Two years after the COVID pandemic ended the Providence Bruins’ best chance at capturing a Calder Cup title, Boston’s AHL affiliate was regrouped and reloaded to make another championship run.
During the abbreviated, 25-game COVID season in 2021, Providence finished atop the three-team Atlantic Division, edging the Hartford Wolfpack and Bridgeport Islanders to close their season with some momentum.
Entering 2022, Providence had seemingly retooled with a strong mix of top prospects and slightly older European players looking to make their mark in the American game. With Ryan Mougenel elevated to head coach, the first-year skipper clearly sought an adjustment period to calling the shots. Ultimately, Providence had some ups and downs, proving to be a streaky team that got cold at the wrong time.
36-25-11, 83 points, 3rd in Atlantic Division
Still, Providence got off to a slower start, maintaining a winning record through December while lacking that third gear they had showed at times in the two prior seasons. For the next three months, Providence thrived, improving from 12-8-4 at the New Years’ holiday to 30-18-9 by April and first place in the Atlantic Division.
Even despite a six-game skid at the end of March which included three consecutive shootout losses at Charlotte, Providence maintained their momentum enough to remain a contender for a top seed and a first-round bye.
For spurts throughout the season, Boston dealt with injuries and illness that left Providence’s roster in shambles. In all, Providence saw 56 players feature in a game this season, including seven goaltenders — normal for minor league sports given the amount of player movement.
That lack of continuity had its effects on the results, but was vital for gaining several players valuable experience and minutes at a high level. With a bunch of new signings entering the fold late — including first-rounder John Beecher along with Brandon Bussi and Georgii Merkulov — Providence got a brief boost through the first half of April.
But with six games remaining, the wheels came flying off. Providence dropped its final six contests as nothing seemed to go right for the Bruins. The defense struggled, and when it didn’t, the offense lagged behind mightily.
Despite sputtering over the finish line, Providence finished as the third-seed in the Atlantic with home ice and a matchup with regional rival Bridgeport. Providence fell in two games to Bridgeport, both 2-1 overtime defeats. In a year that began with so much promise, disappointment lingers over the results while a silver lining remains with the strides in player development the organization took over the season.
Player of the Year: Justin Brazeau
In the grand scheme of a minor league sports season, most of the emphasis is placed on how well players can develop in different environments and situations. When looking at strictly individual performances, Justin Brazeau’s numbers don’t necessarily pop off the page — 31 points in 51 games. However, Brazeau started the year in the ECHL before quickly proving he could play at a higher level.
An organizational success, Brazeau only had six penalty minutes in his time at the AHL level and finished the year a plus-9. Of his 15 goals, four came on the power play while he also went 2-for-7 in shootouts. Heading into next season, Brazeau is positioned well in the conversation for a potential NHL call-up given his consistency and how far he was able to raise his game.
- Joona Koppanen — With 30 points in 62 games and a plus-21 rating, Koppanen made things happen when he was on the ice despite not being a top-six forward.
- Eduards Tralmaks — Another player who elevated permanently from the ECHL this season, Tralmaks needed time to refine his game early in the year but managed to finish a team-best plus-22 on the year with 27 points.
- Cameron Hughes — The leading scorer with 45 points, Hughes seems like he’s ready for an extended role next season that could see him finally make the jump to the NHL level.
With four months and a full draft and offseason cycle separating us from next season, there’s plenty of unanswered questions for Providence. But on the bright side, there’s plenty of optimism as well.
To start, next year offers a full season for John Beecher, Marc McLaughlin, Georgii Merkulov, and Brandon Bussi to all get acclimated to the pro game. The quartet left college in March to sign with Boston and immediately got their chance in Providence — McLaughlin levying that into an NHL debut.
For other top players like Oskar Steen, Cameron Hughes, and Jack Studnicka, these next four months could be the difference between finally breaking through in Boston or suffering the same fate as Zach Senyshyn and being dealt for spare parts.
In goal, the battle for minutes between Bussi and Kyle Keyser will take center stage. Boston is still rebuilding in that position and the opportunity to grab the third-string job is likely between those two.
Defensively, Jack Ahcan’s contract is up and the 24-year-old hasn’t shown much potential to become an everyday NHL player yet. The blue line represents Providence’s biggest area of need to address this offseason through the draft and free agency.
As an organization, Boston has seen the likes of Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, and Connor Clifton rise through the ranks quickly. While a positive for Boston, the lack of depth on defense is a major hole to fix in the coming offseason and for the future of the organization as well.