BRIGHTON, MA – Last season was not an easy one for young Boston Bruins center Jack Studnicka.
Far from it actually, as the 23-year-old center couldn’t seize an early season chance to grasp a roster spot and then went through a difficult stretch mentally when he landed back in Providence to further develop his game.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder eventually bounced back to finish with 10 goals and 35 points in 41 games and learned some valuable lessons after some long heart-to-heart talks with NHL veterans like Chris Wagner while putting the pieces back together again. Let’s just say it’s made all the difference this year for a player in Studnicka that’s won an NHL job out of training camp, even if he was aided by the fact that the Bruins now have to pass him through waivers to go down to the AHL.
“My first couple of years I was maybe saying that I thought I was ready, but I knew that I wasn’t,” admitted Studnicka. “Last year I thought at camp that I was ready. Then mentally I didn’t approach it right when I got sent down.
“So I think mentally I think I’m more ready to handle it now than I ever was before. It’s shaped me to add to my game. The guys that make it right away, they’re special players and that’s great. But when you go through stuff like [Chris Wagner] has been through, you get a sense of gratitude. You really appreciate being here and playing in the NHL. So being here now I can probably say it was a good thing to go through because I think it made me mature a lot.”
Studnicka certainly earned it with his play on the ice, though, as he teamed with AJ Greer and Marc McLaughlin for one of Boston’s most effective lines during the preseason, and showed some of the grit, tenacity and ability to withstand NHL physicality that he’s going to need if he’s planning on getting looks on the fourth line. When the NHL roster was essentially put on the ice mid-week with cuts following the Rangers preseason game, it was a gratifying feeling for Jack Studnicka even if it came with a little bit of overnight stress.
“It’s certainly encouraging. To be honest, the sleep wasn’t great last night,” said Studnicka on Thursday morning as he and Jakub Lauko joined the regulars on ice for the lineup that looks like it’s going to start the season. “But I thought I put my best foot forward and now the work begins. This isn’t the end of the road. You need to put the work in every single day because things can change in a second in this league.
“I’m excited to be here, but I’m not going to take it like ‘I’m here.’ I’ll just keep working every day and try to stay up.”
It may be that is Studnicka’s gateway to an NHL job just like it was Brad Marchand’s at a similar stage in his career, and if that’s the case then he’s ready to what needs to be done.
“I think the past couple of years I’ve tried to grow certain things into my game: faceoffs, physicality, D-zone positioning and having a good stick,” said Studnicka. “I’m not one of the bigger guys, so I’m not going to be blowing people up, but if I’m checking with my legs and [getting] stick on puck then I think that makes me versatile.
“I’m a believer that the offense is going to come. Whether people believe expect that or not doesn’t really matter to me, because I know it’s going to happen.”
Certainly, Studnicka did a good job of fighting through some heavy hockey thrown his way earlier this week when he got popped several times in the preseason win over the New York Rangers.
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The most encouraging part of that sequence was that Studnicka kept on buzzing, stuck his nose right back into the danger areas and didn’t get discouraged in the least. That’s a sign of maturity in a young player that’s intent on winning a job and carving out some kind of niche at the NHL level, whether it’s the Anthony Cirelli projections some scouts see for him or something else entirely.
The key in Studnicka’s mind is consistency and always bringing something to the table even if the puck isn’t going into the net.
“Consistency. You can’t take a game off and if you don’t have your ‘A’ game then you need to be winning faceoffs and be good in the D-zone and killing penalties,” said Studnicka. “You’re not going to have your hands and legs every night, so bringing something else to the table every night is key.”
So where will Studnicka end up when he lands in the lineup now that fellow young B’s forwards like Marc McLaughlin and Johnny Beecher have been shipped to the minors?
It would be surprising to see him go anywhere else on waivers or otherwise, as the 23-year-old center represents a talented young pivot in an organization where 37-year-old Patrice Bergeron and 36-year-old David Krejci are probably playing out their last season in Black and Gold. Studnicka is part of the long-term future for the Boston Bruins at the center position even if it’s to be determined where he settles into the lineup.
Certainly, he may end up getting some fourth line center looks with Tomas Nosek pushing off to the left wing where he can bring the smart, defensive veteran presence while Studnicka learns on the job.
“When people typically think of a fourth-line center, I don’t think Nose is the person they think of. They think of someone that’s a heavy forechecker,” said Boston Bruins head coach coach Jim Montgomery. “He is a good fourth-line center because of his positional play and how he supports his wings in the defensive zone and the offensive zone.
“He’s a real smart hockey player in the offensive zone, as far as understanding how we want to play and wherever he’s been. That’s what’s really allowed him to have success — not so much production but how he builds the team game.”
Perhaps someday some of those things will be said about Studnicka after he’s put in a decade of strong work at the NHL level. For now, though, he’s simply showing gratitude for the chance he’s been given and focusing on giving the Boston Bruins a growing list of reasons why they want to keep him around for the long haul.