( Photo Credit: Providence Bruins / Flickr )

By: Tim Dumas | Follow me on Twitter @TimDumas

Boston Bruins prospect Marc McLaughlin isn’t playing at his desired destination, but at least he is in one place this winter. The Billerica native hasn’t played more than the 54 games he has appeared in this season since his first year of top-tier junior hockey in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during the 2016-17 season.

A year after he played in the Olympics, led Boston College with 21 goals, and scored on his first NHL shot ā€“ all within five months last year ā€“ McLaughlin is approaching the end of his first year of professional hockey. In 52 games with the Providence Bruins, the center has totaled 11 goals, 23 points, and one enjoyable stay in the American Hockey League.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said in a phone interview on February 28th. “Being here in Prov has been awesome ā€“ it’s a great coaching staff. There are a lot of older guys you can lean on to learn the pro style and take care of your body going through the 80 or 90 games we’ll play this season.”

McLaughlin spent much of last spring on the Boston Bruins roster, though he did play one game with the P-Bruins. This season has been about earning his way back to the NHL, though the competition he sees in Providence has been challenging.

“It’s a huge adjustment,” McLaughlin said. “You really have to be a professional about it to maintain your body and improve because that’s the main goal right now in the AHL: is to consistently be getting better so when you do get that chance (for an NHL call-up), you’re ready for it.” The New England native also mentioned, “It’s nice being close to home, too. I have my parents at a lot of the games.”

After scoring three goals for the Boston Bruins last season ā€“ most memorably potting his first goal past New Jersey goalie Jon Gillies on March 31 ā€“ McLaughlin appeared at training camp at Warrior Arena before ultimately being sent down to Providence to start the season. Despite playing two games for Boston in January, he has not played for the big club for most of the winter.

“That’s the end goal; that’s where you want to be,” he said of playing for Boston. “Those are definitely hard things to have to happen, but it’s kind of how you handle it. You have to have the right mindset when you come down here to Prov that you’re going to get better and improve so that when your time comes, you’re ready.”

While the P-Bruins are one of the top teams in the AHL’s Atlantic Division, the Boston Bruins are in the middle of a potentially historic season. When McLaughlin spoke to Black and Gold Productions, Boston had just defeated Edmonton. Two nights after the Bruins beat Vancouver, goalie Linus Ullmark won by shooting a puck nearly 200 feet into an empty net.

“The games are on a little late, but I’ve been following along,” McLaughlin said. “That was pretty cool to see Ullmark score, huh? It was pretty cool to see how excited they got for him.” McLaughlin had the opportunity over the past two seasons to see what makes the Boston Bruins tick.

“Playing last year (with Boston) and then getting a glimpse of it this year, the culture is second-to-no e,” he said. “The leadership is unbelievable. Every c ance I’ve had, I’ve watched every game I can. It’s a special group.

“The culture is what’s driving them. They all understand what it takes to win, and they have the right fit with a lot of different types of players that win games.”

McLaughlin’s hockey life has taken him to Beijing for the Olympics, the highest level of pro hockey, where he scored his first NHL goal in front of his family at TD Garden to now skating a regular shift during his first full season at the professional level. Asked to summarize the past year, he didn’t hesitate to find an accurate description.

“Just fortunate, if there had to be one word,” he said. “I’m trying to make the most of that opportunity. A lot of kids would die to be in the situation I’m in.”