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Pavel Zacha is well aware of the responsibilities set to fall on his shoulders this season.
But when it comes to replacing a franchise stalwart in David Krejci, the 26-year-old center is not skating blind into such a pivotal assignment.
One of the many surprises on a record-setting Bruins roster in 2022-23, Zacha surpassed his previous career-high in scoring by 21 points last winter — skating primarily at left wing alongside his fellow Czech countrymen in Krejci and David Pastrnak.
But a natural center by trade, Zacha was often the first man up to replace Krejci at 2C in the 12 games that Krejci missed during the regular-season slate.
In those 12 games with Zacha replacing Krejci as Boston’s second-line center, he scored four goals and posted 10 points. The Bruins were a perfect 12-0-0 over that extended stretch.
Having a proven sniper in David Pastrnak flanking you on the right does make the scoring load easier to bear, no doubt. But the Bruins believe that last year’s impressive stretch for their new top-six center was far from an aberration.
Rather they think he has even more to give as a key cog down the middle.
“Excited for Pav,” Brad Marchand said of Zacha’s opportunity in 2023-24. “I loved the step he took again this summer. He trains extremely hard and he’s showing it right now. He looks awesome in camp and with his elevated role and position he’s gonna be in — I still think there’s another step in his game that he’s gonna take and it’s gonna be fun to see.”
It should come as little surprise that Zacha has primarily been stapled next to Pastrnak so far during camp, with Jim Montgomery signaling an intention early on to keep that duo together in order to yield potent offensive production.
But Wednesday’s practice presented a different wrinkle in Boston’s top-six constitution. After logging shifts with James van Riemsdyk at left wing last week, Zacha and Pastrnak were joined by Marchand in a potentially lethal top forward trio.
“I thought we clicked pretty well,” Marchand said. “I don’t really look too much into it. I think I’ve been on a different line every day. So they’re gonna try all kinds of different line combinations through camp. Obviously they’re two great players. Pasta is one of the best goal-scorers in the league. Pavs took a massive step last year. … Really good two-way player like Bergy.
“So yeah, had a lot of fun playing with them. Tomorrow, we’ll just keep building and keep working together. It’s gonna be a work in progress. Like we weren’t completely in sync out there. But that’s expected, especially when you have a new center.”
Even if Marchand ultimately spends more of his time with Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk on Boston’s other top-six unit, the Bruins captain will still likely spend his fair share of reps with Zacha on Boston’s top power-play unit.
The Bruins will be hard-pressed to find a capable replacement for Bergeron at the “bumper” position, where the two-way stalwart was one of the best in the league at redirecting shots, cleaning up loose pucks and ferrying biscuits through passing lanes in the low slot.
Zacha stands to be the first man up in that role on a reworked man advantage, based on Tuesday’s practice.
“The power play is an extension of 5v5,” Marchand explained. “That’s the one thing we did really well, especially when Bergy, Pasta and I played together. We played a lot on the power play like we did at 5v5. We just kind of rolled and we competed, won second pucks and then we’d make plays off of that, just doing it the same way that we did.”
More reps with playmakers like Marchand and Pastrnak — both at even strength and the power play — can only help Zacha, who recorded more 5v5 points than every Bruin except Pastrnak last season.
Night and day,” Montgomery said of Zacha’s improvement with a full season under his belt in Boston. “I sense a guy that’s comfortable in his skin, knows who he is, knows how he’s going to have success in this league. Expects himself to have success and to be a big part of the nucleus of our team.”
Here’s a look at the lines from Wednesday’s practices at Warrior Ice Arena:
A trade usually brings about plenty of chaos and anxiety for players who need to pack their bags and uproot their lives on short notice.
That wasn’t the case for new Bruins blueliner Ian Mitchell after getting dealt from Chicago in a June swap involving Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno.
“Yeah. I honestly couldn’t have been more thrilled,” Mitchell said of getting traded to Boston. “Some guys maybe aren’t too happy to be traded, but to come and be with Monty again with a team that was so successful last year and to try to learn from the established D corps here — it was something I’m really excited about.”
A former standout defenseman at the University of Denver when Montgomery was the head coach of the Pioneers, Mitchell struggled to find traction with the Blackhawks. He appeared in 82 games with Chicago over the last three seasons, posting 16 points and averaging 15:50 of ice time per game.
Mitchell still has an uphill climb when it comes to cracking the NHL roster with Boston, although the right-shot skater could try to leapfrog Kevin Shattenkirk for a spot on the third pair.
“I’m just trying to come in and make a good impression,” Mitchell said. “Of course, everyone’s goal is to make the team, so that’s what I’m focused on. And I think so far I’ve had a pretty good camp, so just put my best foot forward every day.”
Mitchell put his best foot forward in his second preseason game on Tuesday in Boston’s road loss to the Sabres, generating nine shot attempts while regularly activating off the blue line.
“They can tell me to play goalie and I’ll do it,” Mitchell said. “Whatever I can to try to earn myself a spot on the roster.”
Jeremy Swayman is not the only Bruins netminder set to don some new gear for the Bruins’ centennial season. Linus Ullmark showcased his new goalie pads on Wednesday morning.
Marchand noted that he hopes to play in at least Boston’s two remaining home preseason games, starting on Friday night against the Flyers. Still, he added that lineup decisions are out of his control.
The Bruins announced on Wednesday that Jim Montgomery will be away from team activities through Saturday, Sept. 30 following the passing of his mother, Dorothy. Montgomery will travel to Montreal for funeral services before returning to the team on Sunday.
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