By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12
Among several stories to come out of the Boston Bruins Foundation golf outing Monday afternoon was head coach Bruce Cassidy’s comments regarding the state of the second line right wing situation, which has been a glaring issue for the better part of five seasons now. Cassidy told the media that Anders Bjork, Karson Kuhlman, Zach Senyshyn, Brett Ritchie, and potentially more are all among options he will consider to fill the open roster spot on David Krejci’s right.
All of the guys mentioned above are also assumedly in the mix for the open spot on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Danton Heinen, barring a shift in the lineup for either of those two; however, the main concern is obviously who will take the third spot alongside Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
The clubhouse favorite seems to be Kuhlman as he had success with the aforementioned duo last season and even came up huge in the playoffs. In 11 regular season games, the Minnesota-Duluth product posted three goals and two assists for five points, spending most of his time on the second line.
Leading into the postseason, the second line with Kuhlman on the right posted eight five-on-five goals in 68:21 of ice-time, and the 23-years-old stepped in seamlessly when asked to either slot in on either the third or second line during the playoffs, notching 1-2-3 numbers in eight games, including this SNIPE in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final:
Next on the wheel of possibilities is Anders Bjork, who, after a strong showing at the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, is looking to prove that he is ready for an NHL role after his first two seasons were cut short by a pair of shoulder surgeries. Bjork is essentially starting from scratch this season, and the Prospects Challenge should have served as a good opportunity to help get his legs under him ahead of camp.
With 15 points in 50 games with the varsity club, Bjork has shown flashes of what many thought he could be when given the chance to actually play in the top-six. However, starting the year off in Providence may not be the worst thing for him as far as his confidence and conditioning goes. The 23-year-old’s NHL experience likely gives him leg up on guys like Senyshyn and even Jack Studnicka or Oskar Steen, both of whom may also get a chance to show what they can do on the second line.
Speaking of Senyshyn, the 15th-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is an interesting case. Boasting gobs of speed, tenacity, and skill, Senyshyn has not quite lit the world on fire at the AHL level (26-24-50 in 132 games) after going off in the OHL (114-63-177 in 195 games).
However, in two NHL games at the end of the regular season last year, the 22-year-old was quite impressive and even scored his first NHL goal against Minnesota; although it was an empty-netter. The speedy Ottawa, Ontario native certainly has the skill set for potential success next to David Krejci, and he’ll get a shot to show he’s the man for the job in what will surely be a “prove it” year.
Ritchie was already going to be an interesting guy to keep an eye on during training camp, but with Cassidy specifically mentioning him in the running for second line right wing, the intrigue has only heightened. The 26-year-old signed with the Bruins at the start of free agency for a one-year, $1-million deal–a pretty low-risk, potentially high-reward signing.
It is unlikely that Ritchie will miraculously become the player that the Dallas Stars thought he could have turned into, a bruising middle-six, or top-six, winger, but he does fit the mold of guys who have found success next to Krejci in years passed (Lucic, Horton, and Iginla–not to say he is or will be as good as those guys, but the comparison is there). Ritchie’s best season was two years ago with Dallas where he scored 24 points (16 goals and eight assists); he moved around in the top-nine, but also spent a decent amount of time with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
The 16 goals he scored three years ago is the key stat. If he can tap into that goal production playing with skilled guys like Krejci and DeBrusk, the Bruins may have found something, so we’ll have to see where this goes during camp.
Cassidy only explicitly mentioned the four guys I talked about above, but that’s not to say someone like the aforementioned Steen or Studnicka won’t get a look either. Although, Steen is still likely a few seasons of way from being fully ready to make the leap to the NHL since this will only be his first professional season in North America.
Likewise with Studnicka, the 20-year-old is set to begin his first full pro season since joining Providence’s playoff run after lighting up the OHL. The former Oshawa Generals captain has experience playing wing even though he is a natural center, and he has made it clear to the organization he will play wing if needed–the skillset on this kid increases the possibility of making an impact with the big club. However, it may be best for him to get even more seasoning playing center in Providence; more on where Studnicka might fit in a future article to look out for. Also, I haven’t even mentioned Peter Cehlarik, but rest assured he’ll probably get a shot considering the flashes he’s shown in his NHL experience.
With training camp set to kick off this week, the ongoing saga at second line right wing is certainly among the top storylines, and Cassidy’s comment only increased the interest around the open roster spot. It really is anyone’s guess as to who will seize the two open roster spots up front. Everyone will surely be curious to see where this goes and who steps up as the next man for the job.