Prospect Jack Studnicka makes pro debut for Bruins
QUEBEC CITY — Jack Studnicka made his professional debut with the Bruins Monday night, centering a line with Kenny Agostino (LW) and Chris Porter (RW). On a club stacked with centers, including top-shelf talents Patrice Bergeron and David Krecji, there’s likely no room at the Black-and-Gold inn this season for the 18-year-old Studnicka.
“He’ll be part of the next wave, we hope,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, whose club kicked off the preseason schedule at Videotron Centre with a 3-2 comeback victory over the Canadiens. “It’s great that he’s opening eyes here, but to legitimately say he has a chance to make the roster, I’d hate to say that to a kid, but it’s a long shot for him to be able to beat out who we’ve got at the middle of the ice right now.”
But Studnicka has impressed, particularly for a kid who only was drafted in June and has yet to sign his entry level contract. Though slight of build, 6 feet and 174 pounds, he stood out in the July development camp, only days after the Bruins selected him with the No. 53 pick in the amateur entry draft. He then played well at the recent rookie tournament in Buffalo, where he continually showed a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
“He’s on the puck, he makes plays,” said Cassidy. “He looks like a hockey player. I know that’s a simple definition, but he just looks like he’s going to be a good one.”
Because of his need to add weight and muscle to his frame, Studnicka likely will return soon — perhaps this week — to his Oshawa (OHL) junior team for another year of seasoning.
“Obviously, I have to add strength and put a little weight on,” said Studnicka.
“I’m focusing on that. It’s all faster and stronger and this level, but I think I am adapting well.”
Beyond a select few kids, most of them typically top-10 draft picks, it’s rare for 18-year-olds to jump immediately into the NHL. Bergeron did it in 2003 out of the Quebec League, then-coach Mike Sullivan shifting him to wing because the Bruins were solid down the middle with Joe Thornton, Michael Nylander, and Travis Green.
The move helped Bergeron lock down full-time NHL work, and his ability to play both positions also has made him one of Team Canada’s most valued and versatile members for international tournaments, particularly the Olympics.
“It helped me a lot,” said Bergeron, who could make his season debut Tuesday night when the Red Wings will be on Causeway Street. “Having to learn a new position, just that right there is ammunition for the rest of your career. I was on Team Canada just because of that — because I could actually play wing. It’s definitely experience that helps you in the long run, no matter what.”
Unlike Bergeron’s rookie season, however, the Bruins 14 years later are deep with wing candidates. A player with Studnicka’s hockey acumen likely could make the transition, but even with four or five roster spots up for grabs on the wings, Cassidy has numbers to choose from, including returnees Frank Vatrano, Austin Czarnik, Sean Kuraly, Tim Schaller, and Noel Acciari.
“I think we have players that are ahead of him in that area,” said Cassidy. “Without even seeing him there, we’ve got guys who’ve paid their dues and are itching to get at those spots. Now [Anders] Bjork is not necessarily one of those, because he’s just coming out of college, but I think Jack’s here to learn.”
Two years ago, his first at Oshawa, Studnicka played right wing for the Generals. He considers himself a natural center, but he would be open and willing to move to right wing if that aided his chances at making the Boston roster.
“Yeah, 100 percent,” he said. “Any opportunity they want to put me in, I’ll go in with an open mind and do the best I can it that situation.”
Oshawa wrapped up its preseason Sunday and will open the regular season Friday in Sudbury, Ontario. Where will Studnicka be on Friday?
“No idea,” he said. “No clue.”
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Their roster stocked with hopeful varsity wannabes, and none of their marquee talent, the Bruins rallied from a 2-0 second-period deficit in the exhibition season opener for both clubs.
Jesse Gabrielle, Bjork and Schaller each scored goals over a span of just under four minutes to finish off the Habs, who have ex-Bruins coach Claude Julien behind their bench.
Malcolm Subban (17 shots, 15 saves in 32:36) picked up the win in net for the Bruins. He was relieved by Zane McIntyre, his partner last season at AHL Providence.
Following a scoreless first period, the Habs struck for a quick pair of goals at the start of the second. Brendan Gallagher connected first, with only 0:50 gone, followed by Jeremy Gregoire at 2:18.
Former Bruin Joe Morrow set up the Gallagher goal with a backhand shovel through traffic from the right wing circle.
The Bruins chipped away and moved into the lead, 3-2, at 10:48 when Schaller finished off a 2-on-1 shorthanded breakout with a perfect short-range snipe to the top right corner on Montreal’s Zachary Fucale.
Earlier in the second period, Gabrielle cut the Habs lead in half, 2-1, with his quick forehand knock from the top of the crease that beat starting goalie Al Montoya through the five-hole.
Bjork, the rookie out of Notre Dame, connected for the 2-2 equalizer with his wrister form the right wing circle, the Bruins working with a 5-on-3 power-play advantage. Spooner set up Bjork with a cross-slot pass from left wing and the Fighting Irish right winger looked surprised when his shot eluded Montoya.
“I’ll be honest, that was a pass,” said Bjork, whose goal was the product of an attempted dish to teammate Colby Cave. “I kind of saw that there were two guys in front — two of our guys, one of their guys — so I was just trying to get their quick. Lucky bounce.”
Bjork was named the No. 1 star.
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Bjork, 21, opened the night at right wing on a trio with Matt Beleskey and Ryan Spooner.
Just by the company Bjork is keeping, at least for now, it’s clear the Bruins believe he has the skill level to jump directly into NHL play. He may not have a spot locked down, but unlike most of the other candidates, he’s in a position to prove he can’t do the job, rather than he can do the job.
“He’s got a history of scoring at the collegiate level,” noted Cassidy. “He’s got pace to his game. We’re hoping he can keep his identity as a player, what he’s developed so far in his young career.”
Translation: Bjork showed at Notre Dame he can put up points (21-31—52 in 39 games last season) and they’d like him to continue the trend. His presence in camp in part convinced Cassidy to enter training camp with David Pastrnak riding on Krejci’s right side, creating the right wing vacant on the Marchand-Bergeron trio.
Prior to puck drop here, Cassidy all but guaranteed Bjork will audition with Marchand and Bergeron in a preseason game.
“Our intention is to play that line together,” he said, “and see what they look like.”
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Agostino pulled on the Black-and-Gold sweater for the first time, after joining the club July 1 as an unrestricted free agent. Ditto for Paul Postma on defense.
Agostino, ex- of Yale (Class of 2014), is expected to get a look at pairing up with Krejci and Pastrnak on the No. 2 line. He led the American Hockey League in scoring (24-59—83) last season, left to incubate with the Chicago Wolves after signing a one-year deal with the St. Louis Blues.
A Pittsburgh draft pick (No. 140 in 2010), Agostino might have had a shot with the now back-to-back Cup winners, had the Penquins not edged out the Bruins for the spring 2013 deal that brought Jarome Iginla from Calgary to Pittsburgh. The Bruins were sure they secured the veteran winger’s services, only to have Iginla exercise his right to nix the deal at the 11th hour.
During his season in Chicago, Agostino directed the power play from the half-wall, an asset that could help him land a job here.
“It’s where I feel the most comfortable,” he said prior to faceoff here.
Last season, in a preseason game with St. Louis, Agostino played on a line that also included Porter — one of his linemates here vs. the Habs.
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NESN will carry two of the Bruins six preseason games, including Thursday’s visit to the Garden by the Flyers. NESN Plus will handle Monday night’s visit by the Blackhawks . . . The Canadiens and Bruins won’t meet again for the remainder of the calendar year. They’ll face each three times within a span of eight days in January (13-20) . . . Former Bruin Joe Morrow suited up on the Habs defensive corps. A free agent at the end of last season, Morrow signed a one-year deal for the minimum $650,000. Morrow, 24, was the last asset standing in the deal that sent Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars on July 4, 2013 . . . Cassidy said all Boston veterans will play at least one of the next two games, both at the Garden . . . Look for some roster cuts after Tuesday’s game vs. Philly and a few more prior to Saturday’s game in Detroit. “It won’t be a mass exodus,” said Cassidy.
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A lifelong Bruins fan, Cassidy grew up in an Ottawa home that included a diehard Habs fan (his mom), and a diehard Leafs fan (his dad). “My mom grew up in Montreal, so it’s not like she had a choice,” said Cassidy. “And my dad, with the Leafs, he had nothing to cheer about in those years.” . . . A disappointing crowd below 10,000 (estimated at 8,500) turned out at the Vid Centre. The Bruins did’t help the cause, keeping all their headliners back home.
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The Bruins returned Cedric Pare to St. John, his OHL club. The 18-year-old center/wing was selected with the 173rd pick in the June draft . . . Malcolm Subban made the start in net for the Bruins. “I think we’re all curious to see where he’s at,” Cassidy said. Subban is hoping to have a bounce-back season, after yielding the No. 1 job in Providence to Zane McIntyre . . . Todd Studnicka, Jack’s dad, played four seasons for Maine in the 1980s, including two seasons with Bob Beers, who was on the Black Bears defense. Now 52, Todd lives in Michigan and works for Consumer’s Energy . . . Agostino grew up in Morristown, N.J., and is a lifetime Rangers fan . . . The Bruins took a charter flight from Hanscom Field early in the afternoon and head back after the game. They are back on the ice Tuesday night, with a much different roster, when the Red Wings visit the Garden . . . The Flyers will be in town Thursday night, with the Bruins back out Saturday to face the Red Wings at their new state-of-the-art arena ( Little Caesars Arena) in downtown Detroit.