Revisiting some of our bold preseason predictions for the 2023-24 Bruins

Bruins

The 2023-24 Bruins season has been full of surprises.

Brad Marchand and the Bruins are 31-9-9 this season. Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Bruins are officially past the midway point of the 2023-24 season, with Boston entering the All-Star break in the top spot of the Eastern Conference with a 31-9-9 record.

There have been plenty of surprises along the way for Jim Montgomery’s squad, so what better way to kill time during Boston’s extended time off than to revisit some of our bold preseason predictions. 

Some of these 15 early-October proclamations have aged well. Others? Well, not so much.

1. Matthew Poitras plays the entire season with the Bruins

So far, so good. 

Granted, the top question mark surrounding Poitras was whether or not the 19-year-old rookie was going to hang around with the Bruins once his nine-game sample size was up. 

But after scoring three goals and five total points over the first three weeks of the new season, Poitras earned his keep. 

It hasn’t always been easy for the playmaking pivot, as expected. Along with some expected dips in production, he’s been knocked around with some heavy hits and is only averaging 11:02 of ice time per game since the start of December.

Still, Poitras (five goals, 10 assists) is sticking around up at hockey’s highest level. 

There still remains a chance that Boston sends Poitras back to the Ontario Hockey League, especially if he continues to struggle in more of a limited role down the stretch.

But the Bruins ideally want the youngster to continue to learn up in the pro ranks, even with the growing pains that come along the way.

2. Mason Lohrei plays 40+ games in the NHL

This one is also tracking pretty well, due in large part to the injury bug that has stung Boston time and time again this year.

Through 49 games this season, Lohrei has appeared in 27 contests with Boston by way of two extended call-ups — scoring three goals, adding three assists, and averaging 16:24 of ice time per contest.

It doesn’t take very long to see why Lohrei is regarded as a blue-chip prospect, thanks to his 6-foot-5 frame and playmaking capabilities from the blue line. As expected, there have been some learning curves for Lohrei at the NHL level, with the Bruins outscored, 21-16, in Lohrei’s 407 minutes of 5v5 ice time this season.

But with Lohrei continuing to play at a high level in Providence (10 points in 13 games) and more injuries all but inevitable in the NHL, don’t be surprised to see Lohrei earn another call-up or two down the stretch this season.

3. Bruins lead the NHL in penalty minutes

Based on the number of times they’ve been banished to the sin bin, you’d think Jim Montgomery’s group would be near the top of the list.

But their 503 penalty minutes actually ranks only ninth in the NHL, with the Ducks leading the way with 693 PIM through 49 games. Granted, Boston’s current standing is also the result of only being assessed one misconduct, while Anaheim has 10 of them.

Still, the Bruins’ 196 minor penalties do rank third in the NHL, with stick infractions and other miscues standing as an area of improvement for the second half.

“From where we were at the start of the year to where we are now, we’ve made tremendous leaps,” Brad Marchand said of Boston cutting down on penalties. “And if we can continue to do that and continue to build, we’re going to be a really good team.”

4. Milan Lucic wins 7th Player Award

This won’t be happening, as Lucic was arrested in November and charged with assault and battery on a family member. The Bruins announced in November that Lucic was taking an indefinite leave of absence from the team.

As far as the 7th Player Award — handed out annually to the player who exceeds expectations in 2023-24 — the Bruins should have no shortage of options between players like Charlie Coyle, Trent Frederic, James van Riemsdyk, Morgan Geekie, and Parker Wotherspoon. 

5. Jeremy Swayman starts more games than Linus Ullmark

Swayman (16-3-7, .924 save percentage) has held the slight edge over Ullmark (15-6-2, .913 save) in terms of reps with 27 starts to his teammate’s 24.

That being said, that slight discrepancy in starts is more of a byproduct of Ullmark’s lower-body injury that caused him to miss over a week of action, rather than a statement on their own play.

While Swayman arguably has been the better option between the pipes this year, Montgomery hasn’t steered away from his plan to keep a goalie rotation in place this season. Don’t expect that to change down the stretch … and even going into the postseason. 

6. Jake DeBrusk signs a new extension before Jan. 1

Noooope.

So far, it’s been all quiet between the Bruins and DeBrusk on a new contract.

Granted, some of that inaction might have been a byproduct of DeBrusk’s sluggish start this season, with DeBrusk only scoring four goals and posting 11 points through his first 31 games.

But DeBrusk has been a different player since the holiday break — scoring eight goals and posting 14 points over his last 16 games while posting strong two-way numbers.

There’s still plenty of time for the Bruins to try and bridge the gap between DeBrusk and his representatives before he hits the open market in July. The main hurdle might be whether or not Boston wants to commit long-term to a solid winger with a streaky scoring habit.

7. The Bruins trade a defenseman

As expected, the Bruins have had a surplus of blueliners in place this season, especially with Lohrei earning several call-ups and Wotherspoon impressing as of late as a sturdy, physical option further down the depth chart.

If Boston is intent on moving out a skater on its blue line, Matt Grzelcyk could be a potential option.

But moving Grzelcyk likely wouldn’t net a strong return given his dip in production this season. And with Derek Forbort still dealing with a nagging lower-body injury, Don Sweeney and the Bruins might be hesitant to part ways with more NHLers before the meat-grinder that awaits in the playoffs.

8. Brad Marchand still posts 90+ penalty minutes

He might have the “C” now stitched onto his sweater, but Marchand hasn’t altered his approach as a pugnacious, relentless winger with a knack for both lighting the lamp and pestering opponents after the whistle.

With 51 penalty minutes already accrued this season, Marchand still relishes his role as a fly in the opponents’ ointment. But even at 35 years old, Marchand is still on pace for the first 40-goal season of his career.

9. Pavel Zacha surpasses 65 points

After surpassing his previous career-high in scoring by 21 points last season, expectations were high for Zacha going into the 2023-24 season.

All things considered, the 26-year-old forward is still having a solid season with 10 goals and 30 total points. He’s still on pace for 50 points, but the Czech skater does need to put more pucks on net. Fourteen Bruins on the roster boast a higher shots per 60 minutes rate at 5v5 play than Zacha (4.64).

A new career-high in scoring may not be in the cards for Zacha, but the same can’t be said for Boston’s other top-six center in Coyle.

Coyle has already scored 18 goals and posted 42 points in 49 games this season. He’s projected to shatter his previous career-highs with 30 goals and 70 total points, while his 2.83 5v5 points per 60 minutes is tied for fifth in the NHL alongside Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov and Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson.

10. Charlie McAvoy is runner-up for Norris Trophy

After a bit of a slow start this season, McAvoy was playing some of his best hockey going into the All-Star break.

Along with logging heavy minutes (24:33 ATOI), McAvoy is on pace for 12 goals and 55 points as the Bruins’ top QB on the power play. Few blueliners in the NHL can both dole out bone-crunching hits and rack up 50+ points like McAvoy.

Still, McAvoy is staring at an uphill climb when it comes to the Norris Trophy — especially with Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes and Colorado’s Cale Makar still playing at such a high level as well.

McAvoy is the engine that makes Boston’s defense roll, but he’ll have a tough time beating out a fellow blueliner who finishes the year with 90+ points.

11. Bruins aren’t buyers at the deadline…

This one remains to be seen, but the writing seems to be on the wall that Boston is not going to search for the big fish out on the trade market. Not only are the Bruins not exactly flush with draft capital and young prospects, but they also only have a projected $61,558 in cap space this season (per CapFriendly). 

They won’t be sellers, that’s for sure. But if Boston does opt to add a piece or two at the deadline, it will probably be depth options like a checking-line forward or a spare defenseman with some snarl.

12. More seasoning needed for other Providence youngsters

Lohrei might be on his way toward 40+ games at the NHL level, but the Bruins are likely set on letting other prospects like Fabian Lysell or Georgii Merkulov marinate down in the AHL ranks.

Both Lysell (35 points in 40 games) and Merkulov (39 points in 39 games) have been productive in the AHL. But with Boston’s middle-six currently playing at a high level with players like Frederic, Geekie, Poitras, and van Riemsdyk hitting their stride, there’s no rush to send these youngsters up to hockey’s top league.

13. The Bruins still boast a top-five defense… but their offense takes a step back

Last season, the Bruins ranked first in goals against per game (2.12) and second in goals scored per contest (3.67) — no surprise for a record-setting club.

This year, the baseline numbers have been impressive for Boston on the defensive end — with Boston fourth overall in goals against per game (2.59).

However, the Bruins haven’t exactly made things easy on Ullmark and Swayman — with their 11.41 high-danger scoring chances surrendered per 60 minutes of 5v5 play ranking 13th in the NHL.

Meanwhile, Boston’s offense has relatively overachieved so far this season. The Bruins’ 3.49 goals per game ranks sixth overall in the NHL, but they’ve scored the most goals in the NHL since the holiday break.

This scoring surge has largely been a byproduct of players like DeBrusk and Frederic heating up. But so long as key cogs like David Pastrnak (33 goals in 49 games) are in place, the Bruins should hold steady as both a top-10 scoring and defensive team this season.

14. The Bruins finish second overall in the Atlantic

The Bruins may not be as good as last year’s roster, but it’s hard to argue with the results this winter.

The Bruins are currently five points ahead of the Panthers in the Atlantic, with Florida standing as Boston’s most daunting opponent in this Eastern Conference field.

Considering how last year’s promising playoff run ended, perhaps the better path forward might be the No. 2 seed — and a matchup with either the Maple Leafs or Lightning in the first round.

15. Boston wins at least one playoff round

Time will tell with this one.

The Bruins still have arguably the best 1-2 tandem in net and plenty of talent across the depth chart. Still, anything can happen once the Stanley Cup Playoffs arrive.