When he arrived in Brighton for Bruins development camp this past June, forward Jack Studnicka reiterated his willingness to play the wing if it meant he’d be on the NHL roster for Boston’s opener, an amount of flexibility he had earlier expressed to the Bruins at his breakup meeting at the end of the season.
Bruins player development coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner lauded the 20-year-old natural center’s eagerness to become more versatile.
But then on the last day of camp, general manager Don Sweeney threw water on that fire.
“Jack I think we’re going to leave him in the middle of the ice,” Sweeney said. “You know in talking with our coaches he has a skill set that we would like to see develop offensively. We’ve talked about players, [David> Krejci and such, Jack has a lot similarities being able to slow the game down, play with pace and protect the puck and get pucks to people in offensive situations. I would like to see him develop that rather than trying to fast track his opportunity to play a game or two in whatever situations. But if he’s the right guy, then fine.”
Aside from that last sentence, Sweeney clearly had other plans for filling in the open right-wing spot in Boston’s top six (depending where coach Bruce Cassidy decides to play David Pastrnak). For an organization that boasts about its willingness to plug young players into the lineup as long as they’ve earned it, this is the wrong tact. Studnicka should be given every opportunity to win a job at center or on the wing this training camp and the Bruins shouldn’t close any avenues that may allow them to fill their biggest lineup hole, which again Sweeney has failed to address.
“Oh for sure, he’d have no problem moving over to the wing if that’s what the Bruins wanted him to do,” Niagara IceDogs coach Billy Burke recently told WEEI.com after coaching Studnicka in the second half of last season in the OHL. “He could do it in a heartbeat. You know there were times he would play wing with us. Obviously he’s a natural centerman, but with his smarts he’d have no problem switching over in terms of wall battles and stuff like that. He’s strong, he’s fierce, he’s a competitor. I couldn’t see any issues with that whatsoever.”
Studnicka’s future might be as Boston’s heir apparent to Krejci as the No. 2 center, but there’s nothing wrong with him serving an apprenticeship on the wing – possibly with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand – if he can bring the scoring touch that put 83 points on the board in 60 games last season to the NHL.
“His two way game has flourished in the last two years. He’s dependable and capable in all three zones. [He> lays with an abundance of maturity and poise. His scoring touch also can’t be underestimated,” an OHL scout told WEEI.com. “I can’t foresee any issue with him potentially playing the wing in the pros. He thinks the game at such a high level, a position switch would come naturally.”
The salary-cap predicament Boston’s in, even without unsigned restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, has prevented them from bringing in a replacement for Marcus Johansson and for the second straight year the parade of Zach Senyshyn, Peter Cehlarik, Karson Kuhlman, Anders Bjork and, for the first time, Oskar Steen will be trying to grab a coveted top-six spot.
Studnicka should be allowed to compete for that job as well. If the Bruins are worried that a 172-pound first-year pro may get manhandled on the walls, Studnicka could overcome that disadvantage with his as a quick savvy and positioning. Playing some wing won’t stunt his growth as a center, as it doesn’t seem to have hurt Tyler Seguin or most famously, Bergeron.
In fact learning the two-way pro game may be easier playing Bergeron and Marchand’s wing than trying to carry a line in the NHL. And with Charlie Coyle, Sean Kuraly and Par Lindholm, the Bruins have plenty of options to handle bottom-six center minutes. It could turn out Coyle is better suited to be a top-six wing and Studnicka fits as a third-line center. Brett Ritchie or one of the kids may win the top-six wing job. Studnicka may not be ready to start the season in the NHL anyway.
The Bruins are in no position, though, to tell a kid he can’t try out for a certain position considering how so many prospects flopped in a similar situation last year. Studnicka should be allowed to throw his hat in the ring, and if he performs well it will only benefit him and the team.