Thanks to recent injuries and Marchand’s 5-game suspension, the Bruins’ lineup has seen some irregular players. We’ve seen Bjork, Cehlarik, Vatrano, and Czarnik all get playing time lately.
There’s enough time to talk about Bjork, Cehlarik and Vatrano later, but let’s talk about Czarnik for a second.
After watching the Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs Saturday night, I couldn’t help but notice him. He had a great game, which included outshooting his opponents 9-3 at 5v5, and notching the primary assist on the Krug powerplay goal, all while only playing 9:07.
Single-game stats are generally useless. They don’t tell you much about a player’s true talent. Intrigued by his speed and skill, I decided to put in more research.
In college, Czarnik posted 169 points in 159 games for 1.06 points per game. After making the Bruins out of camp in 2016, he only spent 49 games in the big leagues last season tallying 13 points. While in the AHL for the remainder of last season, along with this season, Czarnik has posted 65 points in 60 regular season games.
While he hasn’t put up superstar numbers in development leagues, his point totals suggest he can be a middle-six forward in the NHL. So why hasn’t he solidified that?
His personal shooting luck has been fine. At 5v5, he’s shot 9.43% on 53 shots on goal for 5 goals. He doesn’t shoot the puck that much, as he only takes 10.05 shot attempts per 60 minutes, but his play style is not a sniper, but rather a playmaker.
In terms of production, that seems to be the problem. At 5v5, so far in his career, Czarnik has only recorded 3 primary assists in 56 games. Playing a big part is his on-ice shooting percentage which sits at a mere 4.9% at 5v5.
Some of that can be explained by random variance. After all, 56 games isn’t the biggest sample size. However, ignoring his quality of teammates would be poor analysis. The only players Czarnik has played a significant amount of time with are Matt Beleskey, Riley Nash, and Ryan Spooner. None of those players seem to have a scoring touch.
I think it is safe to say, given the right teammates, and time, we could expect to see Czarnik’s production rise to that of a middle-six forward. The problem is, that spot in the lineup is not available at the moment. With Heinen, Spooner, and DeBrusk clogging up the middle-six, there is no way Czarnik can crack it. If we feel he can’t succeed on the fourth line, there is no point in giving him a roster spot at the moment.
So why talk about him if he can’t crack the NHL roster?
I’m a forward thinker. With Ryan Spooner and Riley Nash’s contracts ending after this season, there is a chance we see the Bruins go forward with their younger, cheaper players, allowing them have comfort while they carry their top-heavy contracts like Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, and Backes. While much focus will be on Bjork and Cehlarik, I wouldn’t sleep on Czarnik.
In Czarnik’s 56 games, he’s been a terrific “possession” player, for lack of a better work. He holds a 53.8 CF%, and a 53.2 xGF%. The reason you see that -10 plus-minus in the box score last season is poor shooting luck offensively, combined with sub-par goaltending behind him. Of all Bruins who played at least 200 minutes at 5v5 last season, Czarnik had the second worst delta save percentage, just ahead of Beleskey, at -1.7%.
Delta save percentage is actual save percentage minus expected save percentage. To translate, Bruins goaltenders let in 1.7% more shots than expected when Czarnik was on the ice. With an increased sample size, and better goaltending behind him, we can expect his goal differentials to increase.
We may or may not see Czarnik in the NHL again this season. He was called up on Monday on an emergency basis, so it’s clear in times with missing pieces, Czarnik is someone the team trusts to call upon for a short time. Although he may seem like an unimportant piece to the Bruins roster, that may change in the near future. Don’t overlook the possibility that he may play in the Bruins’ top nine next season.
Sure, he may end up losing the battle to younger guys, or sign with another team this offseason, but at the very least, he should be someone to watch for when he gets called up to the big club, or playing in Providence.