By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
In the first full season of his professional career, the Bruins' Jack Studnicka lived up to the hype that's followed him since he fell to the Bruins with the No. 53 overall pick in 2017.
Considered Boston's top prospect, Studnicka welcomed himself to full-time Providence living with a team-leading 23 goals and 49 points in 60 appearances. The Ontario-born forward also wowed when down a man, as his seven shorthanded goals actually tied an AHL rookie record. It was all enough to push Studnicka to the 2019-20 AHL All-Rookie Team on Tuesday, too, making him the first P-Bruins player in four years to earn such an honor.
But the 21-year-old Studnicka hopes he's not done yet.
With the NHL still focused on a potential return to play this summer, there's talk of a potential roster expansion, especially with the league looking at a warp-speed ramp-up in Phase 3 before their Phase 4 return to game action. (This is all assuming that the NHL can finally get out of Phase 1, which they've been in for two months now, and move towards Phase 2 later this month.) As is the case with the entire sporting world right now, whether or not that actually happens remains to be seen, of course.
Providence coach Jay Leach, meanwhile, has already penciled Studnicka in for a potential 'Black Ace' role with the Bruins, and 'Studdy' is undoubtedly on board with that.
“I haven’t heard much on that topic... I would love for a scenario like that to play out," Studnicka, who had an assist in his two-game Boston run back in November, admitted. "Hopefully the NHL comes back and I’m able to be a part of that. That would definitely be something that I’m looking forward to.”
Back home in Michigan, Studnicka has tried to stay in hockey shape by converting the family garage into a makeshift gym and rollerblading whenever possible. Sometimes with a stick and ball, sometimes without. He admits this has been the longest that he's ever been kept off the ice or away from competition. Such is life in a "weird" new world nobody's really digging.
It's also the best way for Studnicka to remain truly ready for a call from the Bruins, if and when that comes.
(Quick little note I wanted to share because these things fascinate me: Jack's father, Todd, played college hockey with former NHLer and current 98.5 The Sports Hub/Boston Bruins Radio Network color commentator Bob Beers at the University of Maine. One of their assistant coaches at Maine was Jay Leach. Leach's nephew, who also goes by Jay, is currently Studnicka's coach in Providence. The Circle of Life, baby. OK, back to your regularly scheduled programming...)
If the Bruins give Studnicka the call to report back to Boston come Phase 3, it's going to be interesting to see where he slots into the mix. In all likelihood, Studnicka would begin his second NHL run as part of the B's taxi squad for the second postseason in a row (he called last year's experience as a Black Ace 'unbelievable'), but it's possible that the Bruins examine the idea of throwing him back in their lineup.
Keep in mind that when the NHL suspended its season, the Bruins were the league's best team, but they were also a team without a solidified middle-six forward group; Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase were still looking for their best fits, Jake DeBrusk bounced between David Krejci and Charlie Coyle, and Anders Bjork had been scratched for four of the team's last five games. There's a legitimate opening... maybe even two... there. And with Studnicka's odds of drawing in a healthy 2020 Bruins lineup at center are between slim and none, there is the possibility that the Bruins use a game or two -- whether it's in warm-up contests or round-robin play -- as a chance to try the right-shot Studnicka on the wing.
It's something he did at different points throughout the 2019-20 AHL season under Leach's guidance, and something he's open to should it provide him with a path to NHL minutes.
"I feel really comfortable [on the wing]," Studnicka, who noted that he'd like to see himself as a center down the line, said. "I think I can contribute whether I’m playing center or wing, [but] I’m definitely comfortable on the wing. I’ve played it numerous times in my career. And I think this year especially I kind of learned the difference of playing wing and center being in pro hockey. I’ve learned what it takes to be a winger and the differences in your job and what you’re accountable for, so I’d definitely be comfortable playing either.”
This could be a fascinating storyline to follow should the Bruins return to the sheet this year, too.
When you watch Studnicka, one of his greatest strengths comes with his ability to put the pressure on defenders. The motor's there whether he's playing center or wing, and he's able to maneuver his way into the high-danger areas despite being a bit wiry for his frame. The Bruins also took a more hands-on approach with Studnicka's work in terms of puck-protection in the attacking zone and playing a more 200-foot game (coaches in Providence showed him extensive footage on Patrice Bergeron while Studnicka himself studied some of Charlie Coyle's moves), meaning that throwing him into the fire might not come with the same cover-your-eyes-and-pray worries should Studnicka be asked to provide some stops in the defensive zone.
But no matter the position or the role, Studnicka remains ready to jump from the family garage to Boston.
"I've had a good year down in Providence where I've kind of proved I'm able to contribute and help the organization win, and whether that's as a Black Ace or playing, that's for [the Bruins] to decide," Studnicka offered. "But I'm gonna be ready. I feel ready. And I'm just willing to do whatever they ask when the time comes."
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.