It’s become a heated debate: what is Jack Studnicka, and where should he play?
The 2017 second rounder, who is no longer waiver exempt, is looking at multiple possibilities that do not include a spot on Boston Bruins’ NHL roster.
He could be put on waivers and claimed by another team or put on waivers and not claimed, resulting in a demotion to Providence. The Bruins could even trade him.
So, where will Studnicka end up this season? That depends on a man whose reputation has a lot riding on where Studnicka ends up.
Stud or Not?
When the Bruins drafted Studnicka in 2017, Don Sweeney’s reputation as a competent talent evaluator and drafter had already taken a significant hit.
We don’t need to rehash the 2015 Draft, but even if Jakub Zboril finally makes an impact on the blue line and Jake DeBrusk and Brandon Carlo play well, it still hurts.
The fact that one of Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot, Brock Boeser or Sebastian Aho, possibly more than one of them, are not Bruins, is a puck-sized pill to swallow.
After Charlie McAvoy in 2016, it’s been tough going for Sweeney.
Studnicka’s development following the 2017 draft had many draft experts predicting that he would be the next big thing for the Bruins after McAvoy.
Before the 2019 preseason, the Athletic’s Cory Pronman placed Studnicka in his “Very good/legit bubble” category for his prospect listings. Pronman listed him as the Bruins’ No. 1 prospect.
But after three full(ish) seasons as a professional, he’s only been able to amass 42 NHL games (playoffs included), one goal and seven points.
So far, he’s been a bubble NHL player rather than on the bubble of being a legit NHL player.
“Very good” isn’t an apt description either.
Studnicka’s Fourth-Line Conundrum
Studnicka’s 2022-23 training camp has been up and down.
He followed a slow start against the Philadelphia Flyers with a strong performance against the New York Rangers, where he assisted both AJ Greer goals.
Studnicka’s performance was more subtle against the New Jersey Devils Monday, but he still provided value, especially in the faceoff circle.
Studnicka won 11 of 14 faceoffs against New Jersey and has won a total of 61% of his faceoffs in the preseason, a significant improvement over his 48.7%-mark last regular season.
In a possession-focused system like Jim Montgomery’s, an already important statistic like faceoff percentage becomes even more important, so Studnicka’s preseason percentage helps his cause.
He could’ve had an easy goal on a second-period 2-on-1 where Connor Clifton elected to shoot (and hit the post) instead of threading a difficult pass to Studnicka, who was uncovered on the back post.
Compared to previous seasons, a healthy number of spots are available for the Bruins’ young prospects, at least for the first couple of months of the season.
Now that Taylor Hall’s injury seems more serious than initially thought, there is one more
The collective success of Studnicka’s line, on which has centered Marc McLaughlin and A.J. Greer, also helps his cause.
In the short term, Studnicka’s main competitors for the regular fourth-line center slot is Tomas Nosek, especially with John Beecher’s recent demotion.
Hall’s injury temporarily adds an extra wing slot. That means one less player is vying for that extra forward spot.
If the Bruins do not deem Studnicka a better regular option to center the fourth line over Nosek, they could keep him on the roster in case of another injury or slide him in if a center isn’t performing.
But, once Hall returns, and later Brad Marchand, roster spots and cap space will once again become limited, and the Bruins will have a decision to make.
For Studnicka, that result probably means he’ll spend much of his career as an NHL bubble guy, a player who goes up and down every so often but spends a lot of time in the AHL until he inevitably decides he’s better off in Europe.
But is he really THAT guy?
Since he’s turned pro, the Bruins have had Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci (except last season), and Charlie Coyle staffing the center position.
Studnicka would seem a better player for a middle-six centering role, but last season, even without Krejci, he wasn’t ready. Now that Bergeron, Krejci and Coyle have the center positions on the top-three lines locked down, Studnicka is out of luck again.
But is he worse than second and third-line centers on some of the cellar-dwelling NHL teams? Is he not good enough to help the center-starved Philadelphia Flyers or the developing Ottawa Senators?
He’s a center, albeit a still relatively unproven one with NHL experience. It’s hard to believe a team wouldn’t take a chance on him.
But what if he does go on waivers, and every NHL team passes on him? How would that reflect on Sweeney’s drafting ability?
It’s highly unlikely that the Bruins would trade Studnicka.
At this point, although he probably could play center for an NHL team, he likely won’t net any decent return for the Bruins. He was a second-round pick but wouldn’t get a second-round selection in return.
His contract is tiny compared to some other trade bait like Nosek, Craig Smith or Chris Wagner, so he wouldn’t be the guy to trade to free up cap space.
The only reason he’d be traded is if Sweeney gauged the market and found that someone was willing to pay more than Studnicka is worth, and given his history, that is unlikely.
Sweeney’s Reputation Factor
All the conditions are working in favor of Studnicka making the roster. There is at least temporary space for him and he’s playing decently on an individual level.
But there’s another factor to consider: Studnicka’s success or failure will be a major decider in what’s left of Sweeney’s draft legacy.
Don’t forget that when Sweeney fired Bruce Cassidy, he told the media he fired Cassidy because players, especially the younger ones, couldn’t handle Cassidy’s blunt criticism.
While he referenced younger and older players, we all know which group has a bigger impact on Sweeney’s future.
Sweeney needs his young players, especially those he drafted, to perform far better under Jim Montgomery. Studnicka is the biggest example. Jake DeBrusk may have been the whipping boy, but he’s proven that under the right circumstances, he can perform.
Studnicka hasn’t, and he’s the guy that Sweeney could point to – if he makes the team and finally lives up to his potential – to say that his drafting hasn’t been bad.
Since Sweeney hired Montgomery and wants to prove that he is not a terrible drafter, Studnicka will likely make the team and play, at least until the Bruins’ star forwards return from injury.