Projecting the 2024-25 lineup: Defense, goaltending set to be areas of strength for Bruins – The Boston Globe


DEFENSE

Nikita Zadorov – Charlie McAvoy

The presence of Nikita Zadorov alone should give the Bruins a much-needed element on their back end when it comes to his bruising style of play and imposing demeanor.

The 6-foot-6 defenseman also provides additional mobility, an underrated transition ace and a D-zone stalwart capable of eating up pucks and snuffing out scoring chances in Grade-A ice.

Above all else, Zadorov gives the Bruins options when it comes to how Jim Montgomery wants to augment the team’s blue line.

After rolling with Derek Forbort and Matt Grzelcyk over the last couple of seasons, a player like Zadorov on the left side gives Boston more stability — and a much higher return in terms of his individual impact.

Zadorov can block shots and kill plays like Forbort, but presents a lot more snarl and greater offensive upside (four 20-point seasons).

When Grzelcyk was on his game, the transition game hummed along at an effective pace. But Zadorov can offer a similar result with his puck-retrieval skills, while also providing a stronger force who should be able to hold his own against the physicality that presents itself come the postseason.

The case can be made that Zadorov will fit in seamlessly on either of the top two pairings.

He can serve as McAvoy’s defensive stopper and bruising partner, capable of doing the dirty work and freeing him to be more assertive down the other end of the ice.

Or Zadorov can join more of a traditional shutdown pairing next to Brandon Carlo, giving Montgomery the luxury of slotting Hampus Lindholm next to McAvoy.

For now, we’ll opt for Zadorov and McAvoy as a potentially punishing duo at the top of the depth chart.

“Z’s exits are good … finding middle ice, which is something Monty likes to do. So his first pass ability, I think complements,” Sweeney said of how Zadorov could draw more out of McAvoy’s game. “Charlie gets a lot of focus on the forecheck and takes some physical hits as a result of that.”

Hampus Lindholm – Brandon Carlo

Lindholm’s play might have dipped last season when weighed against the Norris-caliber performance he submitted during Boston’s record-setting 2022-23 campaign. Still, sticking Lindholm with a steady, stay-at-home option like Carlo stands as Boston’s safest bet out of the gate.

While most of the revamped D corps will likely feature new pairings, a Lindholm-Carlo grouping has logged a whopping 1360:15 of even-strength ice time over the last two seasons.

Over that stretch, just 19.6 percent of Lindholm and Carlo’s on-ice starts have come in the offensive zone. Despite being tasked with taxing D-zone reps, this pairing still routinely tilted ice in Boston’s favor — with the Bruins outscoring opponents, 71-44, over that 1360:15.

If it ain’t broke …

Mason Lohrei â€“ Andrew Peeke

Once viewed as a long-term project due to his unique profile as a puck-moving defenseman with a rangy 6-foot-5 profile, Mason Lohrei made the jump up to the NHL ranks in short order after a strong preseason.

Despite some initial growing pains as he rounded out his overall game, Lohrei made sizable strides with each new call-up from Providence.

A playoff matchup against a frantic forechecking team like the Panthers would presumably spell doom for a young puck-mover like Lohrei, but he thrived in that second-round series, recording three points over six games while averaging 16:38 of ice time.

Lohrei has the tools in place to be a legitimate top-four fixture and power-play ace, especially once he starts filling out his frame.

But for now, the addition of Zadorov gives Boston the freedom of keeping Lohrei in more of a sheltered, third-pairing role alongside a physical, no-frills partner like Andrew Peeke.

Even though Lohrei might be logging around 17-18 minutes per game in his first full season in the NHL, the Bruins should give him every opportunity to showcase his talents on the power play.

“They have Mason Lohrei now in a position where it allows him to probably take him into the second unit of the power play and grow his offensive game in the right way,” Sweeney said last week. “Not necessarily be over his skis at times playing 20 minutes a night in the top pair situation. He can, and he’s done a good job, but it just balances things out.”

With Lohrei and Peeke rounding out the six-man unit, Parker Wotherspoon is poised to be the trusty seventh defenseman. After appearing in 41 games last season, the 26-year-old Wotherspoon is a solid insurance policy when injuries inevitably sprout up.

GOALIES

Jeremy Swayman

Joonas Korpisalo

Barring any catastrophic developments over the next few months, Jeremy Swayman will be the Bruins’ No. 1 option in net in 2024 and for the foreseeable future.

Who backs up Swayman in net this season remains the more intriguing question.

The Bruins have said all of the right things when it comes to Joonas Korpisalo, acquired as part of the deal that sent Linus Ullmark to Ottawa.

Longtime goalie coach Bob Essensa has worked plenty of wonders when it comes to revitalizing netminders and extracting more talent out of veterans. But getting Korpisalo back on track might be Essensa’s most daunting task yet.

The 30-year-old netminder was arguably the worst starting goalie in the league in 2023-24, sporting an .890 save percentage over 55 games. Of 98 eligible goalies in the NHL last season, Korpisalo ranked 97th in goals saved above expected at -16.7, per MoneyPuck. 

Even if the Bruins manage to get Korpisalo back toward the same goalie who impressed with the Kings in 2023 (.921 save percentage in 11 games), his contract is still not ideal ($3 million per year through 2027-28), while the uncertain future of Brandon Bussi further complicates matters.

Bussi, 26, has little left to prove after two strong seasons with the Providence Bruins. But with Korpisalo currently in front of him on the depth chart, the former Western Michigan goalie will need to impress during preseason play to leapfrog Korpisalo.

The Bruins do seem committed to building Korpisalo’s game back up, but another Providence assignment for Bussi in 2024-25 would expose him to waivers, opening the door for the Bruins to lose a coveted goalie prospect for nothing if they opt for Korpisalo.

For now, we’ll go with the Bruins sticking with Korpisalo and seeing if “Goalie Bob” can work his magic again.

But the alternative scenario — where Bussi serves as a cheap backup behind Swayman and Korpisalo is buried in Providence (saving $1.15 million against the cap per year) — is far from a far-fetched possibility.


Conor Ryan can be reached at conor.ryan@globe.com.

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