Providence Bruins Pushing Through Roster Changes

The Providence Bruins are piecing it together and it’s working. A look at the roster in March could look very different than the one that rolled to wins over division rivals Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last weekend. Despite the turnover, the P-Bruins are 5-1-2 in their last eight games heading into Friday’s game against the Charlotte Checkers.

Forwards Stepping Up For P-Bruins

The organization’s depth has been tested with injuries at both levels. At the same time, the P-Bruins were able to benefit from their veteran talent and young players trying to establish roles within the organization. Ryan Donato has been called back to Boston after a successful stay, while Anders Bjork is on his way back down.

Adding to the level of difficulty in the upcoming three-games-in-three-days weekend will be the departure of Jan Kovar. Kovar came in at the perfect time for the P-Bruins. Defensemen were dropping in Boston at an alarming rate, while veteran forward Mark McNeil went down with an injury in Providence. McNeil was leading the team in scoring at the time, but in came Kovar.

Kovar helped solidify the Providence lineup. His vision and playmaking ability stood out at the AHL level, showing why he’s been nearly a point-per-game player over ten seasons in the KHL and Czech Republic. However, it was never really Kovar’s intention to stay with Providence. It was about staying in North America for one last showcase. He’s reportedly practicing with Boston as his PTO has expired in Providence.

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

If the Bruins or another NHL team don’t show any interest, it seems more likely Kovar will head back to Europe than stay in Providence for less money and long bus rides. It will be a challenge to fill the hole left by him, who most recently rounded out the forward group centering the second line. The first line of Donato, Jordan Szwarz, and Ryan Fitzgerald clicked well in the two most recent wins. Kovar combined with McNeil and Anton Blidh to round out probably the best top-six forward group the P-Bruins have rolled out all season.

The P-Bruins have also benefited from some timely scoring to continue their winning ways through the roster fluctuation. Center Colby Cave is on pace for a career year, he’d been pacing the offense through the call-ups and injuries. Cave is now up with the Bruins, and rookie Cameron Hughes has stepped up to fill the void.

Hughes is a solid two-way center, but his offensive production has been a nice surprise in his first pro season. The former Wisconsin Badger has four goals in his last five games. Hughes provided Providence with possibly the deepest forward lineup of the season, centering Peter Cehlarik and Karson Kuhlman.

Youth, Defense Filling a Void in Providence

Hughes may have been a steal for the organization as a sixth-round pick. The pick should be a bonus for Providence this season as there seem to be too many centers on the depth chart for him to be called up this season. While it may not have been expected for him to show his offensive skill as fast in the pro game, Hughes’ production will be a key to consistency for the P-Bruins’ roster as it continues to change in the near future.

The blue line is an interesting aspect in the recent run of success. Given the organizational depth, no one saw Olivier Galipeau and Emil Johansson appearing as the second defensive pairing. It’s happened and the Providence defense has been good enough. Rookie Wiley Sherman has excelled playing a more important role alongside Jakub Zboril.

Phil Varone Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Lehigh Valley Phantoms Phil Varone battles Providence Bruins Jakub Zboril.(JustSports Photography)

The Zboril-Sherman pairing provides the perfect dynamic. Sherman’s imposing 6-foot-7 size and strength and his improving footwork has been less exposed playing with the smooth skating Zboril. Providence will need that pairing to play big minutes as long as there are injuries throughout the organization.

The Providence Bruins are in the midst of their best stretch of the season. First-round pick Trent Frederic missed the last two wins along with the other call-ups, but the team is winning. The bottom line is there are P-Bruins players contributing to an NHL team that’s in the hunt, while others are stepping up when given the opportunity on the NHL roster. The big picture: it’s a bonus for the P-Bruins to have so much depth within the organization.