The Providence Bruins are coming off their best weekend of the season as they try to separate themselves from the basement of the Atlantic Division. The P-Bruins took five out of a possible six points, with the only setback a 5-4 overtime loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. There were plenty of positives; Ryan Donato had a three-goal weekend, while Zach Senyshyn tallied three points of his own. Jakub Zboril also scored and earned a call-up. With all of that happening, Colby Cave’s emergence as an offensive force may be the most impressive and important early storyline for the P-Bruins.
Cave an Unlikely Leading Scorer
Cave picked up four assists in the three weekend games. He leads the team in scoring with five goals and 10 assists for 15 points in 13 games. Cave is on pace to smash his career highs, as he is only 20 points away from his best single season after a little over a month of play. His development has been based around his hockey sense. He’s still not flashy, but smart plays are turning into scoring opportunities and points.
Cave’s professional career began with his first full season in 2015-16 after signing with the Bruins at the end the previous year. In juniors, Cave was a linemate of current Bruin Jake Debrusk with the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos, finishing second to DeBrusk in scoring his final season. Cave entered the Bruins organization less heralded than his younger, and eventual first-round pick teammate.
With three seasons in the Bruins organization under his belt, Cave has established himself as a smart two-way player. His ability to play in all situations earned him a call-up to Boston in 2017-18. In previous seasons, he’s seemed best served in a bottom-six role and on the penalty kill, and was quickly inserted as a penalty killer during a late-season call-up with Boston.
Cave’s trajectory is similar to that of teammate Jordan Szwarz. Although a fourth-round draft pick of Phoenix, Szwarz never put up dazzling numbers in junior hockey. His offensive production was also very modest to start his professional career. Szwarz played the majority of five seasons in the AHL with a single-season high of 12 goals.
Szwarz started to become an impact-player offensively when he arrived in Providence, putting up 22 goals and 32 assists for 54 points in 65 games. The leap in production is happening a little earlier for Cave, as the 23-year-old is only in his fourth pro season. Both Cave and Szwarz are smart players that played important roles in the AHL even when they weren’t contributing much offensively.
P-Bruins Will Need Depth up Front
Much like Szwarz, Cave has been deployed at center and wing for the P-Bruins. His development and surge in production can be credited in part to that versatility and hockey sense, Cave usually finds himself in the right position. That knowledge of the game translates well when he’s placed with offensive-minded players. Not only can he potentially cover for them in the defensive zone, but this season he’s found the skilled players in scoring positions at the other end.
Cave’s reliability in his own end remains his most important asset, especially while a handful of the team’s experienced defensemen are lost to NHL call-ups. It’s debatable how valuable a stat like plus-minus actually is, but Cave is second on the team with a plus-6 this year trailing only Anton Blidh (plus-7). The more interesting takeaway is that only four P-Bruins are on the plus side of that statistic in the early part of the season, and Cave is one of them.
There’s little doubt Cave has a greater confidence competing at the AHL level this season. The experience and boost in offense couldn’t have come at a better time for the P-Bruins, as the team’s perceived strength of defense has taken a hit. The wealth of defensive depth the team and organization appeared to have has dwindled due to injuries.
There will surely be inexperienced blueliners suiting up this weekend, putting more pressure on the forwards to continue to roll. Cave’s emergence provides Providence with some real scoring depth while Donato is in town and veteran Jan Kovar continues his North American tryout.
Martin Bakos has also made an immediate impact since joining the lineup on Oct. 19. The firepower up front may have been a question mark heading into the season, but the P-Bruins have shown so far they can hold their own. Cave’s steady presence will help continue that trend.