When the Boston Bruins lost David Krejci during the offseason, the team was immediately tasked with filling a huge hole in their lineup. For over a decade the Bruins had been able to roll out a lineup with Patrice Bergeron and Krejci anchoring the team down the middle in their top-six with tremendous consistency. Though injuries may have created the need for some creative line changes in short stints, the two veteran centers were there when it counted the most and the Bruins and always lived up to expectations.
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With Krejci now dominating the Czech League with Olomour HC, the Bruins are tasked with finding his replacement for the 2021-22 season. Though Charlie Coyle seems like the logical player to step in and fill the role on a full-time basis, the Bruins will be looking elsewhere throughout training camp to test the waters and explore their options while Coyle recovers from offseason knee surgery.
In the early going, the Bruins will turn to 22-year-old Jack Studnicka, as well as free-agent signing Erik Haula to fill the role.
“In the meantime, we’re going to try different players in that spot. Jack Studnicka being one,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said Wednesday. “He was drafted as a center. Last year was tough for a lot of young guys with the limited schedule. He had a great first year in Providence. He came up here, played some good games for us. We have to find out where he’s at.”
As mentioned, Haula could also get early looks in the role. The 30-year-old forward is coming off nine goals and 21 points in 51 games last season and has scored more than 20 goals and 50 points just once in his nine-year career, coming during the 2017-18 season when he’d record an impressive 29 goals and 55 points.
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“(We’ll see) where does Jack best fit in, who best plays with Haula,” said Cassidy. “So, that’ll be the plan for the first week to 10 days or so, see where Coyle is at going forward and make any adjustments.”
Studnicka Looking to Pay Dividends for Bruins
Studnicka getting a look in such a pivotal spot in the lineup could be huge for the Bruins if things work out. While Studnicka has looked excellent with the Providence Bruins and has proven to be a leader at every level he’s played at, his contributions in the NHL have been limited thus far.
Playing in just 22 regular-season games in the NHL, including 20 this past season, as well as five postseason contests, Studnicka doesn’t have the biggest sample size to evaluate as of yet. What is obvious when watching him, however, is his willingness to play in whatever role the team gives him; whether it’s at center or on the wing, that hasn’t changed his level of effort.
The 2017 second-round pick has been a 20-goal scorer at every level he’s played at in his career and he’ll look to continue that trend in the NHL.
Something that’s been noted many times in recent weeks has been the fact that Studnicka has noticeably packed on some muscle this offseason. While that could be a good thing, there are always tradeoffs for bulking up that have to be considered. Cassidy would address this, but would also note that the areas that the Bruins hope to see Studnicka improve could be aided by this gain in muscle.
“It can work both ways, you have to be careful how you put it on. It has to be good weight,” Cassidy would tell reporters. “If you’re just packing it on to have a little more corner weight, so to speak, then it can affect your ability to recover. Strength on the puck, those are some of the things we want to see from Jack. Just being a little stronger on his feet with balance, so, core work. To be able to absorb some of the contact. I call them chip hits, where you’re going through traffic and a guy gets a piece of him and he keeps his balance and keeps going with puck possession.”
Cassidy would continue by saying that Studnicka has a willingness to play in the dirty areas and likes going into traffic and playing around the net.
“You’ve got to be strong on it if you’re going to be at your best. That was part of the reason for the conversation, and I think he recognized it as well.”
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Studnicka could be the long-term answer for the Bruins at center and he’ll get the early looks to show what he’s capable of down the middle this year. Coyle will still probably be penciled into the role until Studnicka, Haula or someone else gives the team any reason to consider the alternative, but the lineup should be in flux for much of the season until the Bruins find something that sticks.
It’s going to be relatively foreign-territory for the Bruins after having the luxury of so much consistency down the middle for so long. For Cassidy, it’ll be a tough challenge that will help cement himself even further as one of the best coaches in the NHL, should he be able to keep the Bruins in contention.