Friday, August 3, 2018

Boston Bruins fantasy preview for 2018-19

Brad Marchand, LW (NHL.com rank: 9) -- The Boston Bruins left wing had 85 points, tying his NHL career high from the previous season, despite being limited to 68 games. He scored 34 goals and had 51 assists, his third straight season with at least 34 goals. Marchand has been a plus-21 or better in six of his past eight seasons, and factors in on the power play (23 power-play points) and penalty kill (four shorthanded points). He's also had at least 63 penalty minutes in each of the past five seasons. If Marchand plays with discipline (suspended six times in NHL career), he is a category cog with a top five overall fantasy ceiling.
David Pastrnak, RW (10) -- The 22-year-old has increased his point total in each of the past two seasons, including an NHL career high 80 points (35 goals, 45 assists) last season. He was plus-10 with 37 PIMs, led the Bruins in PPP (26) and finished tied for 10th in the NHL with 13 power-play goals. Pastrnak, who finished among Stanley Cup Playoff leaders with 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 12 games, forms the NHL's most potent line with Marchand and center Patrice Bergeron. Fantasy owners can feasibly stack Pastrnak or Marchand with Bergeron in the first 3-4 rounds.
Patrice Bergeron, C (27) -- The 33-year-old has been a consistent fantasy center for a decade and last season was no different. Bergeron had 63 points (30 goals, 33 assists), a plus-21 rating and 21 PPP (10 PPG). He's also an asset in fantasy leagues that count face-off wins (784) or face-off percentage (57.3). Bergeron missed 18 games last season but 17 combined games in the previous seven.
Tuukka Rask, G (47) -- The 31-year-old went 3-8-2 with a 2.91 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in his first 13 games before turning his season around. Rask was 31-6-3 with a 2.19 GAA, .923 save percentage and three shutouts from Nov. 29 to the end of the regular season, tied with Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets for most wins in the NHL over that span. That included a 17-0-2 stretch with a 1.66 GAA and .940 SV% from Dec. 7 to Feb. 6. Rask enters the season as a top 10 fantasy goalie and is one of the safest bets to finish in that realm.
Torey Krug, D (79) -- The 27-year-old offered excellent category coverage last season and led Bruins defensemen in goals (14), assists (45), points (59), PPP (24) and SOG (197). The only downside is his combined plus/minus the past three seasons (minus-1) because most of his production comes on the power play. Krug injured his ankle during the 2018 playoffs but is expected to be ready for training camp. He's a top 15 fantasy defenseman entering this season.
Charlie McAvoy, D (100)** -- The 20-year-old had an impressive rookie season with 32 points (seven goals, 25 assists), a plus-20 rating and seven PPP in 63 games. McAvoy missed time with a knee injury and a heart condition, but could score 50 points if he remains healthy. McAvoy's PPP and SOG totals (77) would improve if he gets more first power-play usage.
David Krejci, C (213) -- Considering he had 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 64 games, including 13 PPP, Krejci could be a fantasy center bargain in later rounds. He has exposure to the second power-play unit with McAvoy, as well as talented second-line wings Jake DeBrusk and either Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork. Krejci had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 12 playoff games and should be valuable in fantasy if healthy.
Zdeno Chara, D (246)* -- He may be 41, but he provided strong fantasy coverage yet again last season with 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists), a plus-22 rating, 60 PIMs and 144 SOG. Paired with McAvoy at even strength, Chara always makes for a serviceable depth defenseman late in fantasy drafts, even with a diminished power-play role.
Other players with fantasy upside in late rounds or off waiver wire: Jake DeBrusk, LW (216); Danton Heinen, C/LW/RW** (239); Anders Bjork, LW/RW; Jaroslav Halak, G; Ryan Donato, C**
*Potential 2019 unrestricted free agent
**Potential 2019 restricted free agent

Three questions facing Boston Bruins

1. How will the top six shake out?
The Bruins had arguably the best line in the NHL last season, with David Pastrnak joining Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, but it's not necessarily a given they will be back together this season. Coach Bruce Cassidy could opt to move Pastrnak to the second line with David Krejci to bring more balance to the scoring, something the Bruins struggled with in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There's also an open spot in the top six, which means a rookie could get a chance to play with Bergeron or Krejci on the right wing.
2. Can the Bruins continue to integrate young players?
Boston had a lot of success bringing young players into the mix last season, including forwards Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen, and defenseman Charlie McAvoy, and others could get a chance this season, starting with forwards Ryan Donato and Anders Bjork. 
The Bruins have good leadership and a good veteran presence, in addition to a coach who is talented at teaching and dealing with youth, so it's an environment that works, but it could be an adjustment that gets bumpy at times.
3. How do they fit into the Atlantic Division?
The Bruins could be playing in the toughest division in the NHL, and it could be that way for years to come. The top three teams in the Atlantic Division (Tampa Bay Lightning, Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs) had the three best records in the Eastern Conference last season. 
This offseason, the Maple Leafs signed free agent center John Tavares to a seven-year contract and the Lightning re-signed forward Nikita Kucherov to an eight-year contract extension. And that doesn't include the rapidly improving Florida Panthers, who made a run over the second half of last season, closing 25-8-2. Where does that leave the Bruins? They believe the signings of free agent defenseman John Moore and goaltender Jaroslav Halak, along with depth forwards Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner, will be enough to keep them in contention.

Boston Bruins key statistics

1. Marchand's magic
Brad Marchand led the Boston Bruins last season with 85 points (34 goals, 51 assists) in 68 games.
Since his rookie season in 2010-11, the forward leads the NHL with 34 shorthanded points, nine more than Anaheim Ducks forward Adam Henrique. Marchand is first with 53 backhand goals in the time span, 16 more than New York Islanders forward Jordan Eberle. In terms of shot-based metrics, Marchand ranks fifth with an SAT of plus-2, fifth with an SAT percent of 57.03, and fourth with a Relative SAT of plus-6.14 among those to play at least 100 games.
2. Rookie contributions
The Bruins' organizational strength came to fruition in 2017-18, when rookies combined for 174 points (58 goals, 116 assists), best in the NHL.
Leading the way were forward Danton Heinen (47 points; 16 goals, 31 assists in 77 games), forward Jake DeBrusk (43 points; 16 goals, 27 assists in 70 games) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (32 points; seven goals, 25 assists in 63 games).
Not counting goalies, Boston used 11 rookies, tying the Colorado Avalanche for second behind the Ottawa Senators (12). They combined for 406 games, second behind Colorado (511), with an average of 4.95 rookies in the lineup per game.
With prospects Ryan Donato, Peter Cehlarik, Anton Blidh and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson available, the Bruins could repeat some of that success in 2018-19.
3. Chara keeps chugging
The Bruins were third in the NHL on the penalty kill last season (83.7 percent). A lot of the credit goes to defenseman Zdeno Chara, who played 226:25 shorthanded, second in the NHL to Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey (318:29).
Chara played 1,671:57 last season, fourth since 1997-98 among defensemen who were 40 or older Feb. 1 of that season. Ray Bourque played 2,087:44 for the Avalanche in 2000-01, Chris Chelios played 1,998:43 for the Detroit Red Wings in 2001-02, and Nicklas Lidstrom played 1,924:25 for the Red Wings in 2010-11.
In 2018-19, Chara will become the fourth defenseman since 1980 who was 41 at the start of a season, following Lidstrom in 2011-12, Tommy Albelin in 2005-06 and Chelios in 2003-04.

Top prospects for Boston Bruins

1. Ryan Donato, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 56 pick in 2014 NHL Draft
Last season: Boston: 12 GP, 5-4-9; Harvard (NCAA): 29 GP, 26-17-43
Donato burst onto the scene with a goal and two assists in his NHL debut, a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 19. He played well for the Bruins down the stretch, with nine points (five goals, four assists) in 12 games, but played three games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That fact has the 22-year-old motivated for the upcoming season, when he'll be a candidate for an open top-six right wing spot. 
With the experience Donato (6-foot, 181 pounds) got in the NHL -- in addition to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics with the United States -- he believes he's ready to make an impact with the Bruins this season.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
2. Urho Vaakanainen, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 18 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: SaiPa (Liiga): 43 GP, 4-7-11
With the Bruins deep at defenseman, Vaakanainen's arrival in Boston might be a bit delayed, but the 19-year-old from the Finnish Elite League is definitely in the plans. He is expected to start the season with Providence in the American Hockey League as he transitions to North American hockey.
Vaakanainen (6-foot-1, 185) projects as a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman with room to grow his offensive game, and is among three left-shot defensemen (Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon) in the pipeline.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
3. Trent Frederic, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 29 pick in 2016 NHL Draft
Last season: Providence (AHL): 13 GP, 5-3-8; University of Wisconsin (NCAA): 36 GP, 17-15-32
At the time Frederic was picked, he was a bit of a controversial choice, with the Bruins mentioning a future as a third-line center. But the 20-year-old has since proven to have a potentially higher ceiling after two strong seasons at the University of Wisconsin before jumping to Providence last season.
Frederic (6-foot-2, 203) isn't the greatest skater, but he has an offensive touch that should translate to the NHL and the grit and toughness the Bruins often prize. He also was impressive at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, scoring five goals in seven games, and should be a candidate for Boston's open third-line center position.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
4. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, C
How acquired: Selected with No. 45 pick in 2015 NHL Draft
Last season: Providence (AHL): 58 GP, 15-17-32
The two-way forward has been compared to Bruins top-line center Patrice Bergeron and, in Boston, that's about as high a compliment as can be given. Forsbacka Karlsson played last season for Providence and had 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) after two seasons with Boston University.
Like Frederic and prospect Jack Studnicka, Forsbacka Karlsson (6-foot-1, 184) will get a look for the third-line center position, which opened after free agent Riley Nash signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets on July 1.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
5. Jack Studnicka, C
How acquired: Selected with No. 53 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Providence (AHL), 5 GP, 1-4-5; Oshawa (OHL): 66 GP, 22-50-72
Studnicka had an excellent season in Oshawa, demonstrating his abilities as a playmaker with 50 assists in 66 games, and followed that up with his debut in the AHL with five games in Providence. The 19-year-old said at development camp that he's hoping to make the NHL this season and he'll get the opportunity to audition at training camp. 
The Bruins like Studnicka's (6-foot-1, 171) leadership and attitude but believe he needs to get stronger and continue improving his shot to be ready for the NHL.
Projected NHL arrival: 2019-20

Inside look at Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins started looking ahead immediately after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Second Round. 
"At the end of the year this year it was pretty frustrating, to feel like the team that we had was really good, and to think we could do something special and to see the way it ended up, it's not fun," Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy said in July. "But I'm excited for this year. It's encouraging to get more experience, to keep going.
"Hopefully we're on a trend: first round two years ago, second round last year, and hopefully we'll get there soon."
That's the idea for the Bruins: continued seasoning, continued improvement, continued runs through the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final, where they last went in 2013 and won in 2011. 
It started last season, when the Bruins, who were predicted to be on the playoff bubble, finished second in the Eastern Conference with 112 points while integrating a half-dozen rookies into the lineup. 
That bodes well for 2018-19, when the Bruins will have the core of their lineup back: defenseman Zdeno Chara and forwards Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, along with promising young forwards Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Sean Kuraly, and defensemen Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo and McAvoy.
Though the Bruins were unable to land any of their major free agent targets -- forward Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the Los Angeles Kings; center John Tavares opted for the Toronto Maple Leafs; and Bruins forward Rick Nash remains unsure of his future because of health reasons -- they will look to fill significant openings internally.
Rookies Ryan Donato or Anders Bjork could grab a top-six right wing spot, and the third-line center position that opened when free agent Riley Nash signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets could be filled by Trent Frederic, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson or Jack Studnicka.
"I feel like we feel pretty comfortable that some of our players have emerged to handle some of those things," general manager Don Sweeney said. "There's a graduating aspect to that to make sure that they can. … I actually feel very comfortable in terms of where our younger guys are and it's next guy up. I've said that on record, it's not just about putting another guy in there, you have to take the job."
But even with that continued youth movement, the Bruins intend to be a force this season and believe signing free agent goaltender Jaroslav Halak and depth forwards Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner each to a two-year contract July 1 will be enough to put them back in the mix.
Among defensemen, though, it will be interesting. Boston has a glut of NHL-caliber defensemen, with eight on the roster after signing John Moore to a five-year, $13.75 million contract July 1, including Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid, McAvoy, Carlo, and Grzelcyk.
"Depth is huge," McAvoy said. "It's really important to have that many guys. But then you have eight really good, competent defensemen that feel like we should be playing every single night. We're all going to push each other."
Or perhaps by the start of the season, or at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, one of those defensemen will have found a home elsewhere. 
Either way, there is optimism in Boston. Optimism that, as McAvoy said, the upward trend will continue, even with the understanding that the Atlantic Division is stacked with the likes of the Lightning and Maple Leafs.
"I think the potential for us to be a good team is definitely there," Marchand said. "We have some really good exciting young players, we have a veteran core, and we have a good goalie (Tuukka Rask), so we have the makings of a good group. But we have to come together the way we were able to last year."