Nine months ago, Cameron Hughes suffered a knee injury that kept him of the Providence Bruins lineup until the playoffs.
Now the hard work that not got Hughes back into the P-Bruins lineup last season and helped him start this season with six points (two goals, four assists) in 13 games in the AHL has paid off with the 23-year-old’s first callup to the NHL.
He was set to make his NHL debut Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden.
“You know you work your whole life to get this chance, so when I heard the news yesterday I was pretty excited and I’m ready for tonight,” Hughes said after Monday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena.
Hughes had 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 52 games for Providence last season before he was injured. He then had no points in four postseason games.
To make room for Hughes on the roster, Peter Cehlarik was assigned to Providence. With Par Lindholm, Joakim Nordstrom and Karson Kuhlman all out of the Boston lineup because of injuries, the Bruins are thin on penalty killers, so that affected the decision to switch from Cehlarik to Hughes, according to coach Bruce Cassidy.
“I didn’t feel he was the best fit for Kuraly and Wagner,” Cassidy said about Cehlarik. “And that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have done it either if he played a certain way. Because we saw Danton Heinen go through that, a lot of guys a number of years ago, Marshy started that way. That’s just not his game right now, so we’re not going to force it either. If he was able to adapt a little more, maybe we’d put him in there.
“But at the end of the day we still like the penalty killing side of it with the call-up, and that happened to be Hughes. So certainly Peter’s capable of more. I thought the puck found him a little bit the other night, he didn’t make plays, and if he’s going to stay up here and that’s the type of game he’s going to bring, then he’s going to have to have some level of production.”
Cehlarik has no points in two NHL games this season.
Cassidy lauded Hughes for his “motor” and energy this season with Providence. If Cassidy is also looking for someone who’s versatile and responsible, Hughes would be the guy, considering how much Providence coach Jay Leach has come to appreciate the left-shooting wing.
“He’s certainly a utility guy. He can play wing. He can play center. He can play the power play. He can play the penalty kill. He’s a very heady player. He’s not afraid to be in the mix. He does a lot. He does a lot,” Leach said in September about Hughes.
Brett Ritchie missed one game with an infected bruise but he’ll be back in the Bruins lineup against the Penguins. He’ll again start the game on right wing with Charlie Coyle at center and Anders Bjork and left wing. Ritchie seemed to be finding rhythm with his linemates, especially Coyle, before he went out of the lineup.
“I think we’re both big guys, and we play a similar style, trying to hold on to the puck and try and win battles, you know pretty simple, straight-line,” Ritchie said. “We’ve got some speed on our wing with Bjoky, so I think that should work well. I think Coyle is one of the best puck-protecting guys you’re going to see in the league and he’s pretty easy to read off of, pretty predictable. And I think the simpler we are, the more battles we win, the harder we are to play against.”
There’s been a rash of between-the-legs goals scored in the NHL, with David Pastrnak, Sonny Milano of Columbus and Matthew Tkachuk of Calgary all scoring with similar moves the past couple weeks.
“I think it’s a compliment for the skill level of these young guys, probably,” Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said.
The element of surprise is what’s making these shots effective, now that players have both the skill and the courage to attempt them in games.
“Not a fan of that, whatever. I don’t know, it’s just you’re going to be on every single highlight for the rest of your life,” he said.