On March 12, the National Hockey League and the sports world came grinding to a halt amid the worldwide coronavirus outbreak. With no word on when or if the NHL can or will return from their pause, everyone is in a waiting period.
It is no secret that when the season officially ends, the Boston Bruins will have a lot of decisions to make on their own free agents. It is possible that they could lose some pieces and if they do lose some players, there is no shortage of options in the minors that would be ready to step next season to make an impact. Below are three prospects that spent this season with the Providence Bruins (and had an occasional cup of coffee in the NHL) in the American Hockey League that could very well find themselves in Boston next year.
There are plenty of impending free agents at forward for the Bruins. Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Joakim Nordstrom and Karson Kuhlman are a few that played in Boston this season.
Some of those players will most likely move on to another NHL team this offseason. One player that certainly has the opportunity to find himself in the Black and Gold at the beginning of next season full time is Jack Studnicka. Drafted 53rd overall in the second round of the 2017 Entry Draft, his stock has risen and he appears ready to contribute on a consistent basis.
This season, the 21-year old right-handed shot had 23 goals and 26 assists for the P-Bruins in the AHL. Studnicka did play two games in late November for the big club and had one assist against the Montreal Canadiens. With his speed and skill, he is ready to be an impact player at the NHL level and the club moving on from a bottom-six free-agent forward should prevent him from being blocked next season in Boston.
A left-handed center, Trent Fredric has 17 NHL games under his belt, with many more expected in the not too distant future. In 2018-19, he played 15 games in Boston, while this season, he suited up for two games in mid-November.
In 59 games for Providence this season, he had 8 goals and 24 assists with a plus-10 rating. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound physical forward was drafted 29th overall in the 2016 Entry Draft and has the skill needed to at least be a bottom-six forward. Some of the free agents to be in Boston are blocking him right now, but his growth and development in the minors have him ready to make the jump to the NHL sooner rather than later.
Boston general manager Don Sweeney has some potential openings looming on his defensive grouping. With Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Matt Grzelcyk free agents, there’s a good chance that someone will be gone when training camp for the 2020-21 season opens.
With potential holes in front of All-Star goalie Tuukka Rask looming, Uhro Vaakanainen has played seven games over two years for the Bruins. After playing two games in 2018-19, he played in five games this in November when the Boston defense was hit with injuries.
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A 6-foot-1, 185-pound left-handed shot from Finland, Vaakanainen was selected 18th overall in the first round of the 2017 Entry Draft. This season in 54 games for Providence, he had five goals and nine assists with a plus-18. Sweeney and the Bruins are high on him and look for him to make a jump into the top-six next season if they take a hit on the blue line in free agency.
Regardless of what happens this summer in free agency for the Bruins, there are options that they have in the minors that would be ready to step in a fill a void next season. Some of them have been blocked by players on expiring contracts that have not contributed the way Boston thought they would have. With a roster that isn’t getting any younger with their core players, it might be time to bring in some younger talent.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.