The Bruins will not open their 2023-24 season until Oct. 11 at TD Garden.
But the work has already begun for Jim Montgomery and his staff to assemble a revamped roster in the wake of last year’s crushing first-round exit.
In an interview with Steve Conroy of The Boston Herald, Montgomery offered up some early insight into how he plans to structure the Bruins’ roster up front, especially in a top-six unit no longer buoyed by the presence of both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
As expected, Montgomery plans to enter training camp with Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle as Boston’s top-six centers, with Coyle projected to play on a line featuring both Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk.
During the regular season, a Marchand-Coyle-DeBrusk line logged 42:16 of 5v5 ice time together, with Boston holding the edge in shot attempts (49-34), shots on goal (22-17) and goals scored (2-1).
They achieved more success during the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Coyle slotting in for Bergeron during the first four games against the Florida Panthers.
Zacha, who had a breakout season while primarily playing alongside David Pastrnak, is expected to remain next to his Czech countryman in 2023-24. Montgomery added that winger James van Riemsdyk will likely get the first look next to Zacha and Pastrnak at left wing.
“I think [Zacha’s ceiling] is significantly higher,” Montgomery told Conroy. “Not only is he physically prepared, more importantly I believe he’s ready for this mentally for the kind of minutes, the responsibility of having to be played in all situations — which he did really well last year — but they’re going to be more important minutes.
“But I just think he’s mentally ready. He believes that he can do it. That’s the biggest step for a player. I have a lot of confidence that our top two lines will be very good because I believe Charlie Coyle knows he can do the job and will do the job and Pavel Zacha does too.”
Despite talk of the Bruins still potentially pursuing avenues to add a top-six center into the mix before camp opens, Montgomery said that any late additions are unlikely.
“In my mind, this is our team,” Montgomery told Conroy.. “Ever since Krech made it official, we’d been thinking that this would be our team. Honestly, we were preparing this way since mid-June.”
Montgomery also added in his conversation with Conroy that sorting out the bottom-six forward grouping remains an ongoing evaluation, while Trent Frederic will likely be penciled in at right wing, rather than center.
Given the amount of talent that Boston lost via retirement, trade and free agency, Montgomery acknowledged that the 2023-24 Bruins have plenty of doubters, especially in the wake of how last season’s record-setting run ended.
But Montgomery believes this retooled roster is cut from the same cloth as last season, at least as far as expectations going into the new year.
“After our regular season, I think a lot of people forgot all the question marks on our team before last year,” Montgomery told Conroy. “I think it’s very similar to this year, that we’re a bubble team, and that’s what people were saying about us last year,” said Montgomery. “What I like is we have tremendous opportunity. I know we have great players, I know we have really good leaders. For me, the exciting part of it is ‘how good can we be?’
“I don’t know what our ceiling is yet and that’s what makes this training camp a little more exciting than last year’s, because there’s a lot more moving parts. … Some people look at it as daunting. I don’t. I look at it as an opportunity for a lot of players to become real good Bruins for us and for us to find our identity as a team and how we’re going to win games this year.”
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