Joe Haggerty

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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Danton Heinen signing leaves Bruins with as many cap questions as answers

Danton Heinen signing leaves Bruins with as many cap questions as answers

The Bruins avoided arbitration by signing 24-year-old winger and restricted free agent Danton Heinen to a two-year, $5.6 million contract late on Tuesday night.

According to Cap Friendly, the Bruins now have approximately $8.1 million in salary cap space to sign fellow RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. The good news is that that the Bruins probably won’t need to clear more than a couple of million dollars in order to eventually ink both young defensemen, though it doesn’t appear that deals for either of them are imminent.

The bad news is that the Bruins are paying almost $3 million per season for a player in Heinen that’s coming off a down sophomore year with 11 goals and 34 points in 77 games, and was a downright ghost in the Stanley Cup playoff run with just two goals and eight points in 24 games. Sure, Heinen is a conscientious two-way player who can be trusted while he’s on the ice, but he also wasn’t much of an impact player in any regard last season.

His best stretch came playing right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand when David Pastrnak went down with his thumb injury, but even there Heinen faded once things settled down in a plum spot on the Perfection Line.

A different way of looking at Heinen is that he scored 11 goals and 33 points in the first 43 games of 2017-18 while skating with Riley Nash and David Backes, and then dropped to 16 goals and 48 points in his last 111 games over the past two seasons. Essentially his production has dropped the longer he’s been in the NHL, and it’s probably not going to start elevating again until he gets stronger and more determined in the battle areas of the ice.

Heinen could also use a major dose of confidence shooting the puck. Offensively it felt as if he was hesitant to shoot the puck this past season and had difficulty executing in the moments when he did get chances in the golden scoring areas.

Clearly the Bruins weren’t ready to cut bait on Heinen as a talented 24-year-old who could still improve over the next couple of seasons, and perhaps even return to the form that made him so effective when he first busted into the league. But maybe they should have been, given their salary cap situation with a trade pretty much a necessity now that he’s getting paid $2.8 million over the next couple of years to go along with some of Boston’s other salary cap complexities.

Perhaps the decision to walk away from RFA Brett Connolly a couple of years ago has changed Boston’s perspective on asset management for players in this situation. They essentially got nothing in exchange for a player they gave up two second-round picks for in trade, and then watched him post 22 goals and 46 points in 81 games for the Capitals last season.

A little more patience with Connolly could have paid dividends for the Black and Gold, and they are going to apply that hindsight theory with Heinen.

It will probably take somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million to sign both McAvoy and Carlo at some point ahead of the Dec. 1 deadline for players to sign contracts, or risk sitting out the entire NHL season.

McAvoy has missed 47 games with an assortment of injuries and medical issues over his first two seasons, was a mid-first round pick and averaged seven goals and 30 points over those first two NHL seasons.

The most comparable contracts for McAvoy would not be Aaron Ekblad and his eight-year, $60 million contract; instead it would be the six-year, $31.5 million deal for Hampus Lindholm, the six-year, $32.4 million contract for Sabres D-man Rasmus Ristolainen and the six-year, $34.8 million deal for Dallas Stars D-man Esa Lindell. If the Bruins are offering just shy of $6 million per year on a six-year deal and McAvoy’s camp is expecting $7.5 million per year on an eight-year deal, then they are understandably far apart in contract negotiations.

The 6-foot-5 Carlo had a strong third NHL season with two goals and 10 points in 72 games and was strong in the playoffs as a top-4 D-man averaging 21:31 of ice time during the first 24 Stanley Cup playoff games of his career. Carlo won’t, however, be getting the same kind of payday as McAvoy, and is looking at something more along the lines of $3-4 million per season on a shorter term deal for his second contract.

So what does all of this mean?

It means the Bruins need to move at least a couple of million dollars in salary. It doesn’t mean the Bruins have to jettison one of their best players — whether it’s Torey Krug or David Krejci, who would create roster voids that couldn’t be realistically filled by internal candidates. Instead a more likely scenario would be Kevan Miller ($2.5 million) or John Moore ($2.75 million) spending the first few months of the season on LTIR (long-term injured reserve) and then getting moved once they are healthy enough to play.

Moving either one of those contracts would be enough to sign both McAvoy and Carlo, and leave Bruins general manager Don Sweeney with some cushion space entering the season. It won’t give the B’s much latitude to upgrade their team after minimal July 1 moves like signing Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie, but we’re also talking about a hockey club that made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season.

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Bruins, Danton Heinen set August 3 arbitration date for new deal

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USA TODAY Sports Photo

Bruins, Danton Heinen set August 3 arbitration date for new deal

The Bruins haven’t been to many arbitration hearings over the years, and now they’ll get to see if they can avoid one with winger Danton Heinen. The Bruins and their 24-year-old winger have set an Aug. 3 date for the forward’s potential arbitration hearing.

The 2014 fourth round draft pick made $925,000 last season at the end of his entry-level contract, and had a bit of a disappointing season while seeing his numbers drop to 11 goals and 34 points in 77 games last season. His numbers were down across the board from 16 goals and 47 points in 77 games as a rookie two seasons ago, and Heinen was a bit of a nonentity in the postseason with just two goals and eight points in 24 games for the Bruins in the playoffs.

Based on comparable contracts around the league, Heinen should be looking at something between $2.5-3.5 million on a one or two-year deal that he can opt for in salary arbitration. The Bruins winger’s situation isn’t all that different from Kasperi Kapanen, who just signed a three-year deal worth $3.2 million per season, and Andreas Johnsson with his four-year deal worth $3.4 million per season, both with the Maple Leafs. Both those players hit 20 goals last season for the Leafs, but Heinen has better numbers than each of them over the course of the last two seasons.

The Bruins and Heinen’s camp can continue to negotiate right up until the salary arbitration hearing a month from now, and the B’s can also opt to walk away from the arbitration award for Heinen if they are so inclined after the hearing has taken place.

Heinen and Peter Cehlarik were the only two Bruins restricted free agents eligible for salary arbitration, but Cehlarik opted to keep negotiating with the team and signed a one-year, two-way deal for $700,000 earlier this week.

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