Few Boston Bruins players have more to prove over the next couple months than Jack Studnicka.
The 2017 second-round draft pick ranks as one of the team's top couple prospects. The 2020-21 season was a struggle for him, though. He tallied three points (one goal, two assists) in 21 games for Boston, while failing to score a single goal in 11 games for the AHL's Providence Bruins.
Studnicka was not able to earn a consistent role at the NHL level last season. He went into the offseason with the goal of getting stronger, and he accomplished that by adding, by his own admission, around 15 pounds.
How can the extra strength benefit his game going into a pivotal year for him?
"It can work both ways, you have to be careful how you put it on. It has to be good weight," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters Wednesday on a Zoom call. "If you're just packing it on to have a little more corner weight, so to speak, then it can affect your ability to recover. Strength on the puck, those are some of the things we want to see from Jack. Just being a little stronger on his feet with balance, so, core work. To be able to absorb some of the contact. I call them chip hits, where you're going through traffic and a guy gets a piece of him and he keeps his balance and keeps going with puck possession.
"Jack has a willingness to go into traffic. He likes to play in there. He likes to have the puck around the net and those dirty areas. You've got to be strong on it if you're going to be at your best. That was part of the reason for the conversation, and I think he recognized it as well."
Studnicka's situation entering the offseason was not uncommon at all.
"It's nothing new. A lot of the young guys who walk through the door need to bulk up," Cassidy explained. "How quickly and how much weight should you put on to be efficient, how much is realistic? For Jack, it happened to be a little more because he was a little lighter. But we saw it with David Pastrnak. His progression from a boy to a man almost in terms of his physique and how it helped his game. We're hoping it translates with Jack."
Cassidy noted that Charlie Coyle will be a bit limited to begin training camp after the veteran center underwent offseason knee surgery. With Coyle not a being a full participant to start, Studnicka is one player who will see reps in the No. 2 center spot, which is the most interesting position on the roster following David Krejci's offseason departure.
"In the meantime, we're going to try different players in that spot. Jack Studnicka being one," Cassidy said. "He was drafted as a center. Last year was tough for a lot of young guys with the limited schedule. He had a great first year in Providence. He came up here, played some good games for us. We have to find out where he's at."
The best-case scenario for the Bruins is Studnicka shows he's capable of being a top-six center. He's one of the team's few upper tier prospects. He has the offensive skill to excel in the role, and with his added strength, the hope for the B's is he can be a more consistent player at the NHL level.