BOSTON (CBS) — Bruins forward Matt Beleskey will host around 20 members of his family at TD Garden for the season-opener against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.
The moral support will benefit the 27-year-old Toronto native on opening night and beyond. He has plenty to prove to the Bruins and their fans after signing a five-year contract worth $19 million. He’s going to garner a lot of attention for the next half-decade.READ MORE: 9,909 At Massachusetts Schools Test Positive For COVID-19 In Last 2 Weeks
The Bruins ranked 22nd in offense last season and general manager Don Sweeney focused a lot of his attention on addressing those struggles in the offseason. Beleskey is only one piece of the puzzle for the Bruins to at least move into the top half of the NHL rankings.
Boston’s defense corps is really messy one night before the start of the regular season. The Bruins don’t even know with certainty that Zdeno Chara will be available because of injury. Dennis Seidenberg is going to miss at least another month-and-a-half. There are a lot of unproven players on the roster trying to make up for a lot that was lost when Dougie Hamilton departed in an offseason trade.
If the Bruins score more, they can take some of the heat off the work-in-progress blue line corps and the goaltending. With that in mind, here’s a look at the three forwards who will be crucial to the Bruins’ turnaround.
One day before the opener, Beleskey was putting on a brave face about the task in front of him.
“I’m sure there’ll be some [butterflies], which is good,” he said about making his Bruins debut. “It’s always good to be nervous and excited when you’re going into it. So that’s what I am. I’m excited.”
The Bruins wasted little time casting Beleskey in a bigger role than he had in Anaheim, where he scored a career-high 22 goals last season. Beleskey spent the whole training camp with center David Krejci on a line completed by second-year right wing David Pastrnak. A healthy Krejci can make almost any above-average NHL forward produce. But if you think Krejci made Milan Lucic successful with Lucic barely carrying his weight in that relationship, you’re crazy.
During camp, no one wanted to say that Beleskey had to fill Lucic’s skates. But Beleskey has to play a similar role. He has to make room for Krejci, he has to barrel down the wall with the puck and he has to strike fear in opponents at all positions with his willingness to go to the net. He’s also going to have to be mindful of how the Bruins play in their own end. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau wasn’t nearly as demanding in the defensive aspects as Bruins coach Claude Julien.
Considering their options and their need for any help up front, the Bruins didn’t risk much when they signed Beleskey for relatively reasonable money without a no-trade clause after the first season. For the Bruins to make something out of this season, they need Beleskey to duplicate his 2014-15 performance.
The hometown boy keeps saying that playing for the Bruins is a dream come true but isn’t more pressure than playing for Florida or Chicago.READ MORE: Fantasy Football Start Or Sit Week 13: Elijah Mitchell Looks To Take Advantage Of Seahawks' Defense
He’s either delusional or lying.
This is a big deal, especially because the 6-foot-6 forward is going to stand out in the crowd and everyone’s going to expect him to play a certain way in addition to producing.
He at least is willing to acknowledge that there is pressure to be a power forward after a decent training camp.
“I feel like I’ve got a role here,” he said. “That’s to be a big guy who plays a simple game and just kind of goes to the net and be reliable defensively and make sure I capitalize on my opportunities around the offensive zone.”
If Hayes is unsure about the expectations on him, wait until he goes three or four games with a line of 0-0-0 and then takes a penalty early in the fifth game. Wait until he’s gone eight or nine games without a goal. Being a local and having such an easy name to say will make him a target if the Bruins go off the rails. Just ask Hal Gill.
Hayes seems to have the demeanor to handle the situation. He’ll have to for the Bruins to be in the hunt this season.
As this season starts, the 19-year-old says he doesn’t have any statistical goals.
“I’m just thinking about day by day and the game,” he said. “No matter if I’m going to have zero points at the end of the season and we’re going to win the Cup … we’re here as one team.”
The selfless speech is refreshing but it will mean little if Pastrnak doesn’t produce, because the Bruins can’t live without his goals and creativity. He scored 10 goals and had 27 points in 46 NHL games last season while being shuttled between Boston, Providence and the World Junior Championship. Settled in as a NHL regular, Pastrnak should be able to find his groove and roll toward 20 goals and 50 points.
But he’s going to have to play well enough at both ends of the rink to earn enough playing time and a big enough role to put up those points. He can’t do much to get stronger until he gets older, but Pastrnak can get smarter. The balance between creativity and safety will be huge this season for him, or he won’t be able to play with Krejci and might find minutes hard to come by. Then the Bruins will be in a real dilemma because they might not be able to win without his offense, regardless of how much his defense hurts them.MORE NEWS: AJ Quetta Returns To Bishop Feehan As Assistant Coach, 10 Months After Severe Injury
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.