The top two right wingers in the Bruins’ workouts Thursday were Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka. They’re destined to be replaced, once David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase, 1-2 in the club’s right wing pecking order, get back in working condition.
As of Thursday evening, the Bruins weren’t making predictions as to when Pastrnak and Kase will be back. Team president Cam Neely, a man who drops hints the way a hammer drops on an anvil, said Wednesday that his “guess” was that the two Czechs were out of the mix until after the Bruins ship off to Toronto on Sunday.
Bjork, about to turn 24 years old, began the 2017-18 season as the No. 1 right wing with the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron tandem. Bjork’s top-of-the-roster speed and emerging skill set make him a worthy candidate to fill in, and possibly one day remain, high in the order.
Studnicka, 21, is a first-year pro who spent all but two games this season at AHL Providence. He is a right-shot center with smarts, a solid frame (6 feet 2 inches, 180 pounds), along with the dare and ability to make plays. Right wing is not his natural position, just as it was not for Bergeron 17 years ago when he broke into the league learning on the fly as Martin Lapointe’s makeshift right winger.
It’s a fast and challenging ride down the train tracks to project Studnicka, or anyone, as the next Bergeron, one of the game’s premier two-way centers for more than a decade. But when asked Thursday to engage in a Studnicka vs. Bergeron juxtaposition, coach Bruce Cassidy warmed up easily to the comparison.
“I am going to say there are some similarities at the same age,” noted Cassidy. “And listen, I hope he turns into the next Bergy — that would be great for the franchise and great for the individual. It would be great for us as coaches because [Bergeron] is second to none in terms of a player and a person, so if that happens, I think the Bruins will be in good shape for the next 10 years.”
Again, such projections too often fall short, and sometimes by miles. Bergeron is destined for first-ballot Hall of Fame induction. Studnicka’s next NHL game will be the third of his career, and he is 868 short of Bergeron’s 869-point total, not to mention 1,087 games.
Yet, with such similarities as size, position, skill package, playing demeanor, opportunity, and even spot in the draft order (Studnicka’s 53 vs. Bergeron’s 45), there is just something about watching Studnicka go through the paces in 2020 that fits in lockstep with how Bergeron looked when making the varsity as an 18-year-old in the fall of 2003.
“I didn’t see Bergy at 18-19 [years old],” said Cassidy, who back then was entering his second season as the Capitals’ coach. “But I can imagine. Just everything I know and have read about [Bergeron], he has been a pretty detailed pro since the day he walked through the door here.
“So, yes, I think it is a fair comparable in terms of how they play right now. Bergy is good at everything, but he’s not like this flashy guy. And you see that with Jack — he is a second-effort player, never quits on a play, can make plays, smart, works both ends of the ice.”
Studnicka led Providence in scoring , placing him on the AHL All-Rookie team. He rode on second-line right wing Thursday with fellow Providence alums David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk and looked like a competent, comfortable fit.
Figuring that Pastrnak will be back and manning his spot on the No. 1 line (Gallery Gods receiving prayers hourly), Studnicka would be in the mix with Bjork and Karson Kuhlman for that No. 2 right wing spot, especially if Kase proved slow to get his game going once he is cleared to join the group for his first workout since early March.
“He’s got some catching up to do,” said Cassidy, referring to Kase, who presumably has yet to clear quarantine protocol.
Productive secondary scoring is among the key ingredients required for playoff success. It appears increasingly likely that Cassidy will keep DeBrusk and Krejci paired, and now he has a number of options, none of them proven, to fill out the trio. It’s clear he has been impressed by Studnicka.
“I like [his] compete,” said Cassidy. “I like the fact he is engaged in practice every day. Looks like he is very fit. So that part of it, he does not look out of place and actually has looked very good in some of the drills. So, that is the start. That is Step 1, to show you can belong, and then hopefully excel against the guys he is competing against. Time will tell with that in the next 10 days or so.”
Cassidy for the first time during Camp Comeback put the power-play units through their paces. Of course, sans Pastrnak (league-high 48 goals), that’s like handing van Gogh paints but no paint brush. Bjork and Studnicka rolled out as part of the No. 2 unit with center Charlie Coyle, backed by point point men Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk. The No. 1 unit had Torey Krug back as the quarterback, with the four-forward attack crew, including DeBrusk, Krejci, Bergeron, and Marchand … Friday’s workout will start at 3 p.m. and be aired on NESN, with the broadcast crew operating out of the network’s Watertown studio, which is how all local sports networks will be forced to cover the early goings from the two hub cities (Edmonton, Toronto). Keep in mind, all local sports networks shut down for the season once Round 2 begins … Nick Ritchie joined Kase and Pastrnak on the sidelines … Warrior will host its final workout of the season on Saturday, and the Bruins will make their way on Sunday to the Toronto hub bubble … Defenseman Jeremy Lauzon, whose parents are doctors in Quebec, hasn’t found COVID-19 testing “nearly every day” to be much of an annoyance. “I think right now, everything is not pleasant,” said the rookie. “We’ve got to understand that it’s different. We are playing in a pandemic time. Everything is going to be different. You have to put your mind to it. The quicker the team understands that, I think the quicker the team’s going to be back at 100 percent.” The COVID-19 test, Lauzon said, is “not something that bothers me. Actually, I am just happy I am testing every day and I don’t have the virus.” The test, noted Lauzon, is the “spitting” version, rather than probes pushed through the nostrils.