By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Providence Bruins coach Jay Leach has an unorthodox solution to solve the third-line center competition between Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson before it starts.
“They all have different assets,” said Leach after putting the three rookies and their teammates through a practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Thursday. “JFK has high-end skill, he can make high-end plays, you can put him with some real skilled players and he’ll be able to make plays. Freddy he’s a little bit more old school, he’s up and down. He can make plays and by no means is he lacking in the skill front but he is a little bit more of an abrasive style, he’s going to be hard down low. And I think for what little I’ve seen of Jack, he’s probably a cross between the two of them, really.
“So if you just morph them all into one, we’d have a heck of a player.”
Sounds like Leach, who will handle head coaching duties this weekend when the Bruins participate the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, has been watching too many ’80s movies. Outside of combining the three players into one super player with some sort of potion or a strike of lightning, the Bruins will probably have to pick at least one of the three (more if one can shift to the wing) to make the NHL roster before the start of the season.
The competition, which could also include Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner and others once main training camp begins, starts this weekend with games against rookies from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils. Studnicka and Forsbacka Karlsson were part of the Bruins contingent that competed in the same tournament last fall. Frederic (13 games) and Studnicka (five games) got a taste of pro hockey last season with Providence, while Forsbacka Karlsson spent the whole season with the P-Bruins. He had 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 58 games, and now the 21-year-old Forsbacka Karlsson might be expected to show a little more based on what he’s accomplished in the past.
He believes he’s up to that challenge.
“I think a lot of guys that had a year under their belts last year kind of stepped up their game in Buffalo last year,” said Forsbacka Karlsson, who was a second-round pick (No. 45) in 2015. “I think that’s what we guys who played there last year and in our second years this year are going to have to do.”
Studnicka, a Bruins second-round pick (No. 53) in 2017, had 72 points (22 goals, 50 assists) in 66 games for Oshawa of the OHL last season before his junior season ended and he joined Providence. At 19, he’s ineligible to play in the AHL without first returning to Oshawa for this season. Frederic had 32 points (17 goals, 15 assists) in 36 collegiate games with Wisconsin and then decided to leave school after his sophomore season to join the team that drafted him 29th overall in 2016.
The competition that starts in Buffalo will continue in China after the Bruins depart to start their training camp there and play two preseason games against the Calgary Flames. The players knew weeks ago they were going to be included on the traveling roster, but coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t reveal that news to the public until this week.
Clearly, the Bruins are sending a message that although there are other options, they want one of these three players to grab the third-line center spot and make the decision to let Riley Nash leave look like a wise one.
“It’s a great opportunity to go to China, it’s pretty neat,” Frederic said. “Hopefully I’ll get my first preseason game. So yeah obviously I’m pretty lucky to go. I kind of saw that I guess when they put the list out.”
Forsbacka Karlsson said: “I’m really excited about going to China. It’s a little bit of a message so it’s going to be a fun trip and it’s going to be a great, great experience for me.”
The Buffalo tournament and trip to China will create memories these players will remember forever, but those memories will be sweeter if those experiences are part of one or more of these three players winning a job in the NHL.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.