If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that the Atlantic Division is going to be a dogfight at the top this season. Toronto and Tampa Bay wield potent offenses, but Boston still has a lot of solid players – not to mention a Vezina-winning goaltender in Tuukka Rask.
Reflecting on the growth of a team that still has core members from the 2011 Stanley Cup championship squad (Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, etc.), Rask likes the mixture of experience of youth that Boston can trot out in 2018-19.
“It’s awesome, we’re in a good place,” he said. “We’ve drafted well and it’s exciting to see these guys contribute. But it doesn’t matter how you look on paper, you have to prove it on the ice.”
To that end, the Bruins will be challenged by the Maple Leafs and Lightning, though Boston has a ton of talent bubbling up. David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy are both under 23, but already key members of the team, with growing influence. Jake DeBrusk showed off a great combination of grit and skill in the playoffs, while Ryan Donato’s 12-game debut stint in the regular season resulted in a very impressive nine points. Toss in a healthy Brandon Carlo on defense and forwards like Jack Studnicka and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson pushing up from below and you’ve got a team with lots of internal competition for roster spots.
The Bruins will also get a great chance to come together when they head to China for a pair of pre-season games against the Calgary Flames. Rask has already been to China on a previous ambassador mission with the Bruins, but he likes the opportunity here.
“It’s great for the team to bond,” he said. “It’ll be cool to help grow the game outside of North America.”
It’s worth noting that when the Bruins won the Cup in 2011, that season started off overseas as well – Boston played two games against the Coyotes and Rask cited the trip as a great start to what would eventually become a pinnacle season.
Now the challenge is to get back to the top and it won’t be easy. No matter how well the Bruins do in the regular season, they will have to face one or both of Tampa and Toronto in the playoffs. Those are high-flying squads with a ton of talent and Rask is the last line of defense. And though he’s been a mainstay in the league for nearly a decade, his numbers in net are still solid. The game may be faster than ever, but Rask is up for the challenge.
“You have to be a student of the game,” he said. “Luckily for me, speed has never been an issue – I can move. Now it’s not just about blocking; you have to make saves with your glove and feet.”
Will it be enough? That will be the fun part of watching the Atlantic Division this season. The Bruins appear to be in a good place, but that youth corps has to get up to speed very quickly, because there were more substantial subtractions to the roster this summer than there were additions. Chara, David Krejci and David Backes all have a lot of hard miles on their engines (though Chara is practically super-human, so maybe it doesn’t matter to him) and their effectiveness will obviously be key. There’s also the X-factor of Jaroslav Halak, who could spell Rask effectively during the season, giving the Finnish starter time to rest up. One thing is for sure: Rask and the Bruins will be in the mix again.