The Providence Bruins managed to get even younger over the last two weeks. Injuries all over the organization combined with late-season signings have brought changes to the Providence lineup, many of them fresh faces to the organization.
Over the weekend, the P-Bruins were undeterred by the lineup changes, earning an important two-game sweep of the Atlantic Division-leading Lehigh Valley Phantoms. In a 5-4 overtime win Friday and a 6-1 win Saturday, it was the young guys leading the way. Six of the team’s 11 goals against Lehigh Valley were scored by rookies. The P-Bruins dropped a 5-2 decision to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Wednesday night to fall a point out of second place in the division, but once again, a rookie netted a goal as Jakub Zboril found his name on the scoresheet.
New Youngsters Fitting In
P-Bruins fans got an introduction to 2016 fifth-round pick Joona Koppanen on Saturday. The Finnish winger had two goals playing in just his second game in North America. Koppanen made the move after his Ilves Tampere team in Finland missed the playoffs. Koppanen joined Ilves at Finland’s top level after lighting up the scoresheet in his final season for the Ilves under-20 team. It’s the same program in which current Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask developed. Koppanen brings an impressive international resume, as he won a gold with Finland at the U-18 level and was fourth in scoring for Finland at the most recent World Junior tournament.
Trent Frederic registered his first professional goal in Friday’s win over Lehigh Valley. The young forward is quickly asserting himself in the P-Bruins’ lineup. With Jordan Szwarz and Paul Postma getting recalled by the Bruins, Providence featured 10 rookies in the lineup in the mid-week loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Frederic didn’t register a point in the game but was moved to the first line with Ryan Fitzgerald and Austin Czarnik. Although they were struggling for options, it’s clear Jay Leach and the Providence staff already think highly of the player with four professional games under his belt. Frederic has been assertive, leading the team with 12 shots on goal over that four-game span.
The rookie-filled game also gave Wiley Sherman the chance to make his professional debut. The 2013 fifth-round pick just completed his senior season with the Harvard Crimson. He has some exciting physical tools for a defenseman. Sherman is more of a stay-at-home type; his highest point total was 13 in any season at Harvard, but his 6-foot-7 frame gives him a nice intangible. Providence fans will likely see a lot more of Sherman on the blue line in years to come.
Ryan Fitzgerald was the other rookie that had a two-goal game over the weekend. After an impressive career at Boston College, Fitzgerald has increased his production for the P-Bruins late into his rookie season. He’s registered 17 points, a line of 9-8-17, over his last 25 games. The grind of a longer season hasn’t affected Fitzgerald, who had just 15 points through the first 32 games of the season. There’s little doubt that playing on the first line with one of the league’s top playmakers in Czarnik helps, but the noticeable added confidence he’s been playing with would work on any line.
Young Defensemen Working to Improve
The P-Bruins dressed four rookies on defense in Wednesday’s match-up with the Penguins. Captain Tommy Cross was recalled by the Bruins and the young group struggled on the road without Cross or Postma. Jeremy Lauzon appears to still be looking to regain his form from the beginning of the season after missing 22 games due to a concussion.
A positive development from the young defenseman has been Zboril. The 2015 first-rounder has looked more comfortable jumping into the play. His assertiveness on the offensive end has led to four points in his last four games. With so much youth on defense, a player like Zboril taking a step forward in his development is needed for a deep playoff run. While he may never put up big offensive numbers at the professional level, the building confidence is a good sign.
As Boston gets closer to returning to full strength, the P-Bruins should have their full complement of veterans soon. It will be needed as the schedule doesn’t get any easier with a weekend road trip featuring Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton once again.
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.