By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
If the National Hockey League is able to successfully return and finish their season this summer (or fall), the Boston Bruins are going to need some extra bodies on the ice.
Extra bodies, your taxi squad, or your Black Aces. Whatever the term you prefer, they’re going to be needed this summer. Especially if the league moves ahead with this proposed 24-team playoff format that includes some warm-up games before the action begins. There’s just going to be a heavy ramp-up that’ll likely include intrasquad scrimmages on the way to a return, and that’s without getting into the uncertainties that surrounded the Boston forward group (especially in the middle six) upon the league’s pause.
But figuring out just who will be included in that group, however, is no easy task. Not even for P-Bruins coach Jay Leach, who was asked about those players during a Monday chat with the media.
“To be honest, I don’t think anyone has a clue because from what I understand, we just don’t know the size of the group.” Leach admitted. “It’s really tough to nail it down.”
Leach did, however, offer some names of interest should the list call for five skaters. And it’s probably exactly who you’d expect.
“This is really just my best guess, it’s the guys we always talk about: The Studnickas, the Frederics, it’s [Jakub] Zboril, it’s [Urho Vaakanainen], and [Steven] Kampfer,” said Leach. “I’m not even calling [Karson] Kuhlman in that mix because he was in Boston more. I’d go with those five to start and then where does it end? It just depends on what the limit is, and what they’re going to need.”
Among that list, Jack Studnicka seems like the most interesting name to watch. Considered by many to be Boston’s top pro prospect, the first-year pro totaled 23 goals and 49 points (both tops among Providence skaters) in 60 games, and finished the year as the league’s third-highest scoring rookie. His seven shorthanded goals were the most among all AHLers, and certainly wowed Leach.
“Studnicka, for all intents and purposes, had a terrific year,” Leach said. “21-year-old kid jumps right in, plays every real scenario. Down the stretch, I was really leaning on him and Cameron Hughes as the guys to seal some games out for us. His competitiveness, his speed, his hockey sense really shone through and was able to be very productive on both sides of the puck and I think he had a terrific year.”
Studnicka had an assist during his two-game NHL cameo with Boston.
The 21-year-old Frederic, meanwhile, tallied eight goals and 24 assists (along with a league-leading 158 penalty minutes) in 59 games for Providence, and emerged as a more physical presence.
“I’ve said it so many times: He has so many different attributes that not many have,” Leach said. “He’s a bigger guy that has a heck of a shot, and can get up and down the ice. Then you add the physical component that he has with confrontation, more than anything, being a part of his game.”
Leach also noted that Frederic, who appeared in two games for the B’s this season (both on the wing), also took “huge strides” when it game to his game-to-game consistency of being a “relentless” opponent. The No. 29 overall pick from the 2016 NHL Draft, Frederic has 20 shots on goal and 26 hits in 17 career NHL games.
On the backend, Kampfer would likely be the first one in just based on his experience with Bruce Cassidy. Including postseason play, Kampfer has skated in 48 games for the Big B’s since the start of the 2018-19 season, including a Stanley Cup Final contest.
Vaakanainen, meanwhile, took strides towards becoming more of an offensive threat.
“He’s always gonna have that defensive aspect to his game, always gonna be competitive,” said Leach. “But the offensive stuff is starting to come bit more naturally to him and that’s just fine with us.”
But the list extends beyond these five, and as Leach said, it all depends on what the Bruins are looking for and what the roster limits would be upon the NHL’s potential return this summer.
“I can tell you there are plenty of candidates,” said Leach. “It’s tough. It’s very speculative.”