With the news of the 2019-20 AHL season being cancelled, the Eastern Conference-leading Providence Bruins are undoubtedly disheartened. Having just completed a franchise-record 13-game winning streak, Providence was peaking at the right time.
Now, instead of having sights set on a Calder Cup Finals appearance, the franchise is looking to retool for next year and has already signed a few promising rookies.
What can we expect from the P-Bruins in 2020-21? If all goes well, much of the same from this year.
Goaltending Gets a Boost
We already know Dan Vladar is set to challenge Jaroslav Halak for the backup job next year, on the back of a league-leading season in goals against average (1.75) and save percentage (.936).
It’s likely he’ll land back in Providence, where he’ll be splitting time with Jeremy Swayman. There’s also Kyle Keyser who’s another up-and-coming prospect.
For the first time in awhile, Boston is deep organizationally at the goaltender position and Providence is reaping the benefits.
Boston has long been deep on the blue line and next year will be no different.
Top prospect Urho Vaakanainen will be back on the second year of his entry-level deal and is expected to lead what will be a changing group.
Jakub Zboril took some nice strides in the final year of his ELC and could ink a two-way deal for next season in the summer. And Wiley Sherman, like Zboril, is a restricted free agent and a local product who may sign on with Providence for an additional year.
Some rookies will be added to the Providence roster next year too, including Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Nick Wolff. The 6-foot-5 blue-liner is a stay-at-home defenseman and a physical presence who could turn into a future NHL player with some work in the minors.
Fellow undrafted free agent Jack Ahcan provides some excitement as well, with World Junior and NCAA Tournament pedigree coming out of St. Cloud State. In addition, OHL star Brady Lyle, fresh off a 65-point season, is signed for two years.
Aside from prospects, we’ll see the return of Steven Kampfer, who is still under contract, while Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon could see time down in Providence, as both are still on two-way deals as part of their ELC.
And from the ECHL club, Joel Messner will get a firm chance at regular playing time in Providence next year with a one-year extension.
Providence will see a fair amount of its forwards returning next season, including leading scorers Jack Studnicka and Paul Carey.
They’ll be joined by the likes of Trent Frederic, Jakub Lauko, Pavel Shen, Joona Koppanen, Oskar Steen, and Cameron Hughes. There’s also a case to be made to re-sign Zach Senyshyn, a restricted free agent and former first-round pick, who enjoyed a promising second half of the season.
Other notable free agents include Karson Kuhlman and Peter Cehlarik, both of whom have seen extensive time at the NHL level and are ready for a more permanent role. They may not get a chance with Boston next year, but its still likely at least one could sign back with the organization.
Cehlarik, who seemingly can’t get a fair chance, seems determined to look for opportunities elsewhere, while Kuhlman, who lost much of this year to injury, might want another chance in Boston.
As for new signings, QMJHL prospect Alex-Olivier Voyer had an 88-point season in just 63 games for the Sherbrooke Phoenix last year. The 6-foot-2, 21-year-old forward could turn into one of the top players for Providence, given his speediness and nose for scoring.
Boston could use the draft (whenever it happens) to build up more of its open spots and will rely on last year’s core group for scoring.
Overall, Providence is shaping up to be a competitive team again next year – especially on the back-end. With the P-Bruins in a position to potentially contend for the Calder Cup again in 2021, the main questions the AHL club will have to answer all concern consistent production on the offensive end.