Before departing for Toronto and the beginning of a summertime sprint to the Stanley Cup, the Bruins set their traveling squad by trimming two forwards, Anton Blidh and Paul Carey, to get down to the limit of 31.
Were the club not short on right wings because of the ongoing absences of David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase, perhaps the left-shooting Blidh and Carey would have made the cut. The need to fortify the right side just in case Pastrnak (perish the thought) or Kase can’t go is all the more reason to include Zach Senyshyn, a right-sider like fellow camp bubble survivors Jack Studnicka and Karson Kuhlman. Trent Frederic is a left shot, but his willingness to pound opponents with shoulder or fist made him a natural add for the postseason.
Studnicka, who has spent time with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron in camp, led the Providence Bruins in scoring (23-26—49 in 60 games) and was an AHL All-Rookie selection. The first-year pro may not see any action, particularly if the Bruins are in good health, but this will be valuable experience for the second-round pick (53rd overall) in the 2017 draft.
Last year he was with the Bruins for the duration of the Cup Final run, practicing with the team and soaking in the atmosphere. He got the full Black Aces experience — everything but the giddy race to the locker room in the final minutes of a Cup-clinching win, to trade his dress suit for a full uniform, and spot in the back of the line to lift the trophy.
With a double-digit lead in the Atlantic Division before the March 12 pause, the Bruins hoped to assess Studnicka’s potential playoff readiness in March and April. He had one assist in two games around Thanksgiving, and his standout debut in Providence pleased everyone in the organization. Four months later, he gets his chance.
“I think if an opportunity were to arise, I’d be fully comfortable hopping in there and contributing to winning,” Studnicka said early in camp. “I saw it last year, with an unfortunate ending. Excited to be a part of it again. Looking back, being able to watch those games live and get on the ice sometimes was something I’ll cherish. Definitely think I got better as a hockey player as that experience went on.”
The rest of the roster choices are more obvious. The Bruins are bringing all 10 defensemen on the camp roster, from Zdeno Chara to Jakub Zboril, and all four goalies (ideally, Tuukka Rask would be all they need).
Up front, most everyone knows the Bruins will roll Bergeron, David Krejci and Charlie Coyle down the middle. Marchand and Jake DeBrusk are the top two left wings, the latter reunited with “Playoff Krech” after a late-season stint on the third line.
The bottom six is a mix of grinders (Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner, Par Lindholm) with newcomer Nick Ritchie adding some heavy presence on the walls and net front. Ritchie missed several days in camp, so his timing will be a concern, particularly since he played seven games in Black and Gold after flying in from Anaheim pre-trade deadline. Frederic or Senyshyn could be called on in case of injury — always a possibility in the playoffs, where a trail of blocked shots, bruises and broken bones leads to the Cup.
The larger question marks among the Bruins’ forward unit lie on the starboard side. They saved space for Pastrnak, who tied for the league lead in goals (48) and tied for third in points (95). They kept a light on for Kase, the ex-Duck expected to land on the second line with Krejci. Neither has a clear return date.
Speaking on Saturday, coach Bruce Cassidy was not certain if Kase was traveling on the team charter, or whether he would have to stay behind and, upon arriving in Toronto, quarantine on his own. Cassidy believed Pastrnak would travel.
“Those guys will have to catch up in a hurry,” Cassidy said.
Ideally, both would be on the plane and at the rink at 2:30 p.m. Monday, when the Bruins have their first practice in Toronto.
Pastrnak, in quarantine some 10 days per his agent, is expected to be first back on the ice. The more time he and Kase miss, the more the Bruins will explore Anders Bjork as a top-six winger.
Bjork, 23, has a tantalizing blend of speed and skill, and while he can’t fire cannons like Pastrnak — few on the planet can — he appears capable of carrying his weight with Marchand and Bergeron, the linemates he broke in with during the first quarter of 2017-18, before he fell into an abyss of shoulder issues.
Kuhlman, 24, is another right shot, and his fearless puck-hunting has worked well alongside Krejci’s sublime distribution and DeBrusk’s cannonball drives to the net. Kuhlman can finish more plays than he does, and the Bruins might benefit if he uses his sneaky shot a bit more.
It was an imperfect two weeks, given the rash of absences, and while Cassidy had to deviate from his script, he scrimmaged his players, watched video, and tuned up his special teams.
“We’re missing players that we expect to play for us, for big chunks of time. And some didn’t even join us,” he said. “But that’s the way it goes. I like where our conditioning is at. We need to get better, obviously. It’s only been two weeks, but I think it’s trending very well. The pace of practices and games has been up. Execution’s gotten better, clearly, this week over last week. We’ve gotten through it without any major scares, injury-wise.”
Every Bruin reported willingly except defenseman Steven Kampfer, who said he opted out because his wife and son share a congenital heart defect. Kampfer has the full support of his club.
Next Sunday, with a round-robin opener against Philadelphia, it all begins again.
“We’re trying to do our part, for the good of the game. If anybody watched the Red Sox last night, it was nice to watch a live sporting event. It’s a little different with no fans, but it’s still baseball. For us, it’ll still be hockey,” Cassidy said.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to be healthy and get the opportunity to participate. I think every team would say the same thing. Let’s get there and may the best team win.”
Here is the Bruins’ 31-man roster that is headed to Toronto:
Forwards: Patrice Bergeron, Anders Bjork, Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, Trent Frederic, Ondrej Kase, David Krejci, Karson Kuhlman, Sean Kuraly, Par Lindholm, Brad Marchand, Joakim Nordstrom, David Pastrnak, Nick Ritchie, Zach Senyshyn, Jack Studnicka, Chris Wagner. Defensemen: Brandon Carlo, Zdeno Chara, Connor Clifton, Matt Grzelcyk, Torey Krug, Jeremy Lauzon, Charlie McAvoy, John Moore, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril. Goaltenders: Jaroslav Halak, Maxime Lagace, Tuukka Rask, Dan Vladar.