PROVIDENCE – Providence Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy predicted that Austin Czarnik would be the best player for the P-Bruins in last weekend’s elimination game. Cassidy proved to be exactly right when the young center scored a pair of scored one-timer goals. Unfortunately for the coach, Czarnik and the rest of the P-Bruins it wasn’t enough in a 5-4 double-overtime loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday night that finished off a three game sweep in the best-of-five series.
But Cassidy was 100 percent correct on his young center, and that’s impressive in a game that had some pressure attached to it with Providence’s season on the line.
“He’s a very competitive guy and he’s got a lot of pride, and he showed it in his game [against the Penguins],” said Cassidy.
But the overall performance, and Cassidy’s expectation of what Czarnik would do in a high pressure situation, speak volumes of how close-to-ready the young pivot might be for NHL action. The 20 goals and 61 points scored during his first full AHL season would speak to that in a very big way, and he was easily Providence’s best player on the ice Saturday night.
Combine the 23-year-old’s season with the feistiness he shows as a 5-foot-9, 160-pound overachieving center, and Czarnik could wage a serious battle with incumbent Ryan Spooner for the third line center position at the NHL level. Czarnik could also make it a bit easier for Bruins GM Don Sweeney to include Spooner as part of the package in trade for much-needed defensemen help this summer.
While it’s nice to play with a healthy helping of heart and produce solid numbers at the AHL level, Czarnik knows he’ll need to prove it in Boston if he’s going to carve out any kind of NHL roster niche for himself.
“I just have to play smart on the bigger guys, wait for my time to attack,” said Czarnik. “When the time is right go in. I think I have to contain a lot and I think overall I think I developed a lot this year. It was a good year.”
The former Miami University standout has practice experience with the Bruins and was a standout at last fall’s training camp in Boston while never looking out of place. So that 2-goal beauty of a playoff performance on Saturday night could also be the last time he suits up in Providence with roster spots opening up for hungry, talented young players like Czarnik in Boston.