Jack Studnicka and Anders Bjork have been impressive in absence of Kase
With the Bruins in Toronto continuing preparations for their first of three round-robin contests beginning Sunday, they’ve yet to have their full group on the ice together.
As Ondrej Kase remains back in Boston in quarantine and no ETA in sight, his job is no longer secure.
As crazy as that may have sounded when the Bruins acquired the 24-year old at the trade deadline, it’s become more of a reality due to a pair of youngsters impressing since the NHL kicked off its return-to-play program.
“We’re hoping to get Ondrej back at some point, but obviously he won’t participate Thursday [in the exhibition game against Columbus], who knows beyond that,” Cassidy said Tuesday afternoon. “Jack Studnicka is in there with Krech [David Krejci] and [Jake] DeBrusk.”
In the absence of Kase, the 21-year old Studnicka has been given the chance to earn a spot on the Bruins second line, an opportunity he’s taking full advantage of.
“Talked to David about his right side options, I’ve done a lot of that over the last few years. He likes the way Jack plays, he makes plays in traffic. Jack seems much more confident with the puck then maybe in training camp in September and October,” said Cassidy.
“If he can do that and balance his shot versus pass mentality, he likes to hang on an extra second and look to make a play and sometimes at the national league level, especially the playoffs, I think you have to have more of a shot mentality. That’s something he’ll have to sort through. I think all the young guys have gone through that.”
A natural center, Studnicka has experience playing the wing, something he says he is comfortable doing. Although he spent most of his rookie season in Providence playing down the middle, Studnicka was solid on the right side, finishing the AHL season with 23 goals, 26 assists and 49 points.
“I’ve played right wing in my past, something I am comfortable with and I think throughout the past couple of months I have been watching video and watching some high end players in the league battle on the boards and play wing,” said Studnicka. “It’s definitely been a learning experience playing at such a high level at right wing, but I definitely feel comfortable there.”
For Studnicka, he’s just looking to go out there and do whatever he can to help the team win. But one positive for him has been his comfort level, something that has already improved from where it was in training camp and at times prior.
That’s already a win for the Bruins.
“Definitely feel the most comfortable I have throughout training camp, black aces and stuff like that. Every single time we are able to join the team in a situation like this I think I get more comfortable just getting to know the guys, being around them in a scenario like this pretty much 24/7,” Studnicka added.
“Definitely everyday gets easier, but in terms of comfortability, I am 100% comfortable now in comparison to where I would have been nervous or starstruck to share the ice with some of these guys. I think I have matured in terms of being comfortable.”
Getting the chance to play with a center like Krejci who can help slow the game down for his wingers can only help a young player in his development. Studnicka, his speed and skill brings a different look to a line with Krejci and DeBrusk.
Studnicka hopes to be on the right side of some of the high end plays and high end opportunities that will present itself on a line with DeBrusk and Krejci.
“It’s been really fun being able to practice with those guys, they’re both proven players in the league. David’s been around for a long time and seems to always be in the right spot and do the right things, makes high end plays. To be on the other end of those is something special and something I am not taking for granted,” said Studnicka.
“I’m just trying to bring a good work ethic to that line. Jake on the other side obviously has high end speed. I’m just trying to keep up with him and show that I can play at the pace he plays at when the ability arises to make a play.”
Studnicka is not the only young player making waves and opening eyes so far in July as Anders Bjork has seen time on the Bruins top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. With David Pastrnak back in the mix, Bjork was on the Bruins third line with Sean Kuraly and Charlie Coyle these past two days, a familiar spot for Bjork.
Before the league’s pause in March, Bjork saw a healthy amount of time with Coyle as his center as the two seemed to find some chemistry at times.
"Then there’s Anders Bjork who I thought played well with Bergy and Marsh. But with Pasta back, obviously we’re going to put him back with his line mates, at least for now, and he could be an option with Krech and Jake, he’s been there before,” said Cassidy.
“I liked him with Coyle this winter, they played together. Kuraly is on the left side now, Nick Ritchie is the other guy that comes into the equation. Who does that push around? There’s a little bit of our health to be determined. But right now, those two guys have a leg up. I think Jack has a little bit more upside offensively right now, so that’s the reasoning for giving him the opportunity. We’ve never seen it, so Thursday might be a good chance for a test run with that line and see Anders back with Coyle.”
Like Studnicka, Bjork is excited for the opportunity that has been given to him.
“It’s really exciting, neither of us have played an NHL playoff game. I think we’re both excited and probably have the same mentality of trying to bring energy into the room and being young guys we’re excited and it’s easy to do that and what’s expected of us,” said Bjork.
With what Studnicka and Bjork have done to date in camp, and the potential that lies ahead, Cassidy wouldn’t go as far as saying Kase has a guaranteed spot whenever he returns.
“For me personally, it would be a little bit about the loyalty built by the player that’s injured. For example if it was guy that was with us our whole playoff run last year and the regular season and I know he will be ready to do his job, it would be a little easier for me to give him his job back, because of the trust factor,” said Cassidy.
“Ondrej came late, he came at the deadline, so he was building—and that’s not a negative. It’s just I don’t know him, I don’t know the player well enough right now. He only had a handful of games to integrate himself in the group and try to develop chemistry. We tried to do it with Krejci at first and then moved him around a little bit,”.
It very much sounds like Kase’s spot in the lineup is in the hands of Studnicka and Bjork.
“Say it’s Jack, say it’s Bjork that takes off and Ondrej is ready and they’ve strung together five, six, seven games, played a round or whatever, I’d have to consider making a change to a guy I’ve seen more of,” said Cassidy.
“To answer your question since it’s a bit of a hypothetical, it wouldn’t be automatic that I put Ondrej in if a young kid was playing very well.”