Jack Studnicka is about to get another opportunity with the Boston Bruins, and it's one he must take advantage of.
The Bruins don't have a very good prospect pool, especially at center, where there is a real lack of premium high-end talent. They need some of their younger players to step up, push the veterans for playing time, earn a regular role at the NHL level and become quality players long-term.
Studnicka is supposed to be one of these young players who breaks through, but he hasn't yet. He'll get another chance beginning Thursday night when the Bruins play the New York Islanders on the road.
COVID-19 is severely testing the Bruins' depth right now. Six players have been placed in the league's protocol over the last couple days, including Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Craig Smith, Trent Frederic, Anton Blidh and Jeremy Swayman.
That's five forwards and a goalie.
Here are the expected forward lines for Thursday's matchup, based on head coach Bruce Cassidy's comments this morning.
Taylor Hall--Charlie Coyle--David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk--Jack Studnicka--Oskar Steen
Erik Haula--Tomas Nosek--Nick Foligno
Jesper Froden--Curtis Lazar--Karson Kuhlman
"Tonight, there's an opportunity for Jack Studnicka. We would like to see him take some steps here," Cassidy said of Studnicka on Thursday. "It's an opportunity now without a centerman who plays a lot of minutes."
A top-six role for Studnicka should give him plenty of ice time, and maybe even a few chances on the power play, to prove his worth. Studnicka has played in four games this season. He tallied zero goals and one assist. The rest of his action has come with the AHL's Providence Bruins, where he's posted nine points (four goals, five assists) in 13 games.
"Jack has been uneven in Providence," Cassidy told reporters Wednesday. "That's coming from people I've talked to. I haven't been down there to see them, I'm just going by reports from the different people in our organization that give us Providence updates. ... Jack was good at training camp. That was the last viewing I had of him outside of the few games he's played (with Boston) here and there. That was his most consistent stretch, two or three weeks, however long he was here for. For me, I do remember a guy who was playing better here. That matters as well."
Cassidy later added: "I think we'd all like to see Jack play well. He's a guy we've talked about for a while. Just like (Frederic), who's had an opportunity (at center). We'd like to see some growth from our young players who are getting a chance to play."
Studnicka has 26 games of NHL experience. He has scored only one goal with four assists in those matchups. He has not made much of an impact at either end of the ice. If Studnicka is going to ever be a regular NHL player, he's got to show it soon.
This upcoming opportunity with so many forwards out of the lineup is a massive and important chance for Studnicka to improve his stock and make the Bruins keep him in Boston long term.