With the COVID outbreak suddenly removing three important top-6 forwards from the Boston Bruins mix, it’s finally time for rookie Jack Studnicka to get an extended opportunity with the Black and Gold.
The 22-year-old center and fellow rookie Oskar Steen were both called up from the AHL on Wednesday ahead of the three-game road trip for the Bruins after brief pockets of play with the Black and Gold this season. Studnicka hasn’t played up in Boston since Nov. 9 and has an assist and a minus-1 in four games of so-so play for the Black and Gold this season. He had a brief shot centering Taylor Hall and Charlie Coyle back in October but has yet to get a true extended look at the NHL level after performing impressively in training camp with improved strength and a higher level of play.
With Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Craig Smith all potentially out until after Christmas while in COVID-19 protocol, now could be the time for Studnicka to finally get a little runway to show exactly what he can do at the NHL level.
“I think we’d all like Jack to go in and play well. He’s a good young player that we’ve been talking about for a while,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy of the B’s top center prospect, who has four goals, nine points and a minus-3 in 11 games with the P-Bruins this season. “It’s just like [Trent Frederic], who is getting an opportunity in the middle. We’d like to see some growth there as well from our young players getting a chance to play.
“We have discussions internally [about young players] and we have kind of a center-by-committee brought in this year with [free agent] guys that have been in the league and played. So that squeezes some other guys out, usually the young guys. But it may be time [to give Studnicka an extended look]. We’ve done that with Frederic and pushed Haula over to the side where he’s performed a little better on the wing. So we’ve had an opportunity to get a look at a young player that was drafted as a center and played center in Providence but was pushed to the wing here. Yeah, it might be time for those guys. To have some young legs there some days when you’re lacking a little juice is not a bad thing. They just need to be ready to play and that’s the only question mark.”
One thing is for certain: Studnicka will need to be better than he’s been at Providence this season, where Cassidy said reports about him have been “uneven” following his excellent preseason at NHL camp. It would be natural if Studnicka had a let-down to his game after not seizing his NHL chance a few months ago, but now is an opportune time for a young player to grab an NHL spot with so many veterans temporarily out of the picture.
“Jack has been uneven in Providence and that’s from the people that I’ve talked to,” said Cassidy. “Steen has been a little more consistent, but Jack was good in training camp. That’s the last viewing I had of him other than a few games he’s played here or there.
“For me I remember a guy that was playing better. We’ll make a decision accordingly, but [Bruins GM Don Sweeney] and the people he talks to down there [in Providence] have a greater influence sometimes on who goes in. But we’ll huddle up and do what’s best for the group.”
People forget that a young David Krejci needed an injury to befall Marc Savard (a broken bone in his back courtesy of a Steve Begin cross-check) before he began establishing himself at the NHL level during the 2007-08 season, and maybe this is that time for a young player the Boston Bruins desperately need to develop into a top-6 NHL talent.
Given the lack of scoring depth, the lack of really stellar play from proven NHL commodities like Haula that were brought in to play center and the lack of a true No. 2 center for the Bruins right now, it feels like the time is right to give Studnicka his best, longest chance to prove that he belongs at the NHL level. Perhaps a positive can grow out of a burgeoning negative situation with the Boston Bruins beset by positive COVID-19 cases as they rise across the league.