Bruins

Jack Studnicka the next great hope for the Bruins at center position

Jack Studnicka the next great hope for the Bruins at center position

Jack Studnicka didn’t participate in any of the on-ice activities during Bruins development camp a couple of weeks ago, but the 20-year-old clearly remains Boston’s best hope as a top-6 center of the future as he approaches his first full pro season.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound center skated with the Black Aces and served as a reserve for the Bruins during their Stanley Cup playoff run, so he had been skating up until the Final ended in early June. That was the reason for his absence from the ice, but he still participated in the week, served as a leader among the Bruins prospects and continued to sound a determined, confident tone when it comes to helping the NHL team.

It won’t happen, of course, but Studnicka is so intent on getting to the NHL as fast as possible that he volunteered to play wing this coming season while knowing that the Bruins will have openings on the wing in NHL training camp.

“Anything to help the team, in my eyes. I’ll play any position. Obviously, my goal is to play with the big club, whether that’s right wing or center, I’m just going to work as hard as I can and compete,” said Studnicka, talking to the Bruins media with a pair of missing front teeth after an incident in the OHL last season. “I think going into any camp, you’re in the wrong place if you’re goal isn’t to make the team. That’s my goal going into this year, that was my goal last year and the year before. It should be everybody’s goal to come here and try and compete and play at a high level.”

That’s the sound of a kid that’s hungry to get to The Show.

That’s excellent news for the Bruins with a pair of top-6 centers in Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci that are on the wrong side of 30 years old. They could really use some young blood down the middle when it comes to their top-6, even if it’s a player that’s NHL-ready a year or two down the road, as both Bergeron and Krejci hit their mid-30’s.

The numbers were excellent in his final season at the junior level with 36 goals and 83 points for Oshawa and Niagara in 60 games played for them, and another 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists) in 11 playoff games before going pro. During that time he showed off the playmaking, the goal-scoring, the two-way play and the leadership that’s been part of the package since he was drafted in the second round back (53rdoverall) in 2017.

“I think I can contribute offensively and that’s what I’m going to be looking to do,” said Studnicka. “And just compete. Doing all the little things right. That’s something the Bruins always talk about along with winning battles. I just want to show them that I can compete at the NHL level.”

It’s a game the Bruins are looking forward to developing up close at the AHL level in 2019-20 and then deciding how quickly his ascension will be to the NHL level. One of his potential competitors for an NHL spot has gone back to Sweden in Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, and another in Trent Frederic doesn’t have quite the same high-end offensive ability that Studnicka should have when he gains full maturity as a hockey player.

“He was very good,” said Bruins player development coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner. “I think a testament to who that kid is, he gets traded to Niagara and he’s wearing a letter to the team he was traded to within a month. That’s impressive. That means you’re stepping right in and doing the things coaches see from leaders. [He had a] good season."

“He continues to do the little things in the game that translate to being a good pro, When he came to us in Providence at the end, he had some good playoff games, stepped right into the lineup. (Niagara) lost on a Sunday or Monday and he was in our lineup three days later. He’s just continuing to grow, adding strength. He’s still skinny. He’s working at it and he’s doing everything he can. It’s just taking a little time with him.”

Studnicka had a goal and two points in four playoff games for the Providence Bruins at the end of the AHL season, and then practiced all spring with the Bruins while traveling with the NHL team and getting an up-close look at their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

That experience made him equal parts adept learner and anxious reserve awaiting for his own chance to experience the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But there’s no substitute for getting to watch Krejci and Bergeron prepare every day, even if it was from the outside watching inward.

“That was awesome,” said Studnicka. “One of the best times of my life. You get to watch the Stanley Cup Finals live. You get to travel with the team and see what it’s all about and you can just soak things in. Obviously, it was the stage for them and they deserved to be there.

“[It was] an unfortunate ending, but to be there to see it all unfold right in front of my eyes was really cool. [Bergeron and Krejci] are two high-end players in the National Hockey League, they have been for a long time and they will continue to do that. So you see what they do on the ice that’s given them success over all those years.”

Hopefully Studnicka was paying close to attention to No. 37 and No. 46 during the playoffs because he might just be called upon to help them as soon as next season if he shows that is game is NHL-ready at his next development phase in Providence.

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New additions Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase prove they'll help Bruins

New additions Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase prove they'll help Bruins

BOSTON — Both newly traded players got into the Bruins lineup on Thursday night against the Dallas Stars, and it looked pretty darn encouraging for the Black and Gold with the new pieces fitting nicely with the rest of the lineup.

Hulking left winger Nick Ritchie scored his first goal in a Bruins uniform amidst a two-point effort and Ondrej Kase showed speed and skill along with a decent two-way game while finishing with two shots on net in 15:16 of ice time.

Both wingers showed instant chemistry with David Krejci on the second line in the 4-3 win at TD Garden, and Ritchie showed smooth hands for a big man playing the give-and-go game with David Pastrnak on the game-winner in the third period.

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There were some that believed the Bruins' moves at the trade deadline were as much about opening salary cap space as they were about actually improving the team, but Ritchie particularly showed he’s got some game in a win that pushed the B’s to a seven-point lead in the division over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think Nick [Ritchie] was much better than the other night, a little more into the game,” said Bruce Cassidy on Ritchie, who was okay in his B’s debut on Tuesday after flying cross-country from California to hop into the lineup. “[The] puck was finding him. We knew that would happen. I just thought it was unfair the other night.

“You fly in, it’s a lot of newness going on. He’s had a couple of days to acclimate a little bit. Listen, I’m not going to say he’s going to get two points every night, but he’ll probably be somewhere in between there and that’s what we expect out of him. [He’s] a bigger body, especially in this type of game I thought. They’re a heavy team, they finish checks and you’ve got to work to get to the net. I thought he did a real good job with that.”

The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder showed exactly what he’ll bring to the table and, perhaps more importantly, displayed the skill to hang in a top-6 role after teaming up with Pastrnak on the scoring play in the third period. There will be more opportunities for the big winger to throw his weight around and really set a physical tone once he begins getting comfortable in Boston, but there’s every reason to think he’s exactly the kind of player Boston needed going into the trade deadline.

Certainly, Ritchie was more noticeable in one win on Thursday night than Danton Heinen had been in the last few months of a season where his subtle qualities didn’t exactly amount to anything significant on the ice.

“It was good. It was nice to score. It was nice to win,” said Ritchie. “My energy levels were higher and I definitely felt better with my legs. I definitely played a better game and the team played better as well. It was just a simple shot, but whenever it goes in, it obviously feels really good.

“Early on [as a line] we played a lot together and we had some good shifts, and we really got in on the fore-check. It was good.”

As for Kase, he showed on his very first shift of the game that he’s got speed to burn on the second line and flashed some slick offensive instincts as things went along. It didn’t add to any offensive production with Krejci in his first game back from injury, but it’s also the first time Kase has played at all since early February with a suspected concussion.

So now it’s about the Bruins keeping the right winger healthy and letting him build up his game in Boston.

“[Nick] Ritchie with [David] Krejci, I think could go somewhere as long as they have some chemistry, as long as there’s some pace on the other side. That could be Ondrej [Kase], if we drop Pasta [David Pastrnak] down at times,” said Cassidy. “But as long as there’s some pace [from the right wing]. I’ll look at pairs. [Jake] DeBrusk, [Charlie] Coyle, I think, like I said, I like the way they’ve played together [on the third line]. Even Anders [Bjork] when he’s over there. I thought our fourth line was contributing again tonight. Unfortunately, Wags [Chris Wagner] got hurt there in that scuffle, but I thought they did a good job as well.”

Clearly the forward combinations are in flux as a passive Anders Bjork spent most of the second period nailed to the Bruins bench, and the fourth line may be switched around now that Wagner is banged up with an upper body injury.

But Ritchie showed he’s got the talent to fill the Bruins' need for a big, physical winger with some skill and Kase gave indications he’ll be a player who can create some 5-on-5 offense for a B’s team that doesn’t do enough of that in crunch time.

For those with questions about how much improvement the Bruins made with their deadline moves, the win over the Stars showed strong indications that Ritchie and Kase are both going to play roles in making the Bruins a tougher group to defend in the postseason.

Why winning NHL Presidents' Trophy may not be in Bruins' best interest

Why winning NHL Presidents' Trophy may not be in Bruins' best interest

First, a disclaimer: The Boston Bruins should try to win their remaining games. The better your team is playing, the better it is for everyone in the dressing room.

But if the Tampa Bay Lightning overtake the Bruins in the Atlantic Division and secure the Presidents' Trophy for the NHL's best record?

Well ... that wouldn't be the worst development.

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Here's the first reason: Whether you're superstitious or not, the Presidents' Trophy has been a death knell for its recipients. The last club to finish with the NHL's best regular-season record and win the Stanley Cup was the Chicago Blackhawks (at the Bruins' expense) in 2013.

Here's how the next six Presidents' Trophy winners fared:

2014 Bruins: Lost in second round
2015 New York Rangers: Lost in Eastern Conference Final
2016 Washington Capitals: Lost in second round
2017 Capitals: Lost in second round
2018 Nashville Predators: Lost in second round
2019 Lightning: Lost in first round

Since the NHL adopted its current playoff format for the 2013-14 season, only one Presidents' Trophy winner has made it out of the second round. The Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Lightning clean out of the first round in 2019.

There's more than just bad karma at play here. In the current format, each division winner plays a Wild Card team in the first round, while the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in each division face off.

Guess how many division winners beat their Wild Card opponents in last year's playoffs? Zero.

That's a bit of an aberration, but it's not far from the norm in the topsy-turvy Stanley Cup Playoffs. Aside from the 2013 Blackhawks, the 2018 Capitals are the only other team in the last 12 years to win the Stanley Cup after winning their division (and they had the Eastern Conference's third-best record).

Playoff trends aside, there's a more simple reason why Boston shouldn't mind losing out on the Presidents' Trophy.

If the playoffs started now, the Bruins would face the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have won both of their matchups with Boston this season -- including a 3-0 shutout on Jan. 14 -- and took the B's to six games in the second round last year.

If the Bruins slip to the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic, they'll likely face the Toronto Maple Leafs -- who haven't beaten Boston in a playoff series since 1959.

Bruce Cassidy's club currently stands seven points clear of the Lightning (92 to 85) with 17 games remaining. The St. Louis Blues (86 points) and Capitals (84) points also are in the Presidents' Trophy conversation.

The B's want to be playing well entering the postseason, and finishing with the NHL's best record obviously would be proof of that. If they happen to take their foot off the gas, though, they could wind up in better position to win the Cup race.