The Providence Bruins’ season ended in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season. Providence fell 3-1 to the Charlotte Checkers 3-1 in the best-of-five series. There will be some question marks as the team heads into next season. The P-Bruins only mustered one goal on the road in two losses to Charlotte to close out the season. Ultimately, it was the inability to consistently produce offense that doomed them against the league’s best regular season team.
Young Players Bright Spot in Postseason
Two of the top playoff performers will leave Providence fans hopeful of thing to come. Cooper Zech scored the goal of the playoffs for Providence. The 5-foot-10 defenseman was quickly inserted into the lineup late in the season and became an impact player. Zech gained confidence and quickly displayed exceptional offensive instincts.
He signed with Providence after just one season at Ferris State. A late-season signing on a team with defensive depth could have been an afterthought, but was anything but that. Zech weaved through the Charlotte defense, picking up the puck in his own end on an incredible individual play to tally in Game 1.
Jack Studnicka didn’t waste any time to reintroduce himself to P-Bruins fans with a goal and assist in a 4-2 Game 2 win. As he did last season, Boston’s 2017 second-round pick joined Providence when his junior season came to an end. It was just in time for the playoffs and couldn’t have come sooner for Providence. Studnicka brought more creativity up front, as he made a slick pass to Peter Cehlarik for the Game 2 game-winner.
Although short stints, Studnicka has looked very comfortable after joining the P-Bruins late in each of the last two seasons. Assuming he’s in Providence, he may lead a group of younger forwards with a lot to prove in 2019-20.
The team also relied heavily on veteran scorers this season, and that was only good enough for the 19th best offense in the league. In the AHL, you’ll only be given so many veteran additions to improve. Next season will be a big one for Zach Senyshyn, Ryan Fitzgerald, and Cehlarik. In four playoff games each, the trio combined for just one goal and one assist. Cehlarik and Fitzgerald will be restricted free agents, and you have to assume they have done enough to earn another contract in the organization.
With the exception of Game 1, the P-Bruins as a whole had a tough time solving Checkers goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic and a deep Charlotte defensive group. Even the veterans who produced so well down the stretch were held scoreless, as Paul Carey and Lee Stempniak ended the post-season without a goal. Those efforts were hindered even more when Gemel Smith, the team’s third leading goal scorer, left Game 2 after taking a hit from Bobby Sanguinetti.
Goaltending Highlights Question Marks at The Back
On the back end, Providence should remain solid as some strides were made on defense. Connor Clifton earned a spot in Boston, but Jeremy Lauzon and Urho Vaakanainen are two players who earned their first tastes of the NHL. Vaakanainen showed flashes of the skill that made him a first-round pick, but had a relatively quiet playoffs. Next season he’ll look to make strides with his decision making and being stronger on the puck.
There could be some changes coming in goal in Providence. Zane McIntrye didn’t have the strongest performance in the 5-4 Game 1 loss to the Checkers. After Daniel Vladar stopped 25 of 27 shots in a 4-2 win, it was McIntrye back in net due to a Vladar injury in warmups for Game 3.
The change in net in the short series wasn’t surprising, as neither goaltender really established themselves as the number one in the regular season. Both P-Bruins netminders had identical .898 save percentages, with McIntyre appearing in 46 games to Vladar’s 31.
Vladar will be back and likely will see more action next season. He’s still only 21-years -old despite three seasons in the organization and now one season of AHL hockey under his belt. McIntrye will be more of a question mark as he enters free agency. He’s spent four seasons in the organization and perhaps needed a better performance this season to earn another deal.
In net, the P-Bruins actually pulled off an unlikely and ominous feat in a series that lasted four games, starting three goalies. Kyle Keyser started Game 4 in Charlotte. Keyser joined Providence after his junior season with the Oshawa Generals ended. It’s a season that also saw Keyser represent the United States at the World Junior Championship.
Keyser, afree agent signing by the organization, could make up the duo with Vladar next season. It could be a true battle in net at that point. Keyser wasn’t able to do much to stop the league’s best team, but could really assert himself on the organizational depth chart a year from now. The Bruins are certainly waiting for someone to emerge in that regard, and the best prospect may still be in college in Maine’s Jeremy Swayman.
The Providence Bruins faced a bit of an uphill battle this season. If the roster that finished the season for the last 20 games had been in tact they may have finished higher and may have had a better fate. Facing off against the most dominant team in the league throughout the AHL season didn’t help. The P-Bruins should definitely produce a roster that will be back in the Calder Cup Playoffs next season.
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.