However, the Bruins lost four-year Bruin Noel Acciari and trade-deadline rental Marcus Johansson to free agency. This doesn’t have a huge negative impact on the team; The B’s corralled Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie over the offseason to help fill these gaps. Boston also has a great wealth of prospects – many of whom are ready to make the leap to the NHL.
Jack Studnicka is widely considered the Bruins’ top candidate in this regard. The 53rd overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft made quite the impression during the 2018-19 season.
During the first half of the season, the 20-year-old tallied 28 points in 30 games with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. On Jan. 8, Studnicka was traded to the Niagra IceDogs with whom he registered 24 goals and 25 assists in 30 games.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pounder could crack the NHL roster this season – whether he starts with the AHL’s Providence Bruins or not. Here are four scenarios in which Studnicka could find himself in during the 2019-20 campaign.
The Bruins often have their prospects log minutes in the AHL before bringing them up into the NHL lineup. It allows the players to get a feel for the system and develop under the gaze of the organization’s own coaching staff.
For this reason, it is likely that Studnicka will start out his professional career in Providence rather than in Boston. While this may disappoint some B’s fans who are itching to see this youngster at the NHL level, it is a tactic that has often worked out in the long run.
Take defenseman Connor Clifton as an example; he logged 107 games in Providence before making a big impact in Boston. He will likely get the nod to start the season given John Moore and Kevan Miller’s injury status.
Trent Frederic, a 21-year-old prospect who appeared in 15 NHL games last season, logged 68 games in the AHL. He is making a push for Boston’s starting lineup this preseason.
However, that doesn’t rule out Studnicka making his first NHL appearance this season. It may take an injury and superb play to get him there but, if he does, the Bruins have a number of ways of inserting him into the lineup.
Boosting Krejci & DeBrusk
The Bruins like to move their centers to the wing, and Studnicka has stated that he is willing to make the switch. General Manager Don Sweeney has stated that the Bruins will try to keep him in his original position. However, Sweeney is open to moving him to the wing if need be: “But if he’s the right guy, then fine,” said Sweeney. “We’ll move him over, he’s perfectly comfortable doing [it].”
It isn’t too much of a stretch to place Studnicka on the right wing with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. Head Coach Bruce Cassidy may at least try him out on that unit to see if the trio clicks.
Currently, Cassidy’s alternative options seem to be either going with Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork. However, both forwards have fallen short of expectations during their appearances in Boston’s top-six. With Ritchie and Lindholm joining the squad, and a number of other prospects ready to jump up, Bjork will likely begin the season in Providence.
The Bruins could promote Charlie Coyle, but that would leave a big gap on the third line. Cassidy has even stated that “my intention is to keep him [as the third-line center] unless the team would be better served with him on the wing.” Furthermore, Krejci is in need of a speedy scorer and Coyle doesn’t fit that description.
While Studnicka showcased great offensive abilities in the OHL, the Bruins would need to assess how that translates to the bigger and faster NHL. Giving him a few games alongside Krejci and DeBrusk – even in the preseason – would be a good first test.
Beyond that, Cassidy would likely take it on a game-by-game basis in deciding if Studnicka is capable of performing on the second line. It is possible that the Ontario native isn’t ready for a top-six role consisting of more minutes and more formidable opponents. However, the Bruins have other options when it comes to the 20-year-old.
Training Under Bergeron & Marchand
This one is unlikely to occur early in the season (or at all, for that matter) but the Bruins tried this experiment with Bjork in the past. It had some success, but injuries and a few poor performances guided Bjork back down the lineup and eventually to the sidelines.
Cassidy may look to slate Studnicka on the first line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Playing alongside these two superstars can boost any player’s performance, and a rookie would certainly learn a lot from the two veterans. This would bump David Pastrnak down to the second line to play with Krejci and DeBrusk – something the Bruins tested during the 2018-19 season.
Studnicka’s two-way game would undergo a huge workout. Being mentored by a four-time Selke winner and a 200-foot player who tallied 100 points last season can only benefit a young player’s development.
However, the 20-year-old would still need to perform well individually and compete against the best players the NHL has to offer. If he doesn’t prove himself capable of this role, he will likely trickle down the lineup or be demoted to the AHL.
A third-line tour seems like the most likely scenario if Studnicka is able to crack the NHL lineup. If Heinen becomes Boston’s solution for the second line, the Ontario native will still need to compete with Ritchie and Lindholm for this role as well as fellow prospect Karson Kuhlman.
Studnicka does have an edge in speed and potential. If the Bruins feel as though he’s ready for NHL action, the centerman could be moved to Coyle’s wing. He would get limited minutes and avoid being pinned against his opponents’ top defensive pairs.
This would give Boston a stronger offensive presence in the bottom-six than having Ritchie or Lindholm plug the third-line hole. However, those two new Bruins hold the edge in NHL experience and are thus more reliable and are the safer bets for opening night.
Whether or not Studnicka starts the 2019-20 campaign in the NHL, there seem to be multiple plots of land where he can build a home within the Bruins’ lineup. While it is uncertain how the blooming prospect will perform at the NHL level this early in his career, he will likely get his first shot sooner rather than later.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.