Boston Bruins prospect Jack Studnicka, who was drafted in the second round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, nearly cracked the team’s roster last season at just 19 years old. This year’s training camp and the uncertainty of the bottom-six forward corps provides another opportunity for the Windsor, Ontario native to break onto the NHL scene.
In the two and a half months since the season came to a close, the Bruins have done very little in the way of changing their roster. After losing a few depth players to free agency, the team has opted not to make a large splash in the free-agent market themselves, instead choosing to look inward to fill any gaps that have opened in the lineup.
It’s an understandable move as the roster is already one of the strongest in the NHL as is. In fact, OddsShark lists the Bruins as second-favorites (+1200) to take home Lord Stanley’s Cup next season. This is behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning (+700), who remains one of the NHL’s scariest teams despite their embarrassing first-round sweep last season.
As the Bruins look to strengthen their team internally, one answer they should consider is Studnicka, who could feasibly be worked into the roster as a center or a winger.
Studnicka’s Young Career
Last season, just one year after being drafted, Studnicka was a near miss to make the Bruins roster. The upcoming training camp offers another opportunity to earn a spot, and based on his progression last season, I’d expect to see the youngster get the call this at some point in the 2019-20 campaign.
After missing the cut to make the roster last year, Studnicka was sent back to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) to develop his game. He got off to a great start for the Oshawa Generals, scoring 12 goals and 22 assists in 30 games before being traded to the Niagara IceDogs.
With Niagara, Studnicka had no issue making an impact. He tallied a whopping 24 goals and 25 assists in just 30 games, bringing his season point total to 83 in just 60 games. He scored at a point-per-game rate in the playoffs as well, notching 11 points in 11 games for the IceDogs in the postseason.
Studnicka has shown serious promise playing center, harnessing an obvious ability to score — those are very strong numbers, even for juniors — and a mature sense of two-way play as well. He can control the pace of play on both ends of the rink and demonstrates promising versatility.
“His two-way game has flourished in the last two years. He’s dependable and capable in all three zones. He plays with an abundance of maturity and poise. His scoring touch also can’t be underestimated.”OHL scout, per WEEI’s Matt Kalman.
Where Studnicka Fits In
Even if Studnicka doesn’t make the Bruins roster out of camp, he’ll almost certainly get the call at some point this season, for a number of reasons.
For starters, he has earned it. The youngster has shown very promising signs of development in the OHL, boosting his point totals significantly in each of his first four seasons, leading up to last year’s dominant season. Beyond his talent, there are a number of openings that Studnicka could be the answer to, however.
For one, the Bruins could make some room at the center position for Studnicka. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci will undoubtedly serve as the team’s one-two punch this season, but in the bottom six, things are a bit murkier. There are a number of players who could comfortably plug in — Charlie Coyle and Sean Kuraly are the two obvious choices — but they also have the flexibility to move a player to the wing, opening up another spot for a potential center.
On the flip side of that, Studnicka himself could be given an opportunity on the wing despite being a natural center, as WEEI’s Kalman argues. According to Kalman, Studnicka has expressed a willingness to move to the wing — at least temporarily — if it meant cracking the NHL roster. His juniors coach agrees.
“Oh for sure, he’d have no problem moving over to the wing if that’s what the Bruins wanted him to do. He could do it in a heartbeat. You know there were times he would play wing with us. Obviously he’s a natural centerman, but with his smarts he’d have no problem switching over in terms of wall battles and stuff like that. He’s strong, he’s fierce, he’s a competitor. I couldn’t see any issues with that whatsoever.”Niagara IceDogs coach Billy Burke, per Kalman.
Center or Wing?
While the plan is, and should be, to project Studnicka as a center down the road, there’s really no reason they couldn’t bring him onto the NHL scene as a winger. Boston’s bottom-six pairing is anything but certain after the turnover of the offseason, particularly on the right side.
David Pastrnak will serve as the team’s primary right wing, but behind the Czech are various question marks. Karson Kuhlman impressed in his limited time last season and will almost certainly be plugged into one of the right-wing spots. Meanwhile, David Backes will likely return to the team’s lineup barring an unexpected salary dump after being scratched for a portion of last year’s Stanley Cup Final.
While the Bruins have options on the right side, they don’t have an obvious answer, which means Studnicka (who is a right-handed shot) should be able to compete for a role on the wing as well.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney commented on this possibility, though he was a bit vague about his willingness to move Studnicka to the wing.
“Jack I think we’re going to leave him in the middle of the ice. You know in talking with our coaches he has a skill set that we would like to see develop offensively. We’ve talked about players, [David] Krejci and such, Jack has a lot similarities being able to slow the game down, play with pace and protect the puck and get pucks to people in offensive situations. I would like to see him develop that rather than trying to fast track his opportunity to play a game or two in whatever situations. But if he’s the right guy, then fine.”Don Sweeney, per WEEI.
It seems as though Sweeney is more interested in leaving Studnicka at the center position, but would be willing to push him over if the circumstances really called for it.
Sweeney’s lack of enthusiasm about temporarily moving Studnicka to the wing is a bit confusing. Yes, the Bruins want to ensure that he develops into a two-way center and don’t want him to lose responsibility of the defensive zone by being pushed to the wing. That being said, plenty of players have made a temporary move to the wing before returning to the center position, including Patrice Bergeron, who has since developed into the league’s most dominant defensive forward. If it’s the difference between giving Studnicka a look at the NHL or leaving him off the roster, I think it’s worth a temporary switch to the wing.
Additionally, he would be a cheap addition to a roster that is trying to balance salary cap issues. With Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo still unsigned, the Bruins must be very careful with their spending, and Studnicka presents a cheap option that could plug into the lineup.
Whether it’s up the middle or on the wing, right out of training camp or later in the season, Studnicka deserves a look in the NHL, and I think he’ll earn that look sooner rather than later.