Providence Bruins Get A Boost From Pair of European Veterans

The Providence Bruins are coming off a positive weekend where a pair of European veterans made their debuts. Martin Bakos, an offseason signing that caught the Bruins’ eye at the 2018 Winter Olympics, along with Jan Kovar, may have arrived to the scuffling P-Bruins just in time. Both have taken a unique path to the AHL, as neither had previously played a professional game in North America. The duo brings experience and offensive ability to the Providence lineup as the P-Bruins took three of four possible points from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Veterans Make Providence Debuts

Bakos recently represented Slovakia in the Winter Games. He’s played the majority of his professional hockey either in Slovakia or the Czech Republic. Although those leagues aren’t recognized as the strongest in Europe, Bakos led his Czech team in scoring and is two years removed from solid numbers with Kunlun Red Star of the KHL (11-11-22 in 47 GP).

His first real taste of North American hockey was at the Bruins development camp. The 28-year-old pro stood out at the camp typically meant for younger players. The injury in training camp was unfortunate as he was clearly committed to getting to North America early and showing the Bruins what he had to offer.

Bakos picked up an assist in Friday’s overtime loss to Bridgeport, and played on a line with Kovar and Peter Cehlarik the next night as the P-Bruins defeated the Sound Tigers 5-2. Bakos will help the young P-Bruins team – he’s smart with the puck and should give Providence more puck possession time.

Bakos’ hockey sense was on display on his debut assist, picking up the puck in a crowd and turning it back to defenseman Jakub Zboril for the one-time shot. His understanding of time and space on the ice is a strength, and should only get better as he continues to adjust to the North American surface.

Then there’s the interesting case of Kovar, who fittingly made his debut against Bridgeport in Saturday night’s win. The Islanders assigned the Czech center to Bridgeport out of training camp, but eventually terminated his contract after Kovar didn’t report. It was expected the veteran would return to Europe where he’s been a consistent scorer in the KHL for the last five seasons.

Kovar’s change of heart resulted in a professional tryout contract in Providence. While the center should provide an immediate boost to the P-Bruins offense, it may be a short stay. Agent Allan Walsh tweeted he would re-evaluate the situation in a few weeks. His stay with the P-Bruins could end up being one last North American audition. Kovar’s been a point-per-game player in 285 KHL games. Similar to Bakos, he represented his home country at the 2018 Winter Games.

The return of Bakos and addition of Kovar come at just the right time. The P-Bruins couldn’t quite make it out of October before injuries and call-ups struck. As the two Europeans entered the lineup, a Providence forward exited the lineup on back-to-back nights.

Additions Welcome as Roster Is Shaken Up

Veterans Mark McNeill and Jordan Szwarz picked up injuries in the two-game set with the Sound Tigers. Szwarz left Friday night’s contest with a concussion after his legs were swept out from under him and he hit his head on the ice. McNeill left the next night with an apparent leg injury.

Czech Republic forward Jan Kovar
Czech Republic forward Jan Kovar (David E. Klutho-USA TODAY Sports)

McNeill is a big loss if he’s out for a significant amount of time. Chicago’s 2011 first-round pick was off to a fast start in the Bruins organization with two goals and three assists through the first seven games. McNeill is a big forward that can play a skill game – in the season’s early going, he’s done a nice job of creating chances when the offense has gone quiet at times. The two new additions will need to help fill the void.

It could be a while before we get a look at the full potential of the Providence roster. The P-Bruins also lost a pair of defensemen to call-ups. With injuries in Boston, Urho Vaakanainen made his NHL debut, but suffered a concussion after taking an elbow from Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki in just his second game. Jeremy Lauzon made his NHL debut in his place against Philadelphia Thursday.

Fluctuating rosters are part of the AHL season. Providence will likely be missing three players from the opening night roster heading into two games this weekend, and will need contributions from Kovar and Bakos to keep heading in the right direction. The P-Bruins open up on the road Saturday at Springfield and close out at home Sunday against Bridgeport.