By: Zach Carlone | Follow me on Twitter! @zcarlone21
The Bruins have undergone some big changes thus far this offseason, and one can only suspect what the roster on opening night is going to look like. The bottom-six is going to look much different, and the Bruins will also be without the famed no. 46 David Krejci, who left the Bruins this offseason when his contract expired to return home to play in the Czech Republic in front of friends and family. His presence down the middle and absence from the team as the former number two center leaves a gaping hole to be filled.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy expects Charlie Coyle to be the best fit to replace Krejci on the second line, but based on Coyle’s play and production last season, I’m not so sure that plug-in will last too long. Krejci found fantastic chemistry with wingers Taylor Hall and Craig Smith heading into last season’s playoffs, but Krejci and Coyle’s playing styles are tremendously different, leading me to believe that the spot could be left for somebody else to take it.
Enter 22-year-old center Jack Studnicka into the mix. The former second-round pick found some time to play with the Bruins last season but was ultimately pushed to play with Providence for much of the shortened season. In 20 games with the Bruins last season, Studnicka potted his first NHL goal and also collected two assists. With Providence, Studnicka had seven assists in eleven contests. With all of the other circulating news surrounding the Bruins this offseason, Studnicka’s name seems to get lost in the shuffle.
When the Bruins inserted the right-handed forward into the lineup for the past two seasons, most of his time spent was on the wing. It wasn’t until last season that he got a shot of playing down the middle in the NHL, and he excelled. In those games that he did play center, he looked dynamic, smart, and fluid. Most importantly, he looked comfortable. He obviously has more room to grow, but his short tryout at center in a handful of games last season should give Studnicka a fighting chance to crack a spot on the team at some point during the 2021-22 campaign.
Standing in Studnicka’s way is the aging core of this Bruins team. General manager Don Sweeney brought in a handful of new faces to better support their stars and make another run at a Stanley Cup championship. Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron’s contract expires after the 2021-22 season, making the future of the Bruins contention in playoffs at a potential risk. Sweeney also signed former free agents Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and Thomas Nosek, all having spent some time playing center at some point in their respective careers.
If Coyle fails to produce on the second line with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, then I think Studnicka deserves a chance. He’s dynamic, young, and a spark that the Bruins may need to pan out if they want to bring down the reigning two-time champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who are returning to the same division as the Bruins again this season. Studnicka’s persistence of hanging around the club reminds me much of the emergence of Lightning forward Ross Colton last season, who played a huge role for the Lightning heading into the playoffs. Colton, 24, scored the game-winning goal in game six of the Stanley Cup Final to hand the Lightning their second straight championship.
I’m not saying Studnicka has to live up to those expectations and be a major part of this team, but I do think this is the year for him to take a potential leap towards being a full-time NHL player. David Krejci’s spot on the team is unfortunately gone, and the Bruins haven’t truly addressed his loss externally. If anybody the Bruins are expecting to replace the underrated playmaking center doesn’t perform well enough in their role, I think Jack Studnicka should get a well-deserved look from the Bruins coaching staff. It’ll all start with training camp and the preseason tilts starting next month.