All that remains of the Bruins preseason schedule is tonight’s tilt versus the New York Rangers and Friday’s game against the Washington Capitals. Still the Bruins have yet to settle on what the fourth line will look like come next Thursday on opening night. After Monday’s exhibition game with Detroit there were more cuts made. In particular Frank Vatrano and Austin Czarnik, who were fighting for those spots, were among those cuts and are now Providence bound. We all know the fourth line last year was one of the worst lines the Bruins have had in recent memory. They really need production and solid defensive accountability out of that bunch this year. But who’s going to fill the three spots?
The top 9 forward spots are set; Bergeron, Marchand, Eriksson, Krejci, Pastrnak, Beleskey, Spooner, Connolly, and Hayes will all man the first three lines. But the last 3 spots on the fourth line could be a juggling act. The main candidates are Chris Kelly, Max Talbot, Zac Rinaldo, Joonas Kemppainen, Brian Ferlin, Tyler Randell, and Anthony Camara.
If I had to bet on an opening night fourth line today I’d put money on it being Max Talbot, Chris Kelly, and Zac Rinaldo. They’re the three candidates with the most NHL experience and can handle the job. Whether there is chemistry there or if they can play a buzzing fourth line style is to be determined. Zac Rinaldo, unless he resorts to his old ways of playing himself out of the lineup by losing his cool, looks like a lock. He’s had a great preseason regardless of how you value exhibition games and in a prime moment where he could have lost it the other night, he kept his cool. He’s brought speed and a fiery energy that line needs. Max Talbot is dependable, smart, and I would say that when he arrived late last year via a trade with Colorado he made an immediate positive impact to the fourth line. That and his performance so far this September may be enough. Chris Kelly, who has been very much himself all preseason, will probably be in the lineup regardless in part because of his contract. You can’t have a 34-year-old making $3 million sitting in the press box eating popcorn when he can handle fourth line and penalty killing duties. Even though that’s way too much pay for some one in that limited role, unless there is a salary dump type of trade in the works that we don’t know about, I can’t see Kelly sitting.
The younger options in Joonas Kemppainen, Brian Ferlin, and Tyler Randell have all made good arguments to stick around with their play. I would say Anthony Camara is the lone man we can rule out now. But Kemppainen is sort of the Carl Soderberg 2.0 project. He’s a 27-year-old “rookie” Don Sweeney signed who’s spent his career in the Finnish Elite League. And so far he looks great. He really looks like he belongs and even though he’s centered Kelly and Talbot this preseason he probably would be a lock for the opener if Kelly’s contract wasn’t running a little block on his position.
Brian Ferlin, who spent some time with the Bruins last year, could provide good minutes on the fourth line. He certainly plays a style that fits the role. Tyler Randell I would also say has looked pretty strong. I just like the fight in his game, no pun intended. Having said that, these younger alternatives do have two-way contracts that allow them to head to Providence without another team picking them up on waivers and I think that’s likely where they start.
The only way things get shaken up drastically is if either Kemppainen, Ferlin, or Randell play so well in these final two preseason games that the Bruins have no choice but to dress one. They still have legitimate shots to grab a spot and all three of them are capable of doing it, with Kemppainen clearly leading the pack. I can’t wait to see who sticks around for opening night. We just may have a real surprise on our hands.