By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Few players’ names come out of the mouth of Bruins general manager Don Sweeney when talking about the 2018-19 season more often than Jack Studnicka.
Every time his answer calls for him to suggest prospects that might push for jobs and become the next Jake DeBrusk or Danton Heinen, Studnicka tops the list.
The 2017 second-round pick (53rd overall) told CBS Boston this week at development camp at Warrior Ice Arena that he hasn’t paid much attention to the lip service. But he’s hoping that a strong development camp will lead to a solid NHL camp, and then who knows where he’ll be when the season begins.
“I think I’ll let the media handle anything he says. I think me and him have a good relationship,” Studnicka said. “But at the end of the day I have to perform and the onus on me. I’m going to make the decision for them. I’m going to make it hard for them to make me leave.”
Studnicka, who was the captain with Oshawa of the Ontario Hockey League last season, has already stood out among the more than two-dozen Bruins prospects and invitees at development camp, both with his talents and his leadership qualities, proving why he’s definitely going to be in the mix this fall.
“I think you saw it today. He jumped up to the first spot in the line, he wants to be in charge, he wants to be an example,” Bruins director of player personnel Jamie Langenbrunner said Tuesday. “I think his place on the ice shows that. He’s not the most vocal guy in the world. His attitude and the way he plays, he’s a leading scorer, he’s a playmaker. But I saw him on two occasions go and get in a fight protecting a teammate. He has it in him. It’s just a natural thing for him. It’s the reason he was named a captain as a young 18-year-old in that league. He leads by example every day.”
Studnicka was one of the stars of development camp last year and then had a strong rookie camp. As an 18-year-old in a crowded mix of Bruins forwards, he was returned to Oshawa after one NHL preseason game. As it turned out there was no shame in being cut, as the Bruins’ deep forward corps was a key to their 50-win season.
Meanwhile, Oshawa was the perfect place for Studnicka to continue his development. He was Oshawa’s leading scorer with 72 points (22 goals, 50 assists). Now listed at 6-foot-2, 179 pounds, Studnicka got stronger and it paid off.
“I think he’s starting to physically mature,” Oshawa general manager Roger Hunt recently told CBS Boston. “I think he’s got the genes where he’s going to be a pretty solid guy once he’s finished growing. So I think that that helped winning some physical battles … and getting in positions to be able to score. He’s got great hockey sense, so once you can get strong enough where you can hold your position and everything else, the rest of that stuff starts to come.”
A stiffer test awaited Studnicka when he joined the Bruins’ Providence farm team after the OHL season ended. He passed the exam, producing five points (one goal, four assists) in five games. It was a boost of Studnicka’s confidence to succeed against pros at 19 years old.
“I think I’ve always taken pride in my offensive game, so going there and putting up a point a game it definitely helps, it’s in the back of my head,” Studnicka said. “But the important thing is to stay level-headed in a situation like that. I’m still a 19-year-old kid who’s got a lot to learn, a lot of room to grow on this team. Like I’ve said before, keep my head down, keep working hard.”
Even if he wasn’t aware of Sweeney’s words the past few weeks, Studnicka had to know a lot of the spotlight would be on him this week because of his play last season and the way the Bruins’ depth chart is shaping up. If the Bruins don’t get John Tavares as an unrestricted free agent, they’re still likely to lose Riley Nash to free agency and aren’t likely to sign another top-nine center. That could create a competition for the No. 3 center job between rookies Studnicka, Trent Frederic and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson.
Studnicka has said all the right things this week about keeping his head down and working hard without looking too far ahead in his career. But at the same time, he hasn’t shied away from the notion that he could be the newest 19-year-old to crack the Bruins’ lineup and might not be trekking back to Oshawa this winter.
“I think it’s great that he wants to do that,” Langenbrunner said. “I wouldn’t put it past him, he’s a determined kid. I think if you would have asked him last September, his goal was to make the team also. He wants to do that, that’s great. We’re not going to take that away from him. If he’s able to push and take that job, then great. I think [Sweeney’s] spoken about that quite regularly.”
Yes, we know, Sweeney’s spoken about Studnicka. And the way Studnicka has met most of his career challenges, it won’t be surprising to see Sweeney’s words about Studnicka making the NHL leap come true pretty soon.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.