As Jamie Arniel packed his bag, he turned and said, "I don’t know whether to be nervous or excited." After all, he’d barely had a moment to process what was happening. He hadn’t called his family. He hadn’t grabbed his sticks. He’d hardly made it through the teammates who gathered to pass along their well-wishes.
For the first time in his career, Arniel was heading to the NHL.
When practice began Tuesday morning in Providence, it was just like most Tuesdays during the season. The team had played three games from Friday to Sunday, enjoyed an off-day on Monday, and it was time to get to work. Unlike most Tuesdays during this young AHL season, however, the vibe around the room and on the ice was a bit more light-hearted than usual.
The P-Bruins got off to a rough start to the year, going 2-5-1-1 in October before rattling off three straight wins to open November. Much of the reason for last weekend’s success was Arniel, who finished the busy stretch with goals in all three games, including an overtime winner at Portland on Saturday, plus a pair of assists to earn an AHL Player of the Week nomination.
So, Tuesday morning brought a certain levity that had been lacking at this time last week. Following practice, lasting around 90 minutes, Arniel went straight to the weight room. There, he and Jeff LoVecchio stretched, lifted and enjoyed the impromptu, good humored dance performances of some teammates as they passed by.
Then, he received the news, which read like a cross between a medical report and a transaction list. David Krejci is out with a concussion, Brian McGrattan was assigned to Providence, and Michael Ryder left Tuesday’s practice early with an undisclosed injury, all leaving an opening for a healthy body to join Boston in Pittsburgh for Wednesday’s match-up with the Penguins.
"It’s a good example of making sure you’re playing well and being consistent," said P-Bruins coach Rob Murray of Arniel, who ranks second on Providence in goals with six and tied for third with nine points in his 12 games. "You never know when the call is going to come and the opportunity is there to get the call. There is a handful or a basket full, let’s say, of certain guys that we can recommend and whatever fits Boston’s situation the best, that’s the way they went. Arny, because of his play, was one of those names that were in that basket, so it’s good for him."
Looking back at last season, Arniel’s first as a professional, he finished as Providence’s Rookie of the Year after totaling 12 goals and 28 points in 67 games. Much of that production came in November, when the forward put up 12 points and a six-game goal-scoring streak to earn the league’s Rookie of the Month distinction. After November, however, came bouts of inconsistency and, later in the year, a dozen straight games lost to injury.
Arniel’s rookie campaign certainly didn’t conclude as it began. According to Murray, that doesn’t have to be the case again this season.
"He was the November American League Rookie of the Month, so he was probably playing as well last year at this point as he is this year," said Murray. "It’s about whether he can maintain that. I think he is playing with a different confidence level this year. You can just see it with him. He is shooting the puck better and he is probably skating better overall, not that he is a better skater than he was last year, he’s just skating better, like he is utilizing it more."
When the season started, Arniel knew that in order to jump to the next level, maintaining consistent play would be a necessity. He knew that fact last year as well but, as his first year – a learning year – proved, that can sometimes be easier said than done.
"It’s easy to say that you want to work on consistency but it’s actually a tough task," Arniel said in the days prior to his call-up. "You have to come to the rink and give your all every shift, every day, and that’s something I really want to do. It’s tough, but if you set your mind to it, that’s exactly what you can do. To get to the NHL, that’s what I’m going to have to do. It’s all up to me and I’m just gonna have to work as hard as I can and play well every night."
One of Arniel’s strengths, particularly this year, is his versatility. Drafted by Boston as a center in the fourth round in 2008, the young forward has shifted his focus this season to the wing, where he projects higher in the line-up than down the middle in an organization littered with pivots.
With each game in Providence this season, whether he has been playing alongside centers Zach Hamill, Joe Colborne or Wyatt Smith, Arniel has shown increased confidence and a willingness to put the puck on net, a category he is running away with for the P-Bruins.
Now, with Boston playing on the road Wednesday and at home against Montreal on Thursday, the question is whether he will get the opportunity to take that confidence to the next level. If Ryder is able to play, the Bruins have enough players to keep Arniel on-hand as an extra body. If he does play, however, Murray says there are different areas he could see the young forward able to contribute.
"If they play him on the fourth line, he’s got to be responsible defensively and make sure that he’s bringing energy," said Murray. "If they play him up in the line-up a little bit more, maybe they’re looking for him to create something offensively. There are different roles they could ask of him. I think he’s a dynamic player. He’s got those intangibles in his game, like he can probably bring you a little bit in a pinch as far as offense goes, and also be a guy that could be your fourth-line center or right winger and do a good job."
Arniel, just days from his 21st birthday, doesn’t care. He says he’s happy to help out wherever needed.
"I’ve played center my whole life, but I like it on the wing. Whatever’s going to give me a better opportunity to play in Boston, that’s what I’m going to work towards. I’ll play defense if I have to. Might as well be back-up goalie in Boston, it’s up to them."
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