Could Fabian Lysell play top-six role?

Bruins lineup projection 1.0: Could Fabian Lysell play top-six role? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

It’s been a busy offseason for the Boston Bruins.

Very rarely does a team lose both of its top two centers to retirement in the same summer. The Bruins also lost two top-six wingers and a top-four caliber defensemen, among other players, over the last couple months.

And yet, the Bruins still have loads of talent at every position. This franchise has weathered the departures of important players pretty well in the last 10 years. The Bruins, to their credit, almost always figure it out. The task facing head coach Jim Montgomery and general manager Don Sweeney is enormous, though. The team has enough talent to be a threat in the Eastern Conference, but finding the right lines and pairings to maximize that skill will be the real challenge.

Here’s my first Bruins lineup projection for the upcoming season.

Forwards

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This group could shake out in many different ways.

Fabian Lysell is the Bruins’ top forward prospect and has legit top-six potential. A strong training camp and preseason could result in him beginning the season on the NHL roster. After losing so much offensive firepower in the offseason with the departures of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Taylor Hall, Tyler Bertuzzi and others, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give Lysell a shot right off the bat. He could provide this group with much needed goal-scoring ability, playmaking skill and speed. If Lysell does make the team to begin the season, it makes the most sense to put him with other quality offensive players — so, basically, the first or second line. Those players will bring the best out of his skill set. A bottom-six role isn’t going to do that. Lysell isn’t the best defensive player, which is typical for a highly skilled player at this stage of his career, so putting him with two veteran, reliable two-way forwards in Brad Marchand and Charlie Coyle makes the most sense.

The Zacha-Pastrnak duo is one of the most fascinating of this group. Pastrnak is coming off a career-high 61-goal season and Zacha posted career highs with 21 goals and 36 assists. Pastrnak and Zacha forged tremendous chemistry last season, and they will be relied on heavily to drive offense at 5-on-5 next season.

The bottom-six is pretty interesting. There are several veterans the team signed in free agency who will compete with young players/prospects for roster spots.

“The great thing is there’s lots of opportunity for the players that are returning, the AJ Greers, the (Jakub) Laukos, obviously (Trent) Frederic,” B’s head coach Jim Montgomery recently told Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald. “We think he’s going to be a big part of the third line. But who plays with who? I try not to get fixated on that, even though I might have ideas. I like to see it play out in camp and have the opportunity to see chemistry with each other.”

Frederic had the best season of his career under Montgomery in 2022-23. In addition to being a better and smarter defensive player, Frederic tallied career highs with 17 goals and 14 assists. He still has another level (or two) to reach, and Montgomery told Conroy that he sees Frederic’s ideal spot being on the wing, not at center.

“I think that’s where he’s the most dynamic for us, offensively and defensively,” Montgomery said. “He’s an excellent defensive winger and he also scores most of his goals and gets open the most as a winger. We feel we’re going to need that from him again this year.”

Defensemen

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The blue line is pretty straightforward, with the only real change coming on the right side of the third pairing, where Kevin Shattenkirk likely replaces Connor Clifton.

The Grzelcyk-McAvoy pairing is one of the league’s best. This duo ranked No. 1 among all pairings with 600 or more 5-on-5 minutes played last season in goals-for percentage (70.59). This pairing was on the ice for just 15 goals against at 5-on-5, which was the lowest of any duo. Grzelcyk has his limitations in the playoffs, but in the regular season he’s the best partner for McAvoy. They have tremendous chemistry going back to their Boston University days.

The Bruins accounted for 51.87 percent of all shot attempts, 54.02 of all shots on net, 55.65 percent of all scoring chances and 54.02 percent of goals scored during 5-on-5 action when the Lindholm-Carlo pairing was on the ice last season. It was one of two B’s pairings that tallied 600-plus 5-on-5 minutes in 2022-23.

The third pairing could go a few different ways, but Forbort deserves to start on the left side because he’s the team’s best shot blocker and one of its top penalty killers. He can take on tough defensive assignments.

Jakub Zboril probably has the best chance to be the seventh defenseman. The 2015 first-round pick has not lived up to expectations, but in fairness, injuries have prevented him from getting consistent NHL playing time the last two seasons.

Top prospect Mason Lohrei could make his NHL debut at some point next season, but given the team’s strong depth on the blue line and especially on the left side, it makes sense to give him more reps in the AHL before throwing him into the fire.

Goalies

The strength of the Bruins, at least in the regular season, almost certainly will be goaltending again. The league’s best tandem from 2022-23 remains intact. Ullmark won the Vezina Trophy after leading the league in wins, save percentage and GAA. Swayman is the best backup in the league and arguably a top 10 netminder in his own right. He finished fourth in save percentage and GAA last season.

Ullmark’s performance in the regular season was so incredible that it would be natural for a bit of regression to set in this coming season. Even if he comes down a level, he’s still going to be a very good goaltender. Swayman has the potential to take the No. 1 job from Ullmark if he plays well over a consistent basis. That said, their workloads should be pretty similar because the Bruins will want to keep both of them as fresh as possible for the playoffs. The B’s have managed their goalies pretty well in recent years. The last Bruins netminder to play 50-plus games in one season was Tuukka Rask (54) in 2017-18.

If the Bruins’ goal scoring goes down a bit, which is expected after the offseason departures up front, getting good goaltending will become even more important to the success of this club. Defense and goaltending will likely make or break this franchise in 2023-24. Outscoring teams isn’t a path to success given how the roster looks right now.

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