If the Boston Bruins are going to orchestrate another deep playoff run in 2020, there stands a good chance that the usual suspects like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask will play a major role in said success. But if this Original Six franchise plans on getting past clubs like Tampa Bay and punching their ticket back to the Stanley Cup Final within the next few seasons, it’s pretty evident that the next wave of talent on this roster is going to establish themselves as the next pillars of this franchise — and proving such with their on-ice contributions.
“That core group that’s here now grew into what they are because of their efforts and the culture created. We want that continuation to start at some point for the second layer, I thought it did last year,” Bruce Cassidy said. “Jake (DeBrusk) had a really good playoff his first year against Toronto, it’s a reason why we advanced, (Sean) Kuraly scored some big goals and now (Charlie) McAvoy, so you’re leaning on those guys to pull harder on the rope is what we’re going after. It’s as simple as that. We have a lot of trust and faith and our core guys are still carrying us, but it’s a full 20 guys and you need those other guys to step up sometimes.”
Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at a couple of younger players on this B’s roster that can (and likely have to) step up in a major way in 2020 — especially if Boston wants to keep its Cup-contention window open a little longer.
Five games played, zero points, 10 shots on goal and 11:37 of average ice time.
Fair to say, the numbers may not jump off the page when sizing up Jack Studnicka's play during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But for a 21-year-old forward with a whopping nine games of pro experience (including AHL action) under his belt entering this season, just carving out a spot in the NHL ranks during the final weeks of Boston's campaign is an accomplishment in and of itself for the B’s top prospect — with that flat stat line underselling the promise that he showcased up in the Toronto bubble.
The natural center — shifted over to the wing on account of Boston's glut of talent down the middle — still has to round out his 6-foot-1, 171-pound frame, but the dynamic forward didn't let imposing NHL lineups hamper his willingness to carry the puck into Grade-A ice, even if said passage drew the ire of defensemen holding a 30-pound edge on the tale of the tape.
Despite getting tabbed as a healthy scratch six times over the first two rounds of playoff action, Studnicka was far from a passenger during his appearances out on the Scotiabank Arena ice. An encouraging start in exhibition play against Columbus in which Boston held an 8-2 edge in 5v5 scoring chances during Studnicka's 8+ minutes of ice time with David Krejci was bookended by an equally strong showing in Boston's final contest of the 2020 campaign.
(One of the many high-danger looks Studnicka managed to generate against the Blue Jackets during that exhibition matchup on July 30.)
Even though the Bruins fell in double overtime to the Lightning in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Studnicka and a revamped third line was far and away the most impressive forward trio for the B's — with Studnicka attempting five shots and Boston holding an absurd 28-12 edge in shot attempts in that line's 15:28 of 5v5 ice time. The performance of those speedy, shifty wingers like Bjork and Studnicka stood as a bright spot in what was an otherwise bleak conclusion to a season that started with so much promise.
"I thought in game five, we had a quicker lineup ... you see that you can play behind them as well and use your outside speed as long as you’re willing to cut into the net," Bruce Cassidy said of the play of his younger wingers against Tampa. "We saw that a few times with Kuhlman, Bjork, I think Studs is still learning that part of the game, so we’ll reserve judgment on him, and you’re able to create some offense but you don’t finish. Then you go the other way, it’s the bigger bodies, they’re not as quick, you don’t go around, you more or less have to go through them. So there are two schools of thought. You’d like to have a mix of both.
"The bigger bodies are probably more impactful when your D are getting involved in getting shots through from the point, so it’s a little more of o-zone play, you’re creating turnovers on the forecheck and then the speed is more off the rush. Do we have enough? I feel we do, but I think we’re going to have to learn to finish better and some of that is we’re going to have to do a better job at the o-zone blue line getting shots through."
Even if Studnicka will need to work on finishing at the NHL level, his performance this postseason should not be marred by the lack of baseline numbers etched in the stat book. On a Bruins roster plagued by a lack of 5v5 production and consistent high-quality scoring chances, Studnicka's efforts toward bringing the puck into danger areas (despite his welterweight status) should catch the eye of many — even more than the flashier aspects of his game, such as blazing north-south acceleration and silky mitts.
Among the 22 Bruins that logged at least 50 minutes of 5v5 ice time up in the Toronto bubble, Studnicka ranked first in:
Individuals shots per 60 minutes — 10.23
Individual expected goals per 60 minutes — 0.87
Individual shot attempts per 60 minutes — 25.01
Individual high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes — 5.68
Yes, it's a small sample size (Studnicka logged 52:46 of 5v5 ice time this postseason), but it's tough to discount the spark and bevy of scoring chances that the rookie provided in his first extended stretch of NHL action — all under the bright lights of playoff hockey, no less.
(Another quality look generated thanks to some hustle from Studnicka in Game 5, with the rookie disrupting Andrei Vasilevskiy behind Tampa's net, leading to a Grade-A chance from Charlie Coyle.)
When you compile the entire list of NHLers that took part in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Studnicka (circled in red below) ranks near the top in terms quality per shot against per 60 minutes — with only five other players posting a higher rating when it came to the lack of quality chances generated by the opposition when said skater was out on the ice. Add in the fact that Studnicka was also Boston's leader in quality per shot for per 60 minutes — and the underlying numbers paint the picture of a youngster already developing a knack for quality looks whenever he hops over the boards.
When speaking during his final press conference of the 2019-20 campaign, Don Sweeney stressed that, even with youngsters like Studnicka knocking on the door of a regular NHL role, such assignments won't just be handed out come training camp.
"As far as the players throughout and up and down the lineup and roster and organization, we certainly expect players to continue to push our group," Sweeney said. "Trent Frederic, Zach Senyshyn, Jack Studnicka, several other young players that we feel are going to be part of the future of the organization. But they have to come earn their spot. I should say, we’ve been very consistent with providing opportunity but not providing a guarantee of a roster spot. You have to come and earn that."
Given the expected return of Bergeron-Krejci-Coyle-Kuraly at the pivot position, a full rookie campaign for Studnicka up in Boston will likely feature the forward carving out a middle-six role on the wing — a future that could be a clouded a bit if Boston adds another established forward or two via free agency or trade.
But even if he may not be as long in the tooth as a few other candidates in Boston's crowded forward corps, Studnicka's potential might just outweigh all other factors when Cassidy and his staff are tasked with putting forward the best possible lineup during the 2020-21 season.
If those quality chances start getting buried, Boston could have a force waiting in the wings with Studnicka.