The Bruins do not want to rush Jack Studnicka. He is beginning to understand their point.
“I think mentally, they want me kind of in a headspace to be where my feet (are),” Studnicka said. “I think this year was really important that they wanted me to be fully engaged with where I am in Providence. Luckily I got two (NHL) games under my belt.”
Studnicka, who spoke Tuesday on a Zoom call arranged by the team, made his NHL debut last Nov. 26 in Montreal, assisting on a Danton Heinen goal in an 8-1 rout of the Canadiens. He played at TD Garden against the Rangers a few days later. He was back in Providence after that.
He didn’t sulk about it.
After submitting a 9-9–18 line in his first 21 AHL games, he returned from his call-up and went 14-17–31 in the final 39. The first-year pro showed the traits that caused the Bruins to think they made a smart pick at No. 53 in the 2017 draft: quickness, creativity, intelligence, confidence, dedication to the craft. He earned a spot on the AHL All-Rookie Team, which was announced Tuesday, and an All-Star nod.
“Twenty-year-old kid, jumps right in, plays every scenario,” Providence coach Jay Leach said. “His competitiveness, his speed, his hockey sense has really shone through and he was able to be very productive on both sides of the puck. I think he had a terrific year."
If and when the NHL season resumes, Studnicka, now 21, is sure to be one of the Bruins’ “Black Aces,” the collection of call-ups that practice with the team once the AHL season ends.
“I haven’t heard much on that topic,” Studnicka said from his family’s home in Novi, Mich. “Obviously you see the rumors on social media or whatever, what the plan is. I would love for a scenario like that to play out. Hopefully the NHL comes back and I’m able to be a part of that.”
A full-time gig does not seem far off.
Though their odometers are heavy with miles, top center Patrice Bergeron and second-liner David Krejci remain productive. When 2020-21 begins, Bergeron will be 35. Krejci will be 34. Bergeron has two years left on his contract. Krejci has one. Charlie Coyle, acquired in February 2019 to fill the No. 3 center role, signed a six-year contract extension last November. The right-shooting Studnicka could push for top-9 duty in the coming years, maybe starting off as a winger, a la Bergeron in 2003 and Tyler Seguin in 2010.
Studnicka, who is listed at 6 feet, 1 inch and 176 pounds, likely has to fill out to withstand the punishment of a nine-month NHL season. He supplants home workouts in his garage and rollerblade trips around the neighborhood with video study of players like Bergeron, who is as well-rounded as any player in the league. He also picked up a few puck-lugging moves from Coyle (6-3, 220), noting how the big center uses a quick pivot to shake a defender. Studnicka has the quickness to play on the perimeter, but the closer he can get to the net, the better.
“A big thing this year,” he noted, regarding his development. “Obviously I’m not as strong as the players in pro hockey, so we kind of keyed on ways to get around in the offensive zone, whether that’s protecting the puck or holding onto the puck or taking space you have to separate from your guy.”
Though slightly built, Studnicka doesn’t mind a bit of contact. He scored a goal off his mouth last preseason, and is still missing a few of his front teeth. In remembering his first NHL game, at the Bell Centre, he said how a big hit from Montreal defenseman Cale Fleury helped settle nerves he didn’t expect to have.
“That kind of got me into it,” he said. “I got hit and was able to be like, ‘Well, I’m here now.’”
Studnicka, who has been 21 years old for three months, was asked to share a piece of advice for younger hockey players. He turned the question inward.
“If I could give myself advice back when I was younger, just to enjoy yourself and enjoy the game,” he said. “Sometime you can get lost in putting pressure on yourself and wanting to be the best, but you’re a young kid and you’re going to make mistakes. It’s the way you approach those, and hopefully you can just have fun with them and learn from them and enjoy the game, because it’s a lot of fun.”