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Bruins 2017-2018 Season Preview

It's that time of year again, Bruins fans. Rookie camp has begun at Warrior Ice Arena. The squad of rookies is currently in Buffalo competing in the Prospect Challenge, a tournament consisting of Sabres, Penguins, Devils, and Bruins prospects. Training camp for the big boys will begin on Thursday, September 14, and then we're off and running. After an up and down 2016-2017 season, the Bruins look to build on their first round playoff exit, while mixing fresh young talent with the current nucleus. Let's take a look at where I feel the team stands heading into the season, and what to look for from some of the promising young talent the organization possesses.

Bruce Cassidy's first taste behind the Boston bench got some fans excited about what could be, but ultimately fell short at the hands of Ottawa. Coming into 2017-2018, Cassidy will again rely heavily on Tuukka Rask, hoping that the netminder can build on a nice bounce back '16-'17 campaign. With the unknown production of whoever the backup goaltender is, Khudobin or McIntyre, one of Cassidy's biggest challenges will be trying to win as many games as possible while limiting Rask's workload.

On defense, the Bruins bring back mostly the same group. The only change being replacing Colin Miller, who was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, with a good depth pickup in Paul Postma. The team is still short on left shot defensemen, which could see Kevan Miller play on his off side agian. With Zdeno Chara another year older, Cassidy will need to get more big minutes out of players like Miller, Tory Krug, Brandon Carlo, and rookie Charlie McAvoy. While one would assume the battle for who plays on the third pair and who watches from level 9 comes down to Adam McQuaid vs Paul Postma, there's always a chance that someone like Rob O'Gara or first year pro Jakub Zboril can step up in training camp and seize the minutes.

Up front, the Cassidy returns players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and (hopefully) David Pastrnak. The top lines have 2 of the three spots seemingly locked in place, Marchand with Bergeron and Krejci with Pastrnak, but beyond that there are a bunch of names that will battle for spots in the bottom 6, as well as in the open wing spots on the top two lines. Four players out of David Backes, Ryan Spooner, Riley Nash, Noel Acciari, and Matt Beleskey will most likely be slotted in the bottom 6, leaving two spots on lines three and four to go with the two spots on the top lines up for grabs. Tim Schaller, Frank Vatrano, Sean Kuraly, and Peter Cehlarik are all returning players that will get a shot to win those spots, along with a group of prospects hungry to make an impact with the big club sooner rather than later.

Some of the prospects seem to have more of an inside track to an NHL job than others. One, Charlie McAvoy, has a job before camp even opens. Others look like the Bruins first choice at certain spots if all goes according to plan. Anders Bjork, first year pro, seems to have first dibs at one of the top six wing spots up for grabs. The 21 year old American steadily improved in all three years at Notre Dame, averaging more than 1.3 points per game in his final season in the NCAA. Another player the Bruins would like to see take a spot and run with it is Jake DeBrusk. In his first professional season last year, DeBrusk was an important member of the Providence Bruins, posting 19 goals and 30 assists in 74 games. The solid two way forward also put up 6 goals and 3 assists in 17 playoff games during the P Bruins run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson is another player that seems to have the inside track for a roster spot, as the Bruins burned a year of his entry deal by playing him for a game last season. With 63 points in 78 career games at Boston University, JFK can put up points. He plays a well rounded game, being compared to Patrice Bergeron (let us pray) in the past. A couple dark horse candidates to make the roster are Jesse Gabrielle and Jakub Zboril. Bruins fans will see a lot of Brad Marchand in Gabrielle's game, as he likes to piss people off and put the puck in the net. Zboril is a big, smooth skating defenseman that can move the puck and throw the body around. It certainly won't hurt him that he is a left shot defenseman on a team that has no left shot defense depth. With that being said, both Gabrielle and Zboril would probably benefit from some seasoning with Providence first.

I like making predictions. I don't normally get to put them out there like this, so it doesn't normally come back to bite me in the ass when I'm way off. But hey, what the hell, right? Here goes nothing. I think Bjork and JFK will make the team out of camp, and I also don't think it will be long before we see DeBrusk in Boston either. McAvoy receives Calder Trophy consideration (don't think he wins though). Rask improves on last years numbers. Bruins finish behind Tampa and Toronto but ahead of Montreal in the division, making the playoffs as the three seed in the Atlantic once again. How does a first round series against Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner sound?

For more, follow Josh on twitter: @jmacBSoT
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