The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Boston Bruins.
Coach: Bruce Cassidy (fourth season)
Last season: 49-24-9; second place Atlantic Division, lost to St. Louis Blues in Stanley Cup Final
1. Questions about defensemen
Charlie McAvoy, who was a restricted free agent, signed a three-year contract Sept. 15, and Brandon Carlo, who was also an RFA, signed a two-year contract Sept. 17, but there's still plenty of uncertainty with Bruins defensemen. Zdeno Chara, who broke his jaw in the Stanley Cup Final and had offseason elbow surgery, said he expects to be ready for the opener, but the status of John Moore (shoulder) and Kevan Miller (knee) is less clear.
Video: BOS@STL, Gm6: McAvoy bats puck off the goal line
2. Getting healthy up front
The Bruins also have injury concerns at forward, most notably center Patrice Bergeron, who received a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) shot to treat a groin injury and had to slow his offseason workouts for about two weeks. Anders Bjork is recovering from shoulder surgery.
3. Contributions from prospects
It's likely that a prospect or two will be called upon this season. In addition to Bjork, defenseman Urho Vaakanainen and forwards Karson Kuhlman, Peter Cehlarik, Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka are among those prospects who will get long looks at camp.
4. Rask's workload
Tuukka Rask was brilliant in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, going 15-9 with a 2.02 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and two shutouts in 24 games. That came after a regular season when he went 27-13-5 with a 2.48 GAA, a .912 save percentage and four shutouts in 46 games (45 starts), missing time with a concussion. The Bruins are anticipating a lighter workload for Rask after the long postseason and with proven backup Jaroslav Halak, who made 37 starts last season.
Video: Rask, Price earn No. 44 and No. 43 on Top 50 Players
5. Aging core
The core of the Bruins has been the same for the past decade, and age could be a factor this season. Chara is 42, Bergeron is 34, David Krejci is 33, Rask is 32, and Brad Marchand is 31. The challenge will be for the veterans to win games and remain healthy in what is expected to be a rugged Atlantic Division.
Making the cut
There are openings at wing among the top six and on the fourth line after forward Marcus Johansson (Buffalo Sabres) and center Noel Acciari (Florida Panthers) left as free agents. Kuhlman and Cehlarik, along with free agent signings Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm, are among those in the running.
Vaakanainen could end up on the opening night roster given the injuries (Bruins defensemen missed 164 man-games to injury last season). How ice time will be distributed is a question until Chara is healthy; he was third on the team in ice time last season (21:05).
Most intriguing addition
Ritchie got a fresh start with the Bruins when he signed a one-year contract after playing the past seven seasons in the Dallas Stars organization, including the past five in the NHL. The hope is the 26-year-old will come close to or exceed his best NHL season, when he had 24 points (16 goals, eight assists) in 78 games in 2016-17.
Video: STL@ANA: Ritchie sweeps puck home around Binnington
Biggest potential surprise
General manager Don Sweeney said he was impressed with how Vaakanainen asserted himself during his first professional season. The 20-year-old helped Finland win the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship with four assists in seven games and adjusted quickly to the North American game with 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 30 games for Providence of the American Hockey League despite missing time with a concussion.
Ready to break through
Kuhlman, who turns 24 on Sept. 26, could win a role on the second line with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk after playing with Krejci last season. He had three points (one goal, two assists) in eight playoff games and scored to help the Bruins force Game 7 in the Cup Final after not playing since April 30. A full-time role could accelerate his game and would inject some new blood into a veteran team.
Video: BOS@STL, Gm6: Kuhlman buries first playoff goal
DeBrusk (average draft position: 167.4) can build on his NHL career-high 27 goals in 68 games last season on a line with Krejci and the first power play with elite skaters Bergeron, Marchand, David Pastrnak and Torey Krug. -- Rob Reese
Brad Marchand -- Patrice Bergeron -- David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk -- David Krejci -- Karson Kuhlman
Danton Heinen -- Charlie Coyle -- Brett Ritchie
Joakim Nordstrom -- Sean Kuraly -- Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara -- Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug -- Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk -- Connor Clifton