The Boston Bruins have made a decision that they’re going to get a look at rookie Jack Studnicka right now at the center position at the NHL level.
The 21-year-old rookie has picked up assists in two of the last four games while playing some center with David Krejci injured and out of the lineup, and generally looked more comfortable playing the middle rather than the wing. So Studnicka was skating as the fourth line center during Tuesday’s practice between Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner, and that’s where he’ll get playing time at his natural position even if Krejci is ready to go Wednesday night against the Washington Capitals.
The fourth line may not be an obvious fit for the offensively gifted Studnicka, but it’s actually not a bad spot manning the pivot in a Bruins lineup close to full strength.
“He’s a center-first, right? We kind of discussed that there wasn’t a lot of room for him to play in the [NHL] lineup, as constructed, at center at the beginning of the year,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We’d liked our three right-shot centers with Kuraly at the fourth [center]. With Krejci out, let’s try to get Jack in there and see the way he’s developed and progressed at center. And we liked what he did, and he was more noticeable at center.
“We decided to put him at the wing, right or wrong, [at the beginning of the year] and now he’s been able to get back at center. And we’ve liked the way he’s played. So now we’re going to put Kuraly at the wing, leave Studnicka at center and kind of reevaluate our fourth line a little bit. See what it looks like and see where it goes. Is it ideal for Jack to be a fourth line center? He’s got to play his game in the middle no matter what, no matter who his wingers are. He might just see different zone starts, with more in his own end. So, it will be good for his defensive game as well. We’ll see how he adapts to it and go accordingly. We’ll see if he can adapt and adjust to playing with different style players like Kuraly, Wagner and [Anders] Bjork as opposed to when he was with [Trent] Frederic and [Jake] DeBrusk.”
It’s not like Studnicka is an all-offense player after dazzling AHL opponents on the penalty kill last season while leading the AHL in shorthanded goals. He can handle the two-way play normally associated with the B’s fourth line.
It was clear to the Boston Bruins, though, that Studnicka wasn’t entirely comfortable on the wing during his earlier stint in Boston. The rookie was a little too light along the boards where he needs to continue gaining physical strength, and that was even more obvious when he was playing a top-6 wing role with the Black and Gold.
Perhaps a fourth line spot, with Kuraly and Wagner doing the boards work and Kuraly helping out in the face-off circle, could be a spot to succeed for Studnicka? It might also bring a little more of an offensive dimension to the fourth line if a third line of Trent Frederic, Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith adds a little more of the heaviness and puck possession as currently constituted.
Here are the line combos and D-pairings from Tuesday’s Bruins practice with Kevan Miller (lower body) still missing, and both David Krejci (upper body) and Matt Grzelcyk practicing and potential options for Wednesday night vs. the Capitals: