One of the few true battles in this Boston Bruins training camp is the No. 2 center spot where Charlie Coyle has the inside track for the gig, but 22-year-old rookie Jack Studnicka is also going to get serious consideration as well.
Studnicka’s candidacy is off to a roaring start after he scored one goal and set up the other with a slick offensive zone face-off win in Boston’s 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers in preseason action at Madison Square Garden. Studnicka finished with an impressive six shots on net and eight shot attempts overall in his 16:55 of ice time while playing against a Rangers lineup that featured regulars like Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko and Jacob Trouba among others.
It wasn’t just about the production, though, as the B’s coaching staff also noted that he was making good decisions with the puck on his stick as well.
“He managed the puck well. I don’t think anybody early on was hard enough on it. Once we got it in the O-zone that’s where their line started doing a little more of that, finding outlets and going low-to-high so we could space out and get a little more room,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We got some transition opportunities. It was a good spot for Jack where he finishes [for a goal] and had a couple of other chances around the net, a wraparound that I think he got from [Mike] Reilly again getting through the neutral zone where he was right around the net.
“Good for Jack in that regard. I think their line has the ability to create offense, and eventually they did. They did a good job for us.”
The line of Jesper Froden, Studnicka and Fabian Lysell finally got on the board for the B’s after they were down 2-0 in the game. Mike Reilly threw a stretch pass up to Lysell, who made a slick move to create space before finding Studnicka as the trailer for the sweeping one-time shot from the slot.
Lysell to Studnicka for the goal. what a play. I am screaming pic.twitter.com/XueRhEGIJy
— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) September 29, 2021
Then later it was Studnicka winning a clean draw to Urho Vaakanainen, who smoked a one-time blast to the back of the net for Boston’s only other goal of the night.
For a player in Studnicka that looked like he was struggling a bit to create chemistry with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith early in camp, it was a great first impression of the new, improved Studnicka with an extra 15 pounds of muscle put on this summer.
“I think I was able to throw my body around more when I was going through guys’ hands on the backcheck,” said Studnicka. It’s going to be a work-in-progress. It’s a different kind of game that I can play now and just trying to bring a little more of an edge.”
Coyle is back in Boston medically cleared to fully participate in practice after summer knee surgery, and he was centering Hall and Smith at Tuesday morning’s camp practice at Warrior Ice Arena. Still, even he was impressed by Studnicka’s offseason improvement working with EPS (Edge Performance Systems) in Foxboro despite competing with the youngster for a potential spot in the lineup.
“It shows, first off, that he’s committed. [Studnicka] is a young guy that wants to improve, and he sticks around here all summer. That’s a big thing. He didn’t spend a lot of time back home and that’s hard when you’ve been here all year,” said Coyle. “The commitment to stay here all summer and work out down in Foxboro at EPS with Brian [McDonough] and all their trainers, it says a lot about him. He put in the work. He shows up every day, comes in early and sweats it out. You can tell with his confidence too, getting a little stronger and a little bigger.
“When you can throw a little weight on and not lose any speed, that’s pretty good. You could see his skill last year. He’s such a young guy with another year of experience plus everything with the weight training improving his quickness and strength, that’s huge for him. That’s what we need from him and he’s going to be a great player for us.”
The real proof, though, is what everybody sees on the ice. Studnicka is stronger on the puck, more decisive in the offensive zone and able to fight through back-checks and the shift-to-shift obstruction that can still happen routinely on the ice.
In other words, he looks much more NHL-ready now than he did a year ago. That’s a great sign for a Boston Bruins team that could really use a No. 2 center with a bit more of an offensive upside than Coyle, a very effective, big-bodied center that’s only surpassed 20 goals and 50 points once in his solid NHL career.
Studnicka will need keep it going, of course, and keep building off a very encouraging first performance. But don’t close the door on the training camp competition for the No. 2 center gig quite yet in Boston because it looks like one of the Boston Bruins’ top center prospects has something to say about it after working diligently for this NHL chance.