In uncertain times – and times are very uncertain right now in Boston, it can be refreshing to look down into the depths of an organization in search of a brighter future. The most obvious place to look is the American Hockey League, and more specifically for Bruins fans, to Providence, Rhode Island – home of the AHL’s Bruins.
After all, the prospects that step foot onto the ice at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center today could be the ones that sport the black and gold on the ice of TD Garden tomorrow. So, at the mid-way point of the season, let’s take a look at how the Baby Bruins are doing.
As a Team
As a team, the Providence Bruins are in pretty good shape. They’re not a lock for the playoffs quite yet, but they’re in far better shape than their parent team is with regards to playoff qualification.
The American Hockey League is made up of four divisions. The top four teams in each division qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs. As of now, the Bruins sit in the third spot in the Atlantic Division with 58 points (25-12-5-3) and a .644 points percentage.
If the season ended today, the B’s would take on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, who currently sit one seed ahead of the Bruins in the Atlantic. Closing in on the Bruins from behind are the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who sit six points behind the Bruins with three games in hand.
For the Bruins, the key to the second half of the season is staying within the top three of the Atlantic Division. It may not seem like a big difference landing in third or fourth place – after all, both seeds qualify for the postseason. However, landing in the fourth seed would mean the Bruins would have a tough match-up against the Atlantic Division’s top team.
If the season were to end today, the fourth-placed Atlantic team would start the playoffs against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who just so happen to be the AHL’s top team by a pretty significant margin (they sit a whole ten points ahead of the league’s second-best team).
Obviously, there’s a good bit of hockey to be played still, but from the looks of it, Providence would like to do everything they can to avoid a first-round match-up with the league’s best team.
When looking for the cause of Providence’s success this season, look no further than the goal crease. McIntyre has been, without question, the AHL’s best goaltender this season (or at least when he’s been down there). In fact, Providence’s biggest problem heading into the second half of the season is that McIntyre probably won’t be present to dominate the AHL, since he’s replaced Anton Khudobin as Boston’s back-up behind Tuukka Rask.
McIntyre’s NHL call-up was well-deserved. In 13 appearances with the Providence Bruins, McIntyre is a perfect 11-0-0-0 with a 1.44 goals against average and a .950 save percentage. Despite his limited number of appearances, McIntyre was still selected to play in the AHL All-Star Game.
While Providence may miss McIntyre if he stays with the NHL club, Bruins fans should be excited about his future. He’s already shown tremendous development at the professional level – his current AHL stats are a huge step-up from the numbers he posted last season (2.68 goals against average, .898 save percentage). Granted, he played many more games last season, but there’s no doubting McIntyre has been much more dominant lately.
Cehlarik, a rookie out of Silina, Slovakia, leads the Providence Bruins in scoring on the season. Cehlarik formerly played for Lulea HF in Sweden before coming over to the United States this season. So far, he’s jumped out to a great start in the American Hockey League.
Cehlarik has tallied 18 goals and 15 assists for 33 points in 38 games. He’s also proven to be effective in the shootout, having converted on four of his six attempts on the season. Cehlarik has been an essential part of the AHL’s sixth-ranked offense at the mid-way point of the season.
Danton Heinen joined McIntyre as the only two Providence Bruins who were selected to play in the All-Star Game this season. His .73 points per game ranks third on the team (not counting Frank Vatrano or Austin Czarnik, who have both played just two games in the AHL this season), having racked up a total of 24 points in 33 games.
— Marina Molnar (@mkmolnar) December 3, 2016
Heinen, who was drafted by the Bruins in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, is in his first full AHL season after spending two seasons at the University of Denver. He’s already cracked the NHL roster for eight games this season, although he’s yet to make an impact at the NHL level. However, keep tabs on Heinen as a guy the Bruins may look to in the future.
While the NHL Bruins try to avoid their nightmares in the second half of the season, keep an eye on Providence, where things are going a bit smoother for Bruins fans.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!