By: Josh Freeman | Follow me on Twitter @100_Becs
With the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup playoffs starting next week, the Providence Bruins walk into the Playoff Primer in second in the Atlantic Division with a record of 47-12-8-2 for 94 points. Although losing their first Primer game to the Hartford Wolf Pack, 5-3, three games remain in this AHL regular season.
Observing individual statistics for the roster, nothing immediately jumps out as eye-catching, save for the team’s top scorer. In just his first full season in the AHL, forward Georgii Merkulov not only led the Providence Bruins in goals, assists, and points (23-30-53 in 64 games), but his stat line also ranked him second in the league among rookie scoring, behind only Tye Kartye of the Coachella Valley Firebirds (27-28-54 in 69 games). While various younger prospects, such as Jakub Lauko, Joona Koppanen, and Oskar Steen, enjoyed call-ups to the NHL, others, particularly former first-round draft pick Fabian Lysell, had moderately productive seasons in the minors (13-23-36 in 51 games for Lysell’s first season).
Much of Providence’s success this season has come between the pipes. Brandon Bussi, after spending four games with the ECHL Maine Mariners, ended the season as the number-one goalie for Providence and one of the best in the entire AHL, logging a .925 save percentage and a 2.38 GAA, ranking him second and fifth in the entire league in those respective categories. However, no one else in the organization put up numbers like Bussi, and the tandem of Kyle Keyser and Keith Kinkaid before the trade deadline provided decent stopgaps for the Bruins (combined record of 20-12-16 for Keyser and Kinkaid).
However, with the NHL and AHL regular seasons ending in the same week, the Providence Bruins may be handicapped in some way on all three facets of the game: Offense, defense, and goaltending. Given the Boston Bruins have locked themselves into the President’s trophy on the backs of one of the best regular seasons of all time, they may call up players from Providence for either general load management or a quick look at various prospects. The Bruins called up Vinni Lettieri, Oskar Steen, Jack Ahcan, Connor Carrick, and Brandon Bussi to the NHL roster on Sunday morning.
Although the recent signing of defensive prospect Mason Lohrei does provide an adequate stopgap in the places of Ahcan and Carrick, Providence is one point behind the Hershey Bears for the top spot in the Atlantic by one point. While only three games are left on the schedule for their AHL season, that’s still enough time to potentially make or break the top seed if these call-ups prove costly to the flow of the roster.
The final three games of the Providence Bruins AHL season are all back-to-back in this playoff primer, with an away game against the Springfield Thunderbirds on Friday, April 14th, followed by a two-game home stand against the Bridgeport Islanders and against Springfield again on the 15th and 16th, respectively. While being in second place at the end of the season seems daunting, being down only one point in the standings can galvanize any team into action with minimal time.
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