It was perhaps inevitable that 22-year-old Boston Bruins rookie Jack Studnicka was going to be sent back to the minors once Nick Foligno returned to good health.
That’s exactly what happened on Wednesday as Studnicka was sent to the Providence Bruins to play this week and the 33-year-old Foligno is expected to return for Thursday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers at TD Garden. The youngster had a tough night in his final game with the Bruins while playing at the unfamiliar right wing spot and took a tough offensive zone tripping penalty in the third period along with some play along the boards that wasn’t heavy enough for the NHL.
“Studs was light on the puck at times,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “The effort is always there with him, but to play in this league you’ve got to [be stronger]. He got stripped once early on, so understand the pace of this league and get heavy on pucks…especially when you’re on the wall and not moving as much.”
It was further confirmation that Studnicka is much better off left at center than trying him out on the wing, and that he’d be much better playing more minutes in the minors than shuttling in and out of the lineup in Boston. Studnicka’s appearance on Tuesday was his first game in almost two weeks after showing he wasn’t quite ready for second line center duty in back-to-back road losses in Florida and Carolina at the end of October.
“He’s going to go play [Wednesday night] in Providence. He still has to play games. He missed a couple [AHL games] last weekend in Providence when he was an extra with us in Toronto,” said Cassidy, who said that they needed Studnicka as insurance in case Craig Smith wasn’t able to play against the Maple Leafs. “It could have been an opportunity to play down there. You don’t want [him] sitting too long. Then we’ll sort through this weekend, but with Foligno back and [Anton] Blidh we’ll have closer to what we started with [on the roster].”
Undoubtedly, consistent playing time is exactly what the 22-year-old needs right now. Studnicka will center Jakub Lauko and Chris Wagner for Providence and presumably play in all situations for the P-Bruins.
It’s certainly been a frustrating start to the season for Studnicka, who really pushed in training camp and looked like he might be primed for regular NHL duty. There have been good moments during the regular season like one of his first shifts vs. the Panthers when he teamed up with Taylor Hall and Charlie Coyle for a goal, and there have been other moments where he’s left the Bruins coaching staff hoping for more.
But it also opens the door to frustrations about his lack of true linear development coming off last year’s lost season mostly sitting on the Bruins taxi squad. Should the Boston Bruins coaching staff show a little more patience with him at the NHL level to work through some of the mistakes, the weak areas of his game and the inevitable rookie adjustment that comes with being a young player capable of handling NHL center responsibilities?
It’s a question that’s difficult to easily answer, but Studnicka, like many NHL players, is undoubtedly going to press and have a tough time developing if he isn’t allowed to work through some of the mistakes. Instead, he’ll build his game back up at the AHL level and be ready if/when injuries or struggles open up another chance for him with Erik Haula (one assist and a minus-4 in 10 games) really struggling as the third line center at the NHL level right now.