Jack Studnicka had it all in front of him.
In the Bruins’ season opener in January 2021, Studnicka was called on to fill in for an injured David Pastrnak on the top line. Studnicka was playing his eighth NHL game, including five in the previous summer’s bubble-based playoff series against the Lightning.
Studnicka, who had played 82 minutes in the NHL to that point, was not a right wing by trade, nor was he being asked to impersonate Pastrnak. But, internally, hopes were high that it would be the start of a long stay.
“He’s going to be a good player for this team for a long time,” linemate Brad Marchand said. “He’s earned his time and his position, so we’re excited to see what he can do.”
Studnicka didn’t stick. He was scratched the next game. He made 19 appearances (1-2—3) the rest of the way, and skated in 15 games (0-3—3) last season.
Will new coach Jim Montgomery have more patience with Studnicka than Bruce Cassidy did? Has the 23-year-old Studnicka, who signed a two-year extension over the weekend, developed to the point where his all-around play will force his coach’s hand? The Bruins, aching for quality center depth, would love to know.
Studnicka, the 53rd pick in the 2017 draft, has mostly helped the Bruins’ AHL club. He was All-Rookie in 2019-20, putting up a team-best 23-26—49 line in 60 games for Providence. He scored a league-high seven shorthanded goals, largely with breakaway speed. He played in 11 games in Providence (0-7—7) in a COVID-marred 2020-21 season. Last year, he produced 10-25—35 in 41 games.
As an AHLer, he has been a top-six center. At that level, he has had the middle of the ice to himself, able to skate freely and create opportunities for himself and his linemates. He has seen top power-play time. As an NHL right wing, the 6-foot-1-inch, 180-pounder has used his wheels to create chances, but has seen himself rubbed out of the play too often to be effective. He is not the first slightly built prospect who needs to put on size before making an impact.
“I’m a big fan of Jack the person,” Providence coach Ryan Mougenel said last summer, noting how Studnicka had remained in Boston that offseason to train with Marchand and the Bruins’ veterans. “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 . . . He’s a smart kid. He gets it. He’s put the time in and he’s ready.”
Studnicka will likely slot in as a winger in Montgomery’s lineup if Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are available. If one or both does not join the club, Studnicka’s odds of playing the middle increase. It seems more likely that he could start camp on the right wing. He could be competing with 19-year-old Fabian Lysell, the 2021 first-rounder (21st overall) who has turned heads at the junior level.
Lysell is in the spot Studnicka occupied the last few seasons — he is considered the Bruins’ top prospect.
Studnicka, in the words of general manager Don Sweeney, has hit a lull.
“Sort of come into a flat-line for a little bit,” said Sweeney. ”Now we need to get him back on an upwards slope, which is what he was. That’s where your organization moves forward.
“It’s not just about getting lucky. It’s not even a luck process. It’s honestly identification and development, and then the player himself has to have an internal engine that gets him to the point of where he’s capable of playing and contributing.”