Jack Studnicka belongs in the NHL. That much he has proven.
Whether he begins this season in the top flight remains to be seen and ultimately will be a decision out of his control.
The young Boston Bruins center has been the star of the preseason, which comes following an offseason in which he bulked up noticeably. The skill set long had been there for him to one day become a productive middle six, two-way center in the NHL, but his biggest setback was size, or lack thereof.
But with the size issue rectified, he has been everything the Bruins could ask for in the preseason — to the point it has them considering tweaking their plans up front.
“I liked his game,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Monday’s game. “I liked his commitment to playing a 200-foot game and how he managed pucks. He did not turn the puck over like he has in the past. Do we push somebody to the wing or not? That will be a conversation.”
The fact that the Bruins are considering pushing a veteran to the wing so that Studnicka could play his natural center in the NHL underscores just how solid he has been.
Where exactly he goes is the problem. Charlie Coyle, who expects to be ready for opening night, will get first crack at the second line center vacancy, and the Bruins might have something with a Jake DeBrusk-Erik Haula-Nick Foligno third line. For Studnicka’s sake, he shouldn’t play on the fourth line or wing full time — he would be better off playing first-line center in the AHL then fourth line in the NHL.
The Bruins could move Foligno or Haula down to the fourth line. Putting Studnicka between DeBrusk and Foligno could allow for a fourth line of Tomas Nosek, Haula and Curtis Lazar. However, it’s not like Haula has played himself out of a third line role this preseason, so that raises a separate debate.
Ultimately, Studnicka might have to go down to Providence if for no other reason than he is one of the Bruins’ only waiver-exempt forwards who still has a shot at cracking the roster. If that does end up being the case, it’s clear it’s not because he didn’t impress the Bruins or that he needs more time to bake in the minors.