Jack Studnicka didn’t find his way on the scoresheet Saturday, but he put some spark in the coach’s eye with a modest though effective 9 minutes, 18 seconds ice time, 2:00 of that on the power play.
The rookie right winger, the No. 53 pick in the 2017 draft, played on a third line and landed four shots on net, equal to Torey Krug and third best in the lineup behind Brad Marchand (6) and Patrice Bergeron (5).
All of which will have Studnicka, 21, back in the lineup Monday night when the Bruins again face the Hurricanes in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series. The Bruins moved to a 2-1 series lead with their 3-1 win in Saturday’s matinee.
The only question for Monday might be whether Studnicka returns to third-line duty, or if his performance on Saturday earned him a fast-track promotion to top-line duty with Marchand and Bergeron.
“He played very well, was on pucks,” noted coach Bruce Cassidy, who folded Studnicka into his revamped lineup after a Game 2 loss on Thursday, “and [gave us good energy].”
Cassidy, speaking in an early-afternoon Zoom presser, did not sound the least bit surprised by what Studnicka contributed. Before the club’s Return-to-Play roster was finalized last month, Cassidy freely acknowledged that there are elements of the rookie’s game that remind him of Bergeron. Studnicka then went out in what was only the fourth NHL game of his career and played to the prototype.
According to Cassidy, Studnicka “brought” the things they like about his game. First and foremost, the compete factor.
“We’re only concerned about the grind, the battle of the playoffs . . . is he up for it?” said Cassidy.
Asked and answered, for the most part. But it remains to be seen, as Cassidy alluded, whether Studnicka, a first-year pro, has the strength and stamina to compete game to game at the most intense and physical time of the season. He has the height (6 feet, 2 inches), but his weight (175) is perhaps 12–18 pounds light for where he’ll be expected to play once he matures.
For instance, Sean Kuraly, his opposite wing on Saturday, is 6-2 and 213 pounds. Kuraly has a larger frame and a narrower skill set than Studnicka, who, like Kuraly, has shifted from center to wing. Once Studnicka fills out, he could be a solid, if not exceptional, top-six forward.
“I like what he did,” said Cassidy, who brought in Studnicka and Par Lindholm for Game 3, and subbed out Nick Ritchie and Karson Kuhlman. “You see a lot of young guys this year in this tournament that are doing well, so I think some of it has to do with the circumstances and some just are just able to handle it. That’s step one for him.”
Meanwhile, Anders Bjork, another young forward, took a step back. He filled the No. 1 RW spot normally held by David Pastrnak, but Cassidy pulled the plug there when Bjork picked up his third minor penalty of the afternoon at the 5:00 mark of the third period. All the worse, the trip of Teuvo Teravainen came in Boston’s offensive zone.
Only 90 seconds later, goalie Jaroslav Halak gifted a pass to Nino Niederreiter and the Bruins’ lead was cut in half, 2-1. Bjork’s time as a first-liner (7:05) ended up substantially less than what Studnicka logged on the third line.
“If we put Jack up there,” said Cassidy, musing briefly over a Studnicka promotion to the top line, “that’s a lot to ask for him.”
Maybe. It certainly didn’t look like a reach on Saturday.
Chris Wagner, the fourth-line right winger, picked up some of the shift time that Bjork was forced to yield. Studnicka, meanwhile, looked stronger and more confident as the game progressed. One of his better chances came with 6:51 to go in the third, the lead still at 2-1, when he popped into the slot with authority and fired on Petr Mrazek from short range.
Nothing timid about it. Too often rookies lay off such attempts, deferring to their elders. Studnicka was shooting, not fact-checking birth certificates.
“He certainly did everything we asked of him to stay in the lineup,” said Cassidy. “And we’re certainly excited that he was able to do that because that’s another sort of piece that we can use that adds to our depth, which is crucial at this time of year.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.