Bruins’ Studnicka Could Help Solve Struggles at Center

Following their 5-2 Black Friday loss to the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy hinted at some possible lineup changes. The following day at practice at Warrior Ice Arena, Cassidy mixed up his bottom-six lines and moving some of his bottom-six forwards to the press box for Sunday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks at the TD Garden.

Cassidy was looking for a spark with his bottom two lines with young players who have spent a majority of the season in and out of his lineup through the first 18 games. While putting some of his young players into the lineup, could the answer the Bruins are looking for be with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL)?

Frederic Centers Third Line Against Vancouver

When Trent Frederic took an open-ice hit from Josh Brown of the Ottawa Senators in a home game on Nov. 9, the 23-year-old was sidelined for three weeks with a concussion. A natural center, the 29th overall pick in the first round of the 2016 Entry Draft, has spent the majority of his time the last two seasons in Boston as a left wing. Against the Canucks, Cassidy moved him to the middle on the third line, replacing Erik Haula. In the Bruins’ 3-2 come-from-behind victory, Frederic landed three shots on the net, dished out three hits in just under 12 minutes of ice time. He struggled at the dot, winning just one of his seven faceoffs, and was a part of the penalty-killing unit.

Trent Frederic, Boston Bruins
Trent Frederic, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There is no doubt that Haula and Tomas Nosek, a pair of free-agent signings over the summer, have both struggled. The case could be made that Haula has had a tougher time of it in his first season with the Bruins, switching places with Nosek recently from the third line to the fourth line as a center. In 17 games, Haula has one goal and two assists with a plus/minus of minus-5. It’s not so much the numbers that have irked Cassidy, as much as the effort he’s getting from the 30-year-old veteran.

“(Haula)’s game right now, we need more compete out of him. He tends to get moving more in the middle. We haven’t seen him on the wing. I can’t rule it out, but right now we have an abundance of left-shot wingers. In the middle, that’s what he was signed for to sort of anchor that line. It hasn’t worked out as well as we’d like.’’

Bruce Cassidy

Earlier this season, Taylor Hall was sent a message by Cassidy by sitting him the final 10 minutes of the game against the Senators for turning the puck over in the defensive end the led to an Ottawa goal. He also took a penalty in the offensive zone with the Black and Gold clinging to a one-goal lead. To Hall’s credit, since that game, he has been better.

Studnicka Deserves His Opportunity

Cassidy put Frederic in the middle of the third line between Karson Kuhlman and Nick Foligno against the Canucks and the results were mixed. I understand the move by Cassidy, but if he wants to get the bottom-six going and send a message to his veterans, why not give Jack Studnicka a chance?

Jack Studnicka Boston Bruins
Jack Studnicka, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When training camp began in September, Studnicka and Charlie Coyle were looked at as the two replacements as the second-line center following David Krejci deciding to continue his career in his home country of the Czech Republic. Coyle ended up missing most of training camp and preseason games as he was dealing with an injury following offseason knee surgery. In the end, Coyle ended up getting the nod over the young Studnicka, but you can’t say that the 53rd overall pick in the 2017 Entry Draft in the second round did not impress in the preseason.

Studnicka did everything that was asked of him heading into camp. He was good as the second-line center, scoring two goals, and firing 16 shots on the net in his four preseason games. He was solid on his draws and when it came to cuts, Cassidy and his staff had to make the decision to send the 22-year-old back down to Providence. It was not a surprise move, but now is the time to bring the youngster back to Boston.

Related: 5 Bruins Standouts From the Preseason

With the P-Bruins, Studnicka has three goals and six points in 11 AHL games, but his overall game once again has taken the next step in his development. He is strong on the puck and his skating game is as strong as it has been since joining the Bruins organization. For most of his 26 career NHL games, Cassidy has used Studnicka on the wing, but when he has played his natural position as a center, he has been much better.

Studnicka’s Opportunity Should Be Knocking

The Bruins gave him a shot in training camp and he did everything that was asked of him and maybe more. When Haula and Nosek were brought in during free agency, the writing was on the wall for Studnicka that it was going to be difficult to make the roster. He has gone down to Providence and done what he’s done in seasons past, played his game and the results have spoken for themselves. Cassidy is looking for a spark to his bottom-six forwards and Studnicka’s time to provide that could be now, instead of later. The kid has proved that he is more than capable of handling his own in the NHL at center.

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