BRIGHTON – Charlie Coyle is excited to finally get into some preseason game action after coming off knee surgery last summer followed by a prudent, deliberate rehab path through training camp, and rightfully so for the guy penciled in as the No. 2 center at this point.
Coyle’s absence, however, did open up a lot of reps and opportunities for 22-year-old Jack Studnicka to center the second line with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith and boy did he take advantage of the chances he was given. Studnicka finished with two goals and four points in the preseason and was one of Boston’s best players on numerous occasions during the exhibition games, and he’s clearly made a push for NHL roster consideration.
Even if Studnicka doesn’t get first crack at the chance to replace David Krejci on the second line, the way he’s played to this point is going to get him considered for other positions and other spots among the forward group.
“I liked his game. I liked his commitment to playing a 200-foot game and how he managed pucks,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “He did not turn over pucks like he has in the past trying plays that…I hate to be disrespectful, but I’d call them junior [hockey] plays sometimes when they come up. They get away with it there, but they’re not going to here because the guys are better defensively.
“So he’s sticking with a simpler approach to how he’s going to generate offense and he’ll end up making some high end plays because he can. I think it’s worked out better for him. He hasn’t been chasing back the other way. I think his defending has been excellent in terms of what we’ve asked. He’s got to keep working on his strength at faceoffs, but we’ve got to take a look after the last [exhibition game]. Do we push somebody to the wing or not? That will be a conversation. We like how we are in the middle of the ice, but if our lineup looks better because we think [Studnicka] is ready then we’ll do it. But are we giving Charlie Coyle then what he deserves? He’s a proven NHL player. He has to play some games here. He’s going to play [against the Capitals in the final preseason game], but after that he’s going to have to play some games before we start moving the pieces around.”
It feels like the Bruins are going to give Coyle time to get his legs under him before they’d even consider Studnicka for an extended look at the No. 2 center spot, but nonetheless Coyle has been paying close attention to what the youngster has been doing. The competition is exactly what good hockey clubs need to have in order to be successful, and Coyle, to his credit, was accepting that competition in exactly the way he should.
“That’s what you need. That’s what good teams have. Every day I think you should feel a little pressure whether it’s a young guy, or whether it’s an older guy trying to make a push. That’s what makes the guys that are ahead play better because if you don’t then they are coming up,” said Coyle. “That’s the mindset you have to have to bring it every day or somebody is going to take your spot.
“But to have that within our team with extra guys that can come in and play, that’s only going to make our team better. So you love to see it. You love to see a guy like [Studnicka] play well and push us, push me…hope I push him. That’s what makes a good team, that’s what makes good teammates and that’s exactly what we need.”
Everything that Coyle is saying is what being a good hockey teammate is all about.
Reading all the tea leaves, one would expect that Studnicka won’t be in the opening lineup for the Boston Bruins. Furthermore, it’s likely he starts the regular season in Providence to get the ice time, and play in all situations, that a 22-year-old needs in the first handful of seasons in his pro career. Studnicka will likely be one of the last, most difficult, cuts from a Bruins training camp where the youngster truly deserves to be on the team given the way he’s played and performed over the last month.
Studnicka will get a chance to show the Boston Bruins brass that he’s ready to show the ultimate last step as a pro, and that’s showing that he’s willing to still be a good pro when the business of hockey gets in the way of the game.
Beyond that, B’s fans can rest assured they are going to hear plenty from Studnicka this season based on the way he’s looked in the preseason, and given the inevitability of injuries, inconsistency and struggle over the course of an 82-game NHL regular season gauntlet about to get underway.