By Carrie Young | Follow me on Twitter @carrieyoung512
The upcoming 2020-21 NHL season will be an important one for the Boston Bruins. After two straight years of being top contenders but falling short of the Stanley Cup, the Bruins are in a precarious position and need to prove that winning is still possible. Young players will need to step up and support the aging Bruins core. This includes players like Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy, of course, and a few prospects who have been putting in work down in Providence.
I listed Vaakanainen as a “prospect to watch” next year for a reason. The young Finn has two years of experience in Providence and has earned high praise from his coaches. Despite losing time with a concussion in 2018-19, he has shown the ability to handle high-pressure situations. He’s looked calm and collected on the ice in the AHL, and one can hope that will translate to the highest level.
Vaakanainen will be a call-up candidate if any injuries occur, assuming that he doesn’t make the opening night roster. The Bruins’ defense is looking thin with the loss of Torey Krug, who signed a contract with the St. Louis Blues this month. While no current prospects have the offensive upside that Krug provides, there are multiple left-shot defensemen who can fill the empty spot on the blue line, Vaakanainen being one of them. He will likely compete with John Moore, Jakub Zboril, and Jeremy Lauzon for a lineup spot, depending on whether or not captain Zdeno Chara is re-signed.
Vaakanainen won’t fill Krug’s shoes; he won’t even attempt it. Instead, he’ll keep up with his steady, consistent game and provide reliable defense while playing a support role in the offensive zone.
Studnicka is one of Boston’s most talked-about prospects. Drafted in 2017, he has appeared in 69 games (including playoffs) for Providence and seven games for Boston. Despite the relative inexperience compared to some of his peers, he has been impressive. He had a sensational year in the AHL in 2019-20, in which he recorded 49 points in 60 games. He was a scoring threat almost every time he entered the offensive zone and led the team with 23 goals. He has just one point in the NHL thus far but still showed potential and impressed his teammates and coaches.
#NHLBruins coach Bruce Cassidy on Jack Studnicka’s performance during Thursday night’s exhibition game: "He certainly had some of our better chances…I thought he played well." pic.twitter.com/m0sVcO4sVn— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) July 31, 2020
It seems likely that Studnicka will need another year in Providence before he’s ready to be a consistent NHL player, but the Bruins may decide to inject some youth into the lineup next season. If a call-up is needed, the right-shot center will be at or near the top of the list.
For Senyshyn, development has been a waiting game. The 22-year-old will enter 2020-21 with just six NHL games under his belt, including four last season in which he was starting to find his rhythm before a knee injury kept him sidelined for weeks. The injury came in the second period of an eventual loss to the Florida Panthers in November, and it was a terrible stroke of luck. Senyshyn had put up two assists in three games and looked good alongside Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork on the third line. He recovered fully but was sent back to Providence when healthy.
Senyshyn’s performance, when healthy last season, proves that he has the ability to settle into the Bruins’ lineup, at least for short periods. If he can produce the same results and avoid injury, he might finally breakthrough after years of putting in work with Providence. The Bruins’ coaching staff have emphasized defensive responsibility and making sure that Senyshyn’s game is complete, not just the offense-heavy player he was in the OHL.
There is room for Senyshyn on the right side in Boston, especially considering that Pastrnak will likely not be recovered from his offseason surgery when the season begins. While other players like Ondrej Kase or the recently-acquired Craig Smith move up to the first line, it would be wise for coach Bruce Cassidy to try Senyshyn in the middle-six to see what he can do.