino, Matt Beleskey, Teddy Purcell (in camp on a PTO), and Tim Schaller.
For those on the bubble, the final two preseason games (at Philadelphia on Thursday and at Chicago on Saturday) become magnified.
"If you play on your heals, you're not going to give yourself the best chance, so keep pushing and the second you step back and start thinking about that stuff other thoughts get in your head," said Kuraly. "It's about playing hockey and moving forward and realizing that that's going to give you the best chance."
Cassidy believes those with the most versatility - particularly those who can contribute on special teams - will emerge from the pack, while also hinting at the possibility of the Bruins having different lineups based on the opponent.
"One hundred percent…guys have different attributes," said Cassidy. "They've got to be able to play 5-on-5. But throw Tim Schaller's name out there…very good penalty killer - getting better in that scenario of the game - where he could separate himself from [Kenny] Agostino, who is in the mix and is more of a skill guy and may contribute on the power play."
"What's our bigger need from night to night? It could come down to that where we use a different player every night."
With Torey Krug out with a jaw fracture, a spot has opened up on the Bruins' back end. Cassidy said on Wednesday that Zdeno Chara, Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller, Charlie McAvoy, and Adam McQuaid have pretty much secured their places on the roster, but the final spot remains up for grabs.
"Who's the best fit, is it [Paul] Postma? Is it [Matt Grzelcyk]? Or is it [Rob] O'Gara?" said Cassidy. "They all have qualities that would allow them to be that guy, so it's not determined yet. Some of that will get sorted out in the next two games, as well."
There were plenty of injury updates during Wednesday's practice. Captain Zdeno Chara, who was under the weather, returned to the ice after missing several days, while Kenny Agostino and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, both of whom missed time with upper-body injuries were also back.
"I feel good on the ice. It's not what you want - injuries are part of the sport, so you've got to let it take its time and get back to playing when you're ready," said Forsbacka Karlsson, who was banged up after tumbling into the boards against Detroit last week.
Video: Forsbacka Karlsson returns from injury
The lone player missing from practice was goalie Anton Khudobin (lower-body). Cassidy said the injury was, "nothing major, we hope, from what I'm told. He should be back out there [Thursday]…we'd like to get him some work Saturday."
With Khudobin missing, goalie prospect Daniel Vladar made his training camp debut after being cleared following offseason wrist injuries.
"I've heard good things from Providence…I've seen him in Development Camp," said Cassidy. "You see a big, lanky guy, but very athletic kid that battles, very good competitor. Comes to the rink with a smile on his face every day. This injury was unfortunate for him, but hopefully not a big setback."
Vladar was sent to Providence on Wednesday evening.
"He's going to go get his work in Providence, he's just not going to have the net here," Cassidy said after practice. "We have three other goaltenders and it's just not a good environment to get his reps…no one foresaw him coming in here and winning the backup job. His biggest challenge will be finding the net in Providence because there's gonna be two pretty good goaltenders down there with him.
"He's kind of the next wave type of guy. He's going to have to establish himself in Providence first and go from there."
Tuukka Rask is expected to start against the Flyers in Philadelphia on Thursday night.
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Anders Bjork
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - David Pastrnak
Sean Kuraly- Ryan Spooner - David Backes
Frank Vatrano - Austin Czarnik - Teddy Purcell
Matt Beleskey - Riley Nash - Noel Acciari
Tim Schaller - Danton Heinen - JFK - Kenny Agostino
Zdeno Chara - Brandon Carlo
Kevan Miller - Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk - Adam McQuaid
Rob O'Gara - Paul Postma