Although a short skid in December and January caused the Providence Bruins to lose some points in the standings, the P-Bruins have been one of the AHL’s best teams season and are in good shape as the postseason approaches. With Don Sweeney inking players to entry-level deals in recent weeks, the P-Bruins have received some noteworthy young prospects to help them down the stretch. Up front, the P-Bruins have added Cameron Hughes, Joona Koppanen, and Trent Frederic to the mix, and are likely going to add Cedric Pare once his QMJHL season ends.
All season long, the P-Bruins have gotten consistent production from Kenny Agostino, Jordan Szwarz, and Austin Czarnik, who is currently tied for second in the AHL with 61 points. Rookies Ryan Fitzgerald and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson have stepped up in recent weeks, while veterans Colby Cave and Colton Hargrove are continuing to play well on both sides of the rink. So, when you add the newly signed rookies to the strong mix of forwards in Providence, the P-Bruins could have a good situation on their hands over the final eleven games of the regular season.
Defensively, Tommy Cross has continued to show his worth this season as a valuable leader and penalty killer, and is currently the highest scoring defenseman on the team with 30 points. Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril have both improved over the course of the season, with the latter really stepping up his 200-foot game in the past few weeks. The P-Bruins lost a valuable defenseman in Rob O’Gara when he was sent to the Rangers in the Nick Holden deal, but other guys have stepped up in his place. Connor Clifton and Emil Johannson have elevated their play recently, while Paul Postma helped stabilize the power-play in his six games with Providence.
The P-Bruins have yet to use Wiley Sherman, who joined Providence on an amateur tryout after signing his entry-level deal on Wednesday. Sherman, 6-7 and 220 pounds, ties Chris Breen for the tallest on the team. The defense has two quality leaders in Breen and Cross, but the surplus of young guns on the back end adds a lot of versatility to the blueline, which will certainly be a help in the playoffs.
Providence’s greatest area of strength is the goaltending, in my opinion, and it is heating up at the right time. Midseason struggles, along with the strong play of fellow goaltender Jordan Binnington may have put Zane McIntyre’s status as the No. 1 goaltender in question earlier in the year, but McIntyre has no doubt returned to his usual self over the past month or so. He is 6-2-0 in his last eight starts and has three shutouts in his last twelve. This will certainly bode well for Providence over the next few weeks and into the postseason.
However, if Providence has to go without McIntyre from now until the end of the season or playoffs, there is no reason to panic. Binnington has been one of the best goaltenders in the AHL this season, and currently has the third best goals against average at 2.02. If Providence has to without both McIntyre and Binnington at any point, Dan Vladar has performed well enough at the AHL level to take over the crease for some games, but one would hope the P-Bruins don’t endure this situation.
Again, the P-Bruins have been one of the best teams in the AHL this season and are one of the most complete teams in the league. They are strong at every position, and the rookies joining the team on ATOs add more fuel to an already well lit fire. After going on a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final last season, the P-Bruins are hoping to emulate last year’s performance. And with so many guys heating up at the right time, the P-Bruins are in good shape to try and make this goal a reality.