By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Injuries can do more than just hinder a young player’s development. They also can lower a prospect’s profile with an organization.
Peter Cehlarik entered Bruins training camp this season overshadowed by the likes of Ryan Donato, who left Harvard early and wowed the NHL with nine points in 12 games last season; Anders Bjork, who’s returning as a second-year player after shoulder surgery shortened his rookie season to 30 games (he had 12 points); Trent Frederic, who also left college early and impressed with eight points in 13 games with Providence last spring; and others.
But the 23-year-old is emerging from the shadows during the preseason. His goal and an assist in the Bruins’ 4-3 exhibition win at Philadelphia on Monday increased his point total to one goal, three assists in three preseason games. His strong work along the boards also helped force a giveaway that led to Lee Stempniak’s goal, and Cehlarik had a double hand in Brandon Carlo’s goal – earning the secondary assist but also perfectly screening goaltender Brian Elliott.
“He was good at the top of the crease,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told the media in Philly. “Big body. He’s got a good stick on the forecheck … we always like him from the tops of the circles down. When he’s moving his feet and creating forecheck turnovers, that’s a big part of it, where he can really help us because he’s got a good stick. I thought he was very good.”
Cehlarik, a third-round pick (No. 90) in 2013, didn’t come to North American until the 2016-17 season. He impressed with two assists in 11 NHL games, but he was limited to 49 games with Providence because of injuries and probably missed out on an addition call-up because he was hurt. Still, he had 38 points (20 goals, 18 assists) in his first year on this side of the Atlantic.
Any momentum he had from that season was slowed by injuries again, and he played just 35 games (with 11 goals, 12 assists) for Providence. His six-game NHL stint featured his first NHL goal, but he wasn’t a factor in the Bruins’ rise to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.
“Kind of a tough year under my belt,” Cehlarik told CBS Boston earlier this week. “I mean it’s part of it, you get injured, and I got injured a couple of times. But once I got going, even up here for a couple of games, it didn’t [affect] me, the injuries. It was sort of an up and down season.”
Cehlarik said he feels healthy now. It’s shown up in his play. He may still be a long shot to make the opening night roster with the Bruins’ forward corps crowded with other young talented players, but his play below the circles clearly worthy of NHL ice time. Cehlarik now just has to clean up what he does between the blue lines.
“The concerns I have with Peter, when I’ve talked to him about it, is managing the puck in certain areas of the ice,” Cassidy said. “He’s got to learn when to make a play, when you get it deep, where to put it where we can get it back, especially if he’s going to play on certain type of lines.”
Cehlarik recognizes he has to simplify his game to fit in.
“It’s important to pick up my pace, especially in the neutral zone,” he said. “Try to get on the puck and try to get to middle ice and skate forward right away instead of thinking about passing. Sort of add pace to my game, get my feet moving, you know.”
The 6-foot-2, 202-pound left-handed shot has shown the versatility to play both left and right wing. He says he’s actually more comfortable attacking on his off side, and it looks like that might be the key to him contributing in Boston this season with an overabundance of natural left wings populating the roster.
Cehlarik’s definitely making the Bruins’ decision process more difficult during this camp. If the injuries stay away this time he’ll be a more than capable fill-in over the course of the 82-game schedule, or he could be a valuable trade chip when it comes time for the Bruins to solidify their roster with a veteran before the trade deadline.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.