The Providence Bruins finished in the bottom half of the AHL in goal scoring. Averaging three goals-per-game, the offensive output checked in at 18th in the league. The P-Bruins dealt with a lot of roster shuffling up front with their forward group and relied heavily on veterans late in the season to right the ship. The stability in the lineup allowed Providence to jump from seventh in the Atlantic Division at one point to the fourth and final playoff spot.
Mixed Results for Young Talent in Providence
The 2018-19 P-Bruins had young players that the organization is heavily invested in, in terms of where they were picked in the draft. Providence had two first-round picks and two second-round picks on the roster at various points during the season. Ryan Donato, a 2014 second-rounder, was one that appeared in 18 games in the AHL before being dealt to the Minnesota Wild in the Charlie Coyle trade.
The remaining three young forwards in that group of high picks each saw expanded roles with mixed results. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson is perhaps the most interesting case as he’s already made some news this offseason. He’s decided to return to his native Sweden, signing a contract with Vaxjo.
The decision comes as a bit of a surprise, particularly as Forsbacka Karlsson is a player that came to North America early to play junior hockey in the United States Hockey League before two seasons at Boston University. The second-year pro couldn’t hold on to the third-line center role when given the opportunity with Boston this season, but still posted seven goals, nine assists and 16 points in 28 games in Providence.
The offensive production was coming along with the two-way game that’s a strength of the Swedish center. Along with Trent Frederic and Jordan Szwarz, the strong play at both ends from the centers was a big reason the P-Bruins were a top-10 team in goals against. Despite struggles in net, opponent’s chances were limited.
It’s possible Providence fans haven’t seen the last of Forsbacka Karlsson as he’s stated interest to return, but his absence will leave a big hole down the middle at the AHL level next season.
Zach Senyshyn, a 2015 first-rounder, looked poised to contribute more offensively this season with 10 goals and three assists through his first 26 games of the season, but his final stat line of 14-10-24 in 66 games fell two points shy of his rookie season total in 2017-18.
Senyshyn has looked best when his game is simplified and he uses his speed to get to the front of the net. He was given chances to expand his role at times this season with the constant roster shuffling. In the previous season, Senyshyn was often paired with bottom-six calibre AHL players.
The P-Bruins, and the entire organization, will hope year three is a breakout season considering where he was selected, and that Senyshyn will eventually make an impact at the NHL level. He did make his debut with Boston in 2018-19, tallying an empty-net goal.
Frederic, another first-rounder, put together a nice rookie season that was highlighted by 15 games in Boston. At the AHL level, he notched 14 goals in 55 games while playing a solid two-way game. Frederic could play a consistent top-six forward role next season in Providence while fitting the identity the P-Bruins built with their forward group this season. He’s hard on pucks and works hard to create offense.
It seems redundant or possibly like an excuse to say young centers like Frederic and Forsbacka Karlsson played a solid two-way game while the offensive numbers didn’t pop off the page, but it’s true. It may be something the organization will address in future drafts. The 2018-19 P-Bruins had talent up front but perhaps too many players that can do the same thing.
Veterans Carried P-Bruins in Stretch Run
The veteran additions of Gemel Smith and Paul Carey are what truly turned the season around and made Providence a playoff contender. Carey and Smith provided consistent scoring, and the team’s fortunes drastically changed with both in the lineup starting in January. Providence sorely missed the dynamic game-breaking ability Austin Czarnik provided in 2017-18.
While Carey is not as dominant as Czarnik was in his final season, he put together a stretch that matches anyone in a Providence sweater in the last two seasons. The P-Bruins needed offense and Carey produced with 22 goals in 30 games. Smith proved to be a valuable asset on the power play with his heavy shot.
Ultimately, the team struggled to find an identity up front in 2018-19. Smith, Carey, and the signing of Lee Stempniak provided enough offense to move Providence into a playoff spot, but the team was never balanced enough to make a run.
Along with a reliance on Carey, Smith, Szwarz, and Stempniak, not everything went as planned from the start of the season. Peter Cehlarik and Ryan Fitzgerald were not as consistent as the team may have hoped. Colby Cave was a big loss,claimed off waivers by the Edmonton Oilersmid-season. Cave fit into the hard-checking identity of the P-Bruins but steadily improved as his offensive game over three seasons.
The P-Bruins were fighting an uphill battle from the beginning with call-ups and injury, Martin Bakos and Jan Kovar had short stays in Providence before returning to Europe. Then came the Cave exit. The late-season veteran additions were enough to carry the team into the playoffs but it wasn’t enough to move into the league’s elite.
Szwarz put together three consecutive 20-goal seasons as his production and leadership will need to be replaced. Seen as more of a checking line center when he arrived, he ended a very successful tenure in Providence as the team’s leading scorer this season. There will surely be some offseason additions, but the P-Bruins will need more from young players to improve on the offensive output of 2018-19.
Moving forward, there will be moves to bolster the P-Bruins’ attack. Not to mention a healthy Anders Bjork could return with a lot to prove next season. As a team, Providence entered the season with their forward group as a bit of a wild card. The results ended with a middle of the road group. However, as the case was entering 2018-19, there’s still plenty of upside and potential set to return.
A life-long follower of the game of hockey. Communications experience with the AHL’S Portland Pirates, and a former coach at the college club level. Covering the Providence Bruins and prospects.