BUFFALO — Three years ago this week, shortly after turning pro with the Bruins, Jack Studnicka was talking with a Boston reporter in China about one of Patrice Bergeron’s deadliest skills: His hip-snap one-timer from the slot.
“The way he’s able to twist and shoot when he’s in that scoring position,” Studnicka said then, noting the detail he was trying to nail during his offseason workouts. “It’s a little awkward at first, but if you can get it down, it’s really effective.”
Studnicka has been steadily building that move and others into his game. Now 22, and with a year-and-change of AHL experience, the two-way center visits Bruins training camp next week (veterans report Sept. 22) hoping to prove he won’t shrink when NHL-sized bodies begin pushing each other around in mid-October.
He’s already shown he put in time in the weight room. Spotted at Bruins events this month, Studnicka, listed at 6 feet, 1 inch, and 172 pounds last season, looks a tad thicker than he did in his brief call-up last year. If camp goes well for him, he could push for a middle-six center or right wing spot.
Last year’s No. 3 center, Charlie Coyle, and offseason additions Erik Haula and Nick Foligno would seem to be ahead of him in line for looks as the first two centers behind Bergeron. But assuming Studnicka holds up physically, he could put a solid game on display. He was an all-situations player in Providence, with a particular acumen for killing penalties; his AHL-best seven shorthanded goals in 2019-20 helped him register a 23-26—49 line in 60 games. He was an All-Rookie selection.
Studnicka, who is not with the Bruins’ rookies at the Buffalo tournament this weekend, went 1-2—3 in a 20-game call-up last year. He also played two games in 2019-20, totaling one assist, and went scoreless in five games in the Toronto bubble.
For someone who wants to make the varsity, hanging around in Brighton, throwing around weights with Brad Marchand and other veterans, was a wise way to spend the summer.
“I’m a big fan of Jack, the person,” said new Providence head coach Ryan Mougenel, an assistant for Studnicka’s two-plus years as a pro. “I think the one thing about Jack is he’s a hockey rat, which I love. He wants to get better. And just staying in town and making that commitment to get bigger and stronger has been great. And for him, it’s visible. I was shocked. I hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks and he’s definitely put the work in.
“Will it translate to his game? I’m sure it will. Again, Jack is one of those players that’s knocking on the door. You forget how young — he’s still on his entry-level deal. But he’s a special player. The one thing that comes out of it is he did what we wanted him to do, get bigger and stronger. Now it’s up to Jack. He’s going to get some opportunity here.
“He’s a smart kid. He gets it,” Mougenel said. “He’s put the time in and he’s ready.”
Don’t tell Minnesota captain Jared Spurgeon (707 NHL regular-season games), former Bruin Torey Krug (574) and current Bruin Matt Grzelcyk (234) that they can’t defend in the NHL despite standing 5 feet, 9 inches.
Jack Ahcan, three games on his resume and a student of game tape on those three, doesn’t believe it, either.
“It’s about body position,” said the former St. Cloud State captain, who could return to Providence for a second season. “Torey was obviously really good at it. Watching him growing up was very helpful for me.”
Ahcan, listed at 5-8 and 179 pounds, doesn’t have Krug’s playmaking acumen or Grzelcyk’s rabbit-quick feet. At this stage in his development, though, the 24-year-old second-year pro has impressed his coach in Providence.
“He’s a pretty special player,” Mougenel said. “Obviously undersized, but possesses a ton of skill, but true to Bruins fabric of who they are. A competitive player, real great skating ability, has it in his DNA to commit [to] and complete plays.”
Mougenel, who used Ahcan on the top power play unit and in “heavy, hard minutes” in the AHL, noted that Ahcan is successful at that level with “inside ability and leverage.” Ahcan doesn’t have long limbs that can smother an offensive player, like a Brandon Carlo [6-5]. But in Mougenel’s words, he’s “in and out of guys’ gear really quick” — he sticks and moves, his head up, ready to challenge again.
“He’s really built — he’s almost like a fire hydrant,” Mougenel said. “He’s strong and stocky and gets under sticks . . . He’s not somebody I say, ‘defend differently,’ because of his size.”