By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) – It doesn’t take much coaxing to get Bruins assistant coach Bruce Cassidy to praise center Austin Czarnik.
“He would be to me described as that Belichick-type player that you can use in a lot of different situations,” Cassidy said earlier this week at Warrior Ice Arena after a training camp practice. “A very, very high IQ. Quick learner, very coachable. So he’s a guy you can move around. Play with different players, plays on the penalty kill, he’s good on the power play, especially on the points. I think from night to night, if you wanted to, you could move him around and he could be effective for you.
“I know he’s a center, but it’d be interesting to see, that’s one thing we haven’t a lot of, can he play the wing and move there and be effective? And that may be something they may attempt down the road. I don’t know.”
Czarnik’s versatility even allowed Cassidy, who up until this season was the head coach with Providence of the American Hockey League, to play the forward on defense during 6-on-5 situations late in games with the P-Bruins trailing. The Bruins cherish versatility from their forwards. It’s at least part of the reason they’ve signed David Backes, Riley Nash and Dominic Moore. Even Seth Griffith and Ryan Spooner have tried their hand at different forward positions. When the Bruins were contending they had Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley to move around the lineup.
With Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci ensconced as the top two centers in Boston for the immediate and distant future, it’s tough for any young center – even one that had 61 points in 68 games as a first-year pro last season – to move up in the pecking order without a willingness to change positions. Czarnik hasn’t played wing since he skated for the USNTDP several years ago. But he’s willing to be flexible.
“It’s hard. It’s a business and they have to do what they have to do. So for me I just have to keep on working hard. If I have to play winger at some point, if they want me, then I’ll have to take and just go with it,” Czarnik said. “So that’ll be a learning process within itself. I was able to play winger at USA when I was younger but I haven’t played it in a couple years. I think if I can learn, learn from the guys, the better guys, I’ll just take it and go with it.”
The 23-year-old Czarnik, who spent four years at Miami University before signing with the Bruins, will have to overcome his size disadvantage regardless of his position. He’s listed at 5-foot-9, 160 pounds. Size hasn’t slowed his career progression yet and he’s working on making sure it doesn’t keep him from making it in the NHL.
“They told me last year at the beginning, I have to be able realize when to jump in,” he said. “Obviously if a guy is bigger and stronger than me in the corner, then let him do his stuff but when the opportunity it right you jump in with a good stick and you just try to eliminate them. You’re not going to have the biggest hits every single night. You just try to get the body, get the puck away from them and let everyone else try to get the puck around you. So that’s what I’ve focused on so far since I’ve been here and I think it’s gone pretty good so far.”
With Cassidy on the NHL staff, Czarnik seems to have an advocate in the right place. But it also seems like coach Claude Julien will probably take a liking to the kid. Once the Bruins’ season shakes out and certain needs are addressed and moves are made, Czarnik might be able to add a dose of versatility to Boston’s lineup.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.