The Providence Bruins are set for next season. Many familiar faces are returning but some key veterans are departing, like Austin Czarnik, Kenny Agostino, and Tommy Cross. Their replacements appear to be Mark McNeill, Martin Bakos, and Cody Goloubef. With the exception of Bakos, those spots seem set as AHL replacements. However, AHL rosters tend to fluctuate during a season, so who could earn a call-up to the big club? Who’s coming in for reinforcements at the end of the year? Let’s explore the possibilities.
Door Open For Young P-Bruins’ Centers
The door is open for Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson. Forsbacka-Karlsson is a smart two-way center in an organization that just lost a solid third line center at the NHL level in Riley Nash. Although slowed by injury in his first full pro season, Forsbacka-Karlsson put up a 15-17-32 stat line in 58 games last season. He should be an impact player in Providence next season with his offensive production increasing.
Forsbacka-Karlssson will likely start the season in Providence but he could be one of the first call-ups. His game suits the big club if a center goes down or his performance warrants a promotion. Until then, the P-Bruins will reap the benefits of a talented second-year forward who’s bouncing back from a late-season concussion.
Trent Frederic is another center with the potential to shoot through the system quickly. Those expectations come largely from the fact he was considered a project offensively when the Bruins drafted him 29 overall in the 2016 NHL Draft. Frederic responded by leading the Wisconsin Badgers in goals his sophomore season with 17 in 36 games. He coupled that with a solid showing for the United States at the World Junior Championships before joining the P-Bruins and immediately contributing at the end of the season. Frederic’s early development is exciting but he may need at least a full season in the AHL before making the jump.
At forward, Bakos may get the call. He is a veteran from Europe who represented Slovakia at the 2018 Winter Olympics. At the AHL level, he has big shoes to fill as Kenny Agostino and Austin Czarnik were proven commodities. He doesn’t have to be a direct replacement offensively as Providence has young forwards like Ryan Fitzgerald and Zach Senyshyn returning that could step up to help fill the scoring void.
For late season additions, P-Bruins fans may want to root against the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals. The Generals return with a lot of pieces led by Bruins’ 2017 second-rounder Jack Studnicka. Studnicka’s P-Bruins debut at the end of the 2017-18 season saw him average a point per game in his five-game stint.
There’s a trend here. Studnicka is known as a responsible center in all three zones. What separates him is his playmaking ability which surpasses Frederic or Forsbacka-Karlsson. If Oshawa is knocked out of the OHL playoffs, expect Studnicka to be an impact late-season addition. Due to AHL rules, he will be returned to the OHL if he doesn’t make the big club out of training camp.
Organizational Depth on Blue Line
Defense is a little more complicated when it comes to potential call-ups. Jakub Zboril will play big minutes for the P-Bruins this season. However, the John Moore signing in Boston puts at least four left-shot defensemen in front of Zboril on the depth chart. Zboril improved significantly towards the end of the season. If the Czech defenseman continues that progression, he’ll be the guy to make up for the absence of Cross in Providence.
The remaining defensive group is interesting. Goloubef is an AHL veteran, you can count on him for production and to eat up minutes. The wild card in the group is Urho Vaakanainen. The 2017 Finnish first-rounder will be playing his first season in North America. In terms of AHL expectations, Vaakanainen could provide a huge boost to the blue line and should be given the opportunity to develop and play in different situations at the lower level. The organization already has eight proven NHL defensemen and possibly two more in front of him with Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon.
The P-Bruins goaltenders should be set for the upcoming season. Unless there’s an injury don’t expect a call-up. In fact, signing Jaroslav Halak to a two-year deal shows the uncertainty within the organization. Zane Mcintyre finished 2017-18 with respectable numbers but needs to be more consistent. McIntyre was pulled in the playoffs against Lehigh Valley for St. Louis loanee Jordan Binnington.
McIntyre will be a restricted free agent at the end of the year and will be playing for a contract. This season will bring the arrival of Daniel Vladar who has two seasons of ECHL hockey under his belt after making the rare jump from the United States Hockey League to professional hockey.
McIntyre is more likely to earn a call-up with his experience. With that said, Vladar is the prospect with the opportunity to win playing time early. Despite his professional experience, Vladar will only be 21 when the season starts. At 6-foot-5 and with noted athletic ability, expect the organization to give him plenty of time to develop. When projecting the P-Bruins season, a lot may depend on how Vladar adjusts to his first full season in the AHL. Halak could be bridging the gap while Vladar continues development in the AHL
The organization is stocked with talent. For the P-Bruins, that means a solid core down the middle and a skilled group of defensemen. Vladar is a project in net but he’s young. Providence fans can expect one of the younger teams in recent years, but high-end talent should be shuffling in and out of the Dunkin Donuts Center.