Much of the focus on the group of young Boston Bruins players vying for ice time in training camp ahead of the 2020-21 NHL season has been on the blue line, and with good reason.
The departures of veterans Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug have left some big holes for young players such as Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Matt Grzelcyk and others to fill.
But the most promising up-and-coming talent on the Bruins roster with training camp practices beginning Monday at Warrior Ice Arena is forward Jack Studnicka.
The 2017 second-round pick was skating in David Pastrnak's right wing spot alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on Boston's top line during the opening session of camp (h/t to The Boston Globe's Matt Porter).
It's a spot where Studnicka could see plenty of ice time as Pastrnak works his way back from offseason surgery. B's head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed Monday that Pastrnak won't be ready to go when the regular season begins Jan. 14 versus the New Jersey Devils.
"He's a guy we feel is close, who hasn't been here full time penciled into a permanent spot. He'll be competing for a place in the lineup," Cassidy said of Studnicka. "Right now, I put him on the right side in Pasta's spot. David will not be ready for the start of the year. So we're going to look at different people there, and that's where he was today.
"The middle of the ice -- he's more of a natural center, but we're pretty healthy and strong down the middle, so (Studnicka) might have to start the year with us on the wing at times. That's where it's going -- we're going to mix him around."
For the Bruins to succeed in the short term, the team must have some young players make an impact at the NHL level and supplement the veteran core. Marchand talked a little about that Monday.
"I really liked the way (Studnicka) played in the playoffs. He's a very talented kid," Marchand said on a Zoom call. "A great kid off the ice. I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do and watching him take that next step. That's what we need. We need young guys to come in and perform and be big parts of this group. He's one of those guys who's going to do it for us."
Studnicka had an excellent 2019-20 season for the AHL's Providence Bruins. He led the team with 23 goals, 26 assists and 49 points. His versatility in being able to excel at center or on the wing should help him carve out a consistent role at the NHL level.
Studnicka has the speed and skill to shine with Bergeron and Marchand, and if he can thrive in that spot early in the season, the Bruins should be able to generate enough offense while Pastrnak is out of the lineup.