Jack Studnicka arrived in Boston last Thursday, began his mandatory quarantine, and set his sights on training with the Bruins at Warrior Ice Arena at some point in the next few weeks.
The eager 21-year-old wasn’t under direct order to return, but he figured it was about time.
“Haven’t really been told much,” he said in a phone chat last Friday. “Just kind of hear things through the grapevine and read things. Just going to be open-minded with whatever the season looks like when we get going.”
Whether the NHL season lasts 56 games or fewer, in home rinks or hub cities, it’s a safe bet that Studnicka will be around here more in 2020-21.
Studnicka, whose first full pro season included a two-game NHL call-up last November, wound up leading Providence in scoring — 23-26—49 in 60 games. He played in all situations, scoring an AHL-best seven shorthanded goals and making the AHL All-Rookie team. He then suited up for five games in the Toronto bubble.
His playoff bottom line — zero points, 10 shots on goal, 11:37 of ice time per game — didn’t stand out, but Studnicka looked like an NHLer. A natural center playing right wing, he separated from defenders with energy and edgework. In the heat of the playoffs, he created several Grade-A looks. With the rookie on the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick, the Bruins had a 36-19 edge in 5-on-5 scoring chances. It was the most decisive mark on the team.
Studnicka dressed after an 11-day layoff for the season-ending Game 5 against Tampa. He was involved in several of the Bruins’ best opportunities. They outshot the Lightning, 19-8, with Studnicka on the ice, and outchanced them, 15-8. He was seen at various points scooting through traffic for a mini-breakaway, slipping a smart backhand feed to the slot, and disrupting Andrei Vasilevskiy as the netminder played a dump-in behind the net. He was all pace and potential.
He returned home to Northville, Mich., and took a few weeks off. (A favorite summer activity: Golfing with Providence roommate and fellow Michigander Cooper Zech.) Studnicka felt some extra zip when he returned to the ice.
“Being my first year pro, there were a lot of experiences I could take and try to grow my game if I saw another person having success with it,” Studnicka said. “Just a lot of little details of my game I wasn’t even really aware that I had to work on until I got into a game situation in the NHL. It was nice to know exactly what I needed to work on, and work on my strengths, and be able to fine-tune my training.”
The immediate next steps include winning more pucks on the walls, hanging on to it longer, expanding his array of dekes and steps, and finishing more plays. One offseason box he has checked: Listed at 6 feet, 1 inch, and 171 pounds, he will bring a bit more bulk to camp.
“Definitely a little bit heavier,” he said. “I’ve been able to hold over 180 [pounds] consistently. I never even got above 180 the offseason before. Overall, I’m healthier and in good shape.”
Ask David Pastrnak what a little extra muscle will do for a young scorer’s game.
At the very least, filling out a bit will help Studnicka’s case for a roster spot this winter. He finished the summer as a No. 3 right wing, next to Charlie Coyle and left wing Anders Bjork. When camp opens, likely in the first week of January, Studnicka could be angling for top-nine minutes with Ondrej Kase and new addition Craig Smith.
The Bruins are likely to proceed cautiously with their top right wing, Pastrnak, who had a right hip arthroscopy and labral repair on Sept. 16. He was expected to be 100 percent by mid-February.
Studnicka’s future is in the middle, where the Bruins will have Patrice Bergeron (35) and David Krejci (34) as scoring line pivots Nos. 1 and 2. Studnicka doesn’t think about supplanting those longtime stars, who went from spindly rookies to Black and Gold bedrock.
He will show up and keep working, just as those two once did.
“Just trying to stay in the moment and every day, try to take strides forward and not look too far into the future,” he said. “Just keep growing my game, and hopefully things will fall into place.”