Early Bruins lineup projections with and without Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci

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Early Bruins lineup projections with and without Bergeron, Krejci originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins' lineup for the 2022-23 NHL season is far from set.

Recent reports suggest both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are likely to return, which would be a huge relief for Boston and give the team two legit top-six centers. Bergeron and Krejci returning, plus the addition of Pavel Zacha, give the Bruins a pretty solid top nine up front.

But what if Bergeron and/or Krejci don't return? And how will the Bruins replace superstar left winger Brad Marchand to begin the season? He had offseason surgery on both hips and isn't expected to return until late November or early December. Replacing the league's best all-around left wing is an extraordinarily difficult task.

Here are some early projected lines factoring in the Bergeron/Krejci decisions and injuries to start the regular season.

Bergeron and Krejci both return

Brad Marchand--Patrice Bergeron--Jake DeBrusk
Taylor Hall--David Krejci--David Pastrnak
Pavel Zacha--Charlie Coyle--Craig Smith
Trent Frederic--Tomas Nosek--Oskar Steen

This lineup is quite good. Zacha is a nice upgrade over Nick Foligno on the third line, and his two-way skill set should make him a solid fit with Coyle and Smith.

DeBrusk remains with Bergeron and Marchand, the same linemates who helped jumpstart his game in the second half of last season. We know there's chemistry between Krejci and Pastrnak, mostly from their time playing for the Czech Republic. Taylor Hall played fantastic with Krejci after he was acquired at the trade deadline in 2021, so there shouldn't be any chemistry issues between them.

Steen replaces the departed Curtis Lazar at right wing on the fourth line. Foligno could play at left wing, but Frederic offers a little more pace and truculence in that spot.

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Bergeron returns, but not Krejci

Brad Marchand--Patrice Bergeron--Jake DeBrusk
Taylor Hall--Pavel Zacha--David Pastrnak
Trent Frederic--Charlie Coyle--Craig Smith
Nick Foligno/A.J. Greer--Tomas Nosek--Oskar Steen

If Bergeron returns but Krejci does not, we basically see a similar lineup to last season but with Zacha as the No. 2 center instead of Erik Haula.

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Foligno struggled mightily last season with just two goals in 64 games. He also went scoreless in the first-round playoff series versus the Carolina Hurricanes. If the Bruins want someone different to play a bottom-six left wing spot, newly signed A.J. Greer could step into that role. He tallied 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists) in 53 games for the AHL's Utica Comets last season. He signed a one-way contract with Boston on Wednesday, so the team must see him as an NHL-caliber player. Greer also would add plenty of toughness given his 102 PIM for the Comets in 2021-22.

Neither Bergeron nor Krejci return

Brad Marchand--Charlie Coyle--Craig Smith
Taylor Hall--Pavel Zacha--David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk--Tomas Nosek--Fabian Lysell
Nick Foligno/A.J. Greer--Marc McLaughlin/Jack Studnicka--Oskar Steen

This is a disaster scenario for the Bruins. They don't have any legit top-six centers for next season if both Bergeron and Krejci aren't on the roster. Even if this situation doesn't come to fruition in 2022-23, it's going to happen in the near future. Bergeron and Krejci are both 36 years old. They can't center the top two lines forever.

In this scenario, Coyle moves up from No. 3 center to the No. 1 spot. Zacha becomes the No. 2 center, Nosek moves up to the third line and Marc McLaughlin -- who played 11 games for the B's last season -- shifts into the fourth-line center role.

Another center candidate in the event both Bergeron and Krejci don't return is Jack Studnicka. He has failed to earn a consistent NHL roster spot over the last three seasons, and he's also an RFA this summer. Assuming he's re-signed, he'll be a candidate to get some ice time early in the season. His offensive skill would certainly help the bottom-six.

One wild card in a no Bergeron and no Krejci scenario is top prospect Fabian Lysell. He has shown a ton of promise as a potential top-six winger after scoring 62 points in 53 games for the WHL's Vancouver Giants last season. The Bruins don't have a ton of wing spots open right now, but if their depth is tested, keeping Lysell on the NHL roster next season might be one of the team's best options.

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Game 1 with Bergeron/Krejci, no Marchand

Taylor Hall--Patrice Bergeron--Jake DeBrusk
Pavel Zacha--David Krejci--David Pastrnak
Trent Frederic--Charlie Coyle--Craig Smith
Nick Foligno--Tomas Nosek--Oskar Steen

Marchand's absence creates a giant hole at first-line left wing. The ideal outcome here is Hall moving up with Bergeron and DeBrusk. Zacha could go up there, but putting him on the second line with two Czech players in Krejci and Pastrnak makes the most sense.

Game 1 with Bergeron, no Krejci/Marchand

Taylor Hall--Patrice Bergeron--Craig Smith
Jake DeBrusk--Pavel Zacha--David Pastrnak
Trent Frederic--Charlie Coyle--Jack Studnicka/Fabian Lysell
Nick Foligno--Tomas Nosek--Oskar Steen

If only Bergeron comes back, the Bruins will have to make some changes Opening Night to fill Marchand's spot and figure out who's playing No. 2 center. Zacha again is the best choice. In this scenario, we moved DeBrusk to his natural left wing spot on the second line. Smith bumps up to play with Bergeron and Hall, while Studnicka comes in to play third-line right wing.

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Game 1 with no Bergeron/Krejci/Marchand

Taylor Hall--Charlie Coyle--Craig Smith
Jake DeBrusk--Pavel Zacha--David Pastrnak
Trent Frederic--Tomas Nosek--Jack Studnicka/Fabian Lysell
Nick Foligno/A.J. Greer--Marc McLaughlin--Oskar Steen

This is what we call the worst-case scenario.

A lineup to start the season without Bergeron and Krejci, and without an injured Marchand is going to have a really tough time scoring, to say the least. The B's were 15th in goals scored last season and that was with Bergeron and Marchand playing at an elite level. Without them, Boston could slip into the 25th-30th range in scoring.

Similar to one of the above scenarios, Coyle and Zacha would occupy the top-six center spots, with Nosek and McLaughlin behind them. Studnicka draws in, too. This situation is also where giving Lysell a chance to gain valuable experience and establish himself as a regular NHL player makes a lot of sense. If Bergeron and Krejci are gone, the Bruins should go full youth-mode and give prospects a shot.

After looking at this potential Opening Night lineup, it's fair to wonder if tanking for the No. 1 pick and a chance at landing super-prospect Connor Bedard would be worth it. Bedard could be a superstar center for a long time, and the B's prospect pool lacks a center prospect with elite potential. It's not an outrageous scenario to ponder. If there's a season to tank, it's 2022-23.