Boston Bruins Film Session: Chris Wagner Seizes His Opportunity (vs. Toronto, 4-29-22)

( Photo Credit: Stuart Cahill / MediaNews Group / Boston Herald )

By: Joe Travia | Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @NHLJoeTravia

It’s hard to get overly worked up about game 82 of 82 in a long, grueling NHL season. With a playoff berth secured and little to play for, the Boston Bruins left a lot of lineup regulars at home, choosing instead to play some of their normal healthy scratches in addition to a few call-ups from the Providence Bruins.

The name that stood out the most amongst these fill-ins was the Mayor of Walpole himself, Chris Wagner. A former 7th Player of the Year award winner, the 30-year-old Wagner played three seasons in Boston, establishing himself as a fan favorite due to his physical, energetic style. In November of 2019, GM Don Sweeney rewarded Wagner with a three-year, $4.05 million extension. Unfortunately, everything went off the rails for Wagner after that. His scoring touch disappeared, and he looked less and less like a guy who belonged in the NHL.

Things bottomed out for Wagner before the 2021-2022 season, as he was placed on waivers by the team. When he went unclaimed, he reported to Providence, where he has been all season. To his credit, Wagner has handled this situation like a total pro. He has produced offensively for the P-Bruins and, by all accounts, has been an invaluable mentor for the younger players in Providence. After a trying year, it was great to see him get a chance.

It was even better to see him run with it. Wagner played like a guy who knew this was his only chance to make a good enough an impression to crack the door open on a potential return to Boston. In 15:11 TOI, Wagner landed two shots on goal and eleven (no, that is not a typo) hits. Wagner was engaged on the forecheck, using his speed and physicality to pressure Toronto’s defenseman all night. He drew a penalty that led to a goal. He backchecked hard. He was noticeable on nearly every shift. He didn’t just crack the door; he pushed it wide open.

Now, the purpose of this article isn’t really to junk on guys like Jack Studnicka and Marc McLaughlin. They’re both young players whose best days as professional hockey players are ahead of them. They will use this game as a learning experience.

Watching the game, however, you really were left hoping that they used this opportunity to make an impression the same way Wagner did. They each were a -3, and both had bad turnovers leading directly to goals. The offense wasn’t there either. They weren’t particularly noticeable unless it was for something negative.

Studnicka was a second-round pick and has long hovered in the top five of the Bruins prospect pool. McLaughlin parlayed a successful four-year college run at Boston College and appearance for Team USA at the 2022 Olympic games into an NHL contract with his hometown Bruins. While they have each shown flashes, neither McLaughlin nor Studnicka has truly made enough of a mark to convince Cassidy and the rest of the Bruins brass that they deserve a longer look for more clout within the organization.

Situations like this require a lot more than they gave. Cassidy tried to put them in the best position to succeed as well, placing them on a line with 25-goal scorer Jake DeBrusk. They just didn’t seize the moment.

Following the game, coach Bruce Cassidy hinted that Wagner had done enough to stick around in Boston for the playoff run as a depth forward. Studnicka and McLaughlin were both returned to Providence. When you’re a roster bubble guy, life in the NHL can never be taken for granted. You have to prove yourself every chance you get. Chris Wagner knows that; I hope the younger players like Studnicka and McLaughlin know now too.

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