By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
Being referred to as the number one prospect on an NHL team brings along some pressure. For Boston Bruins forward Jack Studnicka, that pressure seems to be growing with the soon-to-be-expiring David Krejci and aging Patrice Bergeron creating some concern on offence for the B’s moving forward into the future.
Studnicka, 22, was the 53rd overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by the Bruins and ever since then has been one of the most hyped prospects in the system. Most draft and prospect analysts around the league have him as the best young-gun in Boston’s organization, but he has yet to make that big push to becoming a star in the NHL.
The Tecumseh, Ontario, Canada native caught the eye of scouts during his solid tenure in the Ontario Hockey League with the Oshawa Generals and near the end, the Niagara Ice Dogs. In 252 career games in the “O”, Studnicka put up 80-153-233 numbers, ending it off with a 83-point year in 60 games split between Oshawa and Niagara.
Since being draft back in ’17, the natural center has one full season in the American Hockey League under his belt. In 2019-20, Studnicka scored 23 goals and 26 assists for 49 points in 60 games for the P-Bruins and even found himself playing in two games in the big leagues – tallying his first career NHL assist.
This season, however, was expected to be a bigger jump for Studnicka. The Bruins started the young forward in Boston to start the 2021 campaign, but rather than playing him in his natural center position, the coaching staff slotted him on the right-wing. Why? The Bruins have a solid center depth with Bergeron, Krejci, Coyle and Kuraly taking up the four spots and having success for years now.
Once David Pastrnak returned from offseason surgery, the Bruins had too many players up in the majors, so Studnicka was sent back down to Providence. After a pair of games, David Krejci was forced out of the lineup due to an injury, so Studnicka was recalled once again – but this time to play center.
At Lake Tahoe, the 22-year-old had a decent outing. While he only had a 40.91 CF%, he did have a 70.51 xGF% – the highest of the season so far and a 54.55 SCF%, only the second time all year he had more scoring chances than against. Studnicka also got a primary assists on David Pastrnak’s hat-trick goal.
The next two games for the Bruins were pretty bad, losing 7-2 and 6-2 to both the Islanders and Rangers in back-to-back nights. Even though the team as a whole struggled, Jack Studnicka had a solid pair of games. He had a positive CF%, a solid xGF%, as well as SCF%. He was strong in the boards, fought for pucks and was one of the only Bruins in both meetings to play hard for the entirety of the game.
In Sunday’s win over the Rangers, Studnicka, tallied another assist – his second on the season – as he brought the puck into the zone on a solid entry, pivoting back to face the blueline before feeding it to Connor Clifton. Clifton’s shot from the point got tipped in from a net-front Trent Frederic to give the Bruins a 2-0 advantage in the game and would eventually be the game-winning goal in a 4-1 win.
The combination of Frederic and Studnicka had themselves a great game with two great chances to add another goal on the scoresheet. One of which was Studnicka staying tenacious on a puck to steal it from a Rangers defenceman on the point to race away on a 2-on-0, only for Studnicka to be denied on the shot.
Studnicka has been a better all-around player since going back to his natural position down the middle. He has had a better Corsi (40.83% at wing, 52.21% at center), a consistently-improving xGF% including an impressive 80.21 xGF% in the 4-1 win over the Blueshirts, and while on the ice, has been allowing a lower average of shots against and continues to improve on that in each game.
One thing that Studnicka has struggled with is the faceoff dot. According to nhl.com, he has won 18 of his 46 draws taken for a 40.6% success rate. However, with arguably one of the best faceoff practitioners ever in Patrice Bergeron on the same team, that skill will likely be developed as time goes on.
It is without a doubt that at center, Studnicka is able to drive plays a lot better and he is finding chemistry with guys like Trent Frederic. Some work on finishing chances more efficiently and winning more faceoffs would be beneficial, but that comes with consistent play.
When David Krejci does return, it will be a difficult choice to re-align the lineup. Charlie Coyle scored twice (once on an empty-net) on Sunday and he is finally starting to find his groove again as a third-line center, so moving him to the right-wing may not be the best decision. Perhaps someone like Sean Kuraly moves to the wing for Studnicka and Chris Wagner remains a healthy scratch – the possibilities are nearly limitless. Regardless though, the Bruins would not be doing themselves a favor if they move Jack Studnicka back to right-wing when Krejci returns.