A quarter of the way through this pandemic-shortened season, the Providence Bruins are right where they want to be – in first place in the Atlantic Division.
The P-Bruins split a pair of games in the last few days. They lost to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, 3-2, in Marlboro on Thursday, then beat the Hartford Wolf Pack, 4-2, in Connecticut on Saturday.
“I thought we had too many passengers (in the loss to Bridgeport),’’ coach Jay Leach said after Saturday’s win. “Today, everyone was engaged and we’re obviously very excited to have gotten the win. This building can be a really hard place to play and I thought we handled that well today.’’
Here’s the good, bad and ugly.
— Zach Senyshyn continued his strong play. He made a nice play to set up a goal by Brady Lyle against Bridgeport, then scored a goal and added an assist against Hartford. This is his best stretch of games in his four seasons with the P-Bruins. He is leading the team in goals with four and is second in points with seven. Senyshyn is putting himself in good position for a callup if Boston needs a winger.
— Cameron Hughes had two assists in Hartford. His pass to Jakub Lauko for the GWG in the third period was a beauty. He has six points in seven games.
— Jack Ahcan continued his strong play, scoring his first pro goal and earning an assist in Saturday’s victory.
— With two assists on Saturday, Paul Carey now has points in five straight games. He leads the team in scoring with 0-8-8 in seven games.
— With a 5-2 record, 10 points and a .714 points percentage, the P-Bruins lead the Atlantic Division by six points and are tied for fifth in the AHL.
— Anton Blidh scored his first goal of the season with an empty-netter in Hartford.
— Tommy Cross played his game with the team since 2018 on Saturday.
— Alex-Olivier Voyer earned a W in his fight with Felix Bibeau on Thursday.
— With 27 saves against the Wolf Pack, Jeremy Swayman improved his record to 4-0. His save percentage is .929.
— After a dry spell, the P-Bruins’ power-play got back on track with a goal in Hartford.
— Providence led going into the third period against the Sound Tigers, but allowed two power play goals and lost the game.
— Pavel Shen took three stick penalties — high-sticking, slashing, hooking – against Bridgeport. The Sound Tigers tied the game during the third penalty. Shen didn’t see the ice after that and didn’t dress for Saturday’s game.
The Providence Bruins started strong, but gave up two power play goals in the third period in a 3-2 loss to Bridgeport on Thursday in Marlboro.
The P-Bruins had won three straight against the Sound Tigers, but Bridgeport played with greater urgency than they did in previous meetings.
“Our guys are going to have to learn, and I think they learned today, that if you play the same team over and over again and win, it’s not going to get easier, it’s going to get harder. Teams just are too good, and these guys are all professionals,’’ said coach Jay Leach.
“The first period went the way we wanted it to go, then in the second and third, (Bridgeport) pushed. We got frustrated. I saw some guys have some lackluster efforts and it just kind of snowballed from there. Certainly something to look back on and hopefully we can learn from it. Not our best.’’
Here are three quick hits:
KOPPANEN COMING ON
The 6-foot-5 center is a much-improved player since coming over from Finland at the end of the 2017-18 season.
On Thursday, his 23rd birthday, he scored a goal on a sizzling wrist shot. It was his third goal of the season, tied for the team lead with Zach Senyshyn.
Leach said he’s seen that shot before.
“I remember him scoring a goal when he came over against Lehigh. I distinctly remember it, off the rush. So he’s always had that wrister that he scored tonight, right over the pad, quick release.’’
This season Koppanen has carved out a niche as a third-line center.
“He’s come into his own with regards to how he defends and plays as a centerman and then also with his stick,’’ said Leach.
“Physically, he’s certainly improved with his conditioning, as well as his strength. We’re seeing a developed player who is starting to look like a legit NHL callup, which is exciting.’’
DIDIER STEPS IN
Providence’s lineup on Sunday included four first-year pros on defense. The addition on Thursday of 27-year-old Josiah Didier, who was cleared to play earlier this week, added some needed experience.
“He brought some poise on the breakout a couple of times,’’ said Leach.
“We’ve been very young the last five games and (have had) some moments and even tonight where our young guys got a little overwhelmed by some forechecks and didn’t have that extra half-second of poise that I thought Dids showed tonight. It comes with some experience.”
Jakub Zboril blossomed when playing with Didier last season. Cooper Zech was Didier’s partner against Bridgeport.
“With Dids, what you’re really going to get is a hard, defensive defenseman type of game, which he brings every night. Finishes his checks, blocks a ton of shots. Certainly a leader for us. A guy that brings a lot of others into the fight and a welcome addition for our group.’’
ABOUT THAT POWER PLAY
Since going three for seven with the man advantage in a win at Bridgeport on Feb. 13, the P-Bruins have failed to score on 12 straight power plays, including zero for five on Thursday.
The power play stands 12th in the AHL at 20 percent, but has given up three shorthanded goals, the most in the league.
“It goes back to playing the same teams over and over again. Our power play units really haven’t changed much. (Bridgeport is) watching what we’re doing and they had a concerted effort to be aggressive and get on it,’’ said Leach.
“We didn’t respond to that urgency. Our urgency has to come in the way we move the puck. It was slow. It was molasses. We gave up three two on ones, I think, on one power play, all on slow puck movement that they pounced all over, and back down they went.
“The first (power play), if I’m not mistaken, we had a quick win back to the point. We had some poise, we moved it quickly, had a couple of shots. After that it was a real challenge for us to sustain any zone time. It’s certainly something we’re going to have to look at and improve upon if we expect to have success against this team.’’
The wins keep on coming for the Providence Bruins.
Combining superb goaltending from Dan Vladar and Jeremy Swayman with timely scoring, they extended their winning streak to three with a pair of wins and are 4-1 on the season.
The P-Bruins edged Bridgeport, 1-0, on Friday and beat Hartford, 5-2, on Sunday. Both games were on the road.
Going back to last season, Providence has won 16 of its last 17 games.
Here’s the good, bad and ugly.
— Vladar, now sporting a .957 save percentage, stopped all 24 shots in shutting out the Sound Tigers. Swayman, unbeaten in three starts, was outstanding in kicking out 34 shots against the Wolf Pack. His save percentage is .928.
— Paul Carey assisted on Zach Senyshyn’s GWG in Bridgeport and had two assists in Hartford. He was very good down the stretch against the Wolf Pack as Providence worked to close out the win. While he’s not known as a big hitter, he blew up Hartford’s Patrick Sieloff with a punishing hit. With five points, Carey is tied for the team scoring lead with Jakub Lauko.
— Brady Lyle scored his first goal as a pro in Hartford and it turned out to be the game-winner. He chipped in an assist, too.
— Senyshyn continues his strong start to the season. He sniped the GWG against the Sound Tigers and added an empty-netter in Hartford. He leads the team with three goals and is playing a very solid game in all three zones.
— Oskar Steen had a good game against the Wolf Pack and scored his first goal of the season off a nice pass from Anton Blidh.
— Sammy Asselin chipped in with two assists in Hartford.
— Nick Wolff played his best game so far against Bridgeport, according to Leach. On Sunday, Wolff didn’t hesitate for a second after Hartford’s Mason Geertsen delivered a solid hit on Steen in the first period. He dropped his gloves and went at Geertsen, who is a tough dude.
— Bringing in a player on short notice from the ECHL or elsewhere isn’t really an option this season because of the pandemic, so Providence was able to dress only 17 skaters instead of 18 in Hartford after Jakub Lauko was hurt against Bridgeport. And by the end of the game, after Cameron Hughes and Wolff left with injuries, they were down to 15 skaters.
— Bad is too strong a word to describe the P-Bruins’ power play this weekend, but they did go 0 for 7. Not good might be a more fitting description.
— Both Hughes and Wolff left blood on the ice at the XL Center in Hartford when they were hit in the face by pucks and had to be helped to the dressing room.
— Injured: Jakub Lauko (day to day), Curtis Hall (week to week), Josiah Didier, Brendan Woods
With Jakub Lauko unavailable because of an injury and no other healthy players to plug into the lineup, the Providence Bruins started Sunday’s game in Hartford with only 17 skaters, instead of 18. By the time the game was over they’d lost Cameron Hughes and Nick Wolff, both of whom took a puck to the face.
Even so, Providence posted a solid 5-2 victory over the Wolf Pack.
“It was a gutsy effort. Obviously (Jeremy) Swayman was terrific in net. Had some huge saves in the right moments and then we had some guys that really competed,’’ said coach Jay Leach.
“I thought Sammy Asselin was really good. Paul Carey really led us down the stretch. (Oskar Steen and Anton Blidh) obviously were good. And then on the back end, it was a young D corps against a pretty aggressive forecheck. It got a little hairy at times, but that’s what happens, especially in this building. It’s great to get the win.’’
Here are three quick hits:
SWAYMAN STANDS OUT
Jeremy Swayman had another strong performance as he stopped 34 of 36 shots. He’s won all three of his starts.
“Any coach that tells you that goaltending is just part of the equation is not being honest with you. If you don’t have goaltending you’re going to have a really tough time winning games,’’ said Leach.
“Sway gives us all that and more and so does (Dan Vladar). We’re very blessed to have two guys that can really give us an opportunity to win every night. Sway tonight was outstanding.
“There were several breakdowns where he just stood tall in there, several that he made almost look routine, just because of his poise and athletic ability. It was a terrific performance by him.’’
LIGHTS OUT LYLE
Rookie defenseman Brady Lyle’s poise with the puck has been noticable since the opening game of the season.
He posted his first points as a pro with a goal and an assist on Sunday. Lyle showed off his sizzling shot when he scored on a wrister through traffic.
“He’s learning, like everyone else. Defensively he’s going to get better and better,’’ said Leach.
“He’s been terrific with the puck. He’s got a great shot. He’s had opportunities before in other games to score and it just didn’t go in for him, so it was nice to see that one go in. I’m sure there will be more.’’
WOLFF PACKS PUNCH
Leach talked on Friday about how Wolff is making strides just three weeks into the season.
On Sunday, the big rookie made his presence known when he took on Mason Geertsen, a good fighter, after the Hartford defenseman rattled the boards with a clean but hard hit on Steen midway through the first period.
“They’re a physical group over there. Geertsen and (Patrick) Sieloff and (Brandon) Cawley. They all play a certain way. I think Wolff certainly is never going to back down from some of those players,’’ said Leach.
“It was terrific for us to get going with Wolfie fighting there, but the biggest thing is he’s just looking to establish some physicality. It’s something he does. Kudos to him for being able to step in there.’’
The Providence Bruins made it three straight wins over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Friday on the road. Zach Senyshyn scored the only goal of the game with 5:38 left and Dan Vladar made 24 saves in a 1-0 victory.
Here are three quick hits:
SENYSHYN SHOWS OFF SHOT
Senyshyn continued his good two-way play on Friday.
A stronger shot is part of his arsenal this season and he used it to his advantage on the game-winner, ripping the puck past Bridgeport goalie Jakub Skarek on the glove side from the right wing circle.
“He’s really worked on that shot. It was something he did in the summer. In practice, he’s been consistently hitting shot after shot coming down that wing with his speed,’’ said coach Jay Leach.
“He had one (play) in the second where he tried to make a pass across the ice to (Paul Carey). I got on him a little bit. I could see what he was doing, but in a 0-0 game we want to get pucks to the net. Sure enough, he gets a chance in the third and he doesn’t think twice about (shooting).
“That’s his game. He’s got straight-line speed. He’s really built the shot into his repertoire. He’s looking to use it. When he gets rewarded like he did tonight, you’ll see more and more of that.’’
VLADAR COMES THROUGH
Coming off his best season as a pro in 2019-20, Dan Vladar so far has picked up where he left off.
He turned in a stellar performance on Friday, raising his save percentage to .957 and lowering his goals-against to 1.03.
Vladar is settling in after starting out as the third goalie in Boston.
“It’s been real challenging for these guys that are on the taxi squad to feel like it’s a regular season. For a while there he was a little bit in no man’s land. It was good for him to come down, close to two weeks ago, and he’s looked good,’’ Leach said.
“He had a good game last week and then obviously tonight he looked real strong. He looked big in the net. I thought he played the puck pretty well. Clearly he’s maturing like we hoped.’’
Having Vladar and Jeremy Swayman in the net gives Providence a tandem that is as good as any in the AHL.
AHCAN DRIVING OFFENSE
Jack Ahcan didn’t really have the puck on his stick for half of Friday’s game, but at times it seemed like it.
The rookie defenseman was credited with a game-high seven shots – he has a knack for finding shooting lanes — and he defended solidly, too.
“He was excellent on the blueline, very assertive. Whenever there’s a lane to the net he’s looking there, which I think does help our group understand that we want to get pucks and bodies (to the net). He’s certainly a driving force there,’’ said Leach.
“He’s also pretty strong on the walls, had a couple of squashes. I’ve said this before, he’s an undersized guy but he’s strong, has a really strong base, so he’s been able to close in those situations and come out with the puck. Certainly one of his best games.’’
The last time I wrote one of these was on March 8, 2020, when the P-Bruins had won 11 games in a row. We all know what happened next.
After all this time, it’s great to have games to watch and to write about and I’m thankful to the team for allowing me to attend home games in Marlboro.
And now, without further ado, on to this week’s games.
Providence split a pair over the last few days, losing to Hartford in Marlboro on Thursday and defeating Bridgeport on the road on Saturday.
Here’s the good, bad and ugly.
— Jakub Lauko has been the team’s top player. He had a goal and two assists on Saturday, including an unselfish play to set up an empty netter by Joona Koppanen. He’s making plays and there aren’t many opponents who can keep up with him when he hits full stride. With 1-4-5 in 3 games, as of Sunday afternoon he was tied for second in points in the AHL (with 11 other players).
— Trailing 3-2 heading into the third period on Saturday, the P-Bruins came on strong. They outshot the Sound Tigers, 11-4, and scored three times for the win.
— Providence wouldn’t have won the game in Bridgeport without the power play, which went 3 for 7.
— Cameron Hughes had 1-1-2 on Saturday. His power play goal in the third period was the GWG.
— Cooper Zech’s game continues to grow. He scored his first goal of the season on a power play on Saturday, moving in from the blueline and making a quick move to open a shooting lane.
— Jack Ahcan had two assists in Bridgeport.
— Stick taps for Nick Wolff and Jack Studnicka in Thursday’s game. Wolff stuck up for a teammate, thowing down with Hartford’s Patrick Sieloff after Sieloff made a big hit on Alex-Olivier Voyer. Studnicka stood up for himself after a Sieloff hit earlier in the game.
— Jeremy Swayman left his net and put the puck right on the stick of Bridgeport’s Cole Bardreau, who shot it into the empty cage, while Providence was on a power play. Honest mistake.
— Giving up two shorthanded goals in one period on Saturday, well, that’s ugly, even though Providence ended up winning the game. The second goal was scored after Bridgeport broke into the Providence end on a 2 on 0. As coach Jay Leach said after the game, ‘’Mistakes are certainly going to happen, but that was reckless.’’
You hear it all the time: Hockey is a game of mistakes.
The Providence Bruins and Bridgeport Sound Tigers demonstrated it yet again on Saturday at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. In the end, P-Bruins made just a couple fewer mistakes and rolled back up I-95 with a 5-3 win.
Here are three quick hits:
There’s no question Jakub Lauko has been Providence’s best player so far. He was a standout again on Saturday as he scored a goal and was credited with two assists. He now leads the team in scoring with 1-4-5 in three games.
Lauko’s speed stood out in the first minute of the third period when he drove the net and tipped in a pass from Oskar Steen for Providence’s third goal and again in the last minute when he flew down the ice to cancel icing and fed Joona Koppanen for an empty net goal.
In a chat with coach Jay Leach a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned that there would be an adjustment for Lauko and others who played in Europe earlier this season with its bigger ice surfaces and more conservative style of play. Playing in North America, Lauko would need to attack rather than back up is how Leach put it.
I asked him about that after Saturday’s game.
“It’s still a little bit of a work in progress, but I’m liking where it’s going. He’s straight lines. There’s a little swing to his game, which all offensive, skill guys are going to have. I don’t want to handcuff him. I certainly recognize the talent and the ability to get it going, but when I said that about backing up, it was kind of all encompassing. Backing up and kind of playing on the outside. Very much just a byproduct of the European style that he’s coming from,’’ he said.
“I’ve certainly talked to him about it, but it’s on him. He enjoys straight lines, he just needs to be reminded. Even at the end there – we talked about him going out on the 6 on 5 and I kind of made a deal with him, ‘You stop and start and you’re out there.’ He’s out there and he wants that puck. He makes a really nice play to Koppanen, too. Could have wired that thing from a really tough angle, but he settled it down and gave Koppi an empty netter, which was nice to see. It’s going well, to answer your question,’’ he said.
SWAYMAN HOLDS THE FORT
Jeremy Swayman stopped 17 of the 20 shots he faced. The first goal was a deflection from the slot. The second was a misplay where Swayman came out of his net to play the puck and put it right on the stick of Bridgeport’s Cole Bardreau, who shot it into the empty net. The third goal came on a shorthanded 2 on 0 for the Sound Tigers.
The impressive way Swayman kept his composure after giving Bardreau a freebie was my biggest takeaway of the day.
“He knows he made a mistake. We know he made a mistake. It happens. The thing that impresses me so much is just his ability to be OK with that,’’ said Leach.
“He certainly will learn from it, I’m sure. But in the moment he just kind of parked it. He came back to the bench and said, ‘That’s my bad.’ Then we scored a goal and he said, ‘Thanks for helping me out.’ Then he stood tall for us down the stretch and got the victory. It says a lot about his maturity, his composure and his mindset.’’
ABOUT THAT POWER PLAY
Providence wouldn’t have won without the power play, which went 3 for 7.
That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that they gave up two shorthanded goals, one of which came on a 2 on 0 break by the Sound Tigers.
“I had some flashbacks of a rookie tournament several years ago with 2 on 0s on both sides, which I can’t say as the coach I really enjoyed. I think the 30 people that were in the building really enjoyed it,’’ said Leach.
“We talked about it after the period. Mistakes are certainly going to happen, but that was reckless. That’s just something that we’re going to have to make sure that we understand — that we’re on the power play and we want to score goals, but it’s not a 5 on 0, 2 on 0 back type of scenario. We still have to play with our brains, cause you’re not going to win many games giving up that.
“That being said, the power play really kept us in it and won it for us in the end. We can learn from it. We’re going to talk about it and at the same time I think we can also build on the fact that we had some pretty nice execution and got some momentum out of it.’’
Jack Studnicka’s first fight as a pro was not on the list of things I expected to see when I walked into the New England Sports Center in Marlboro on Thursday.
In their second game of the season, the Providence Bruins started strong, but were outplayed over the last 40 minutes by the more physical Hartford Wolf Pack. The final was 4-0 Hartford, with the last two goals scored with Dan Vladar of the P-Bruins on the bench for an extra attacker.
The loss snapped Providence’s 13-game winning streak dating back to the 2019-20 season.
Here are three quick hits from the game:
Playing in his first game since missing time with an upper-body injury sustained while with Boston, Studnicka had a decent showing. He played on the power play and penalty kill in addition to his regular shift. He displayed his ability to enter the offensive zone with speed and was credited with two shots.
Playing right wing with linemates Oskar Steen and Jakub Lauko, Studnicka took exception early in the second period when Hartford’s Patrick Sieloff hit him along the wall in the defensive zone. He went after Sieloff and they both received five-minute penalties.
“First of all, we just want to get him back playing. We accomplished that. We want to make sure he’s comfortable on the wing; obviously he had some opportunity there earlier in Boston,’’ said coach Jay Leach.
“Did not want him fighting someone else, certainly not part of the plan. Things happen. I’m not sure exactly what, I couldn’t see it from my viewpoint,’’ Leach said.
You can debate the wisdom of fighting when coming off an injury, but credit to Studnicka for standing up for himself.
Leach said the second and third periods, when Providence was outshot 19-12, “was vintage Hartford, where they’re in your face and they’re going to make it hard on you coming out of your own end and make it hard on you getting to the net. It will be a good challenge to play them 11 more times,’’ he said.
Division rivals Bridgeport and Hartford are going to be physical against Providence. It will be interesting to see how the P-Bruins respond.
“We’re a young group, especially on the back end right now, four rookies and two second-year guys. We’re youthful, so we have energy, we have legs and I think we have some skill. We’re going to have to push a little bit through some of the physicality we’re going to be up against,’’ said Leach.
“We’re going to have to decide when we’re playing these two teams whether we want to be playing inside or outside. It will be a good lesson for us. That will be a challenge for us. We’ve got a lot of speed and we’ve got some skill. We’re going to have to find a way to play on the tougher areas of the ice for us to be successful against these two teams.’’
When Hartford’s Sieloff flattened Alex-Olivier Voyer with a big hit late in the game, Nick Wolff had seen enough.
He went straight for Sieloff and dropped his gloves.
“We know Wolfie’s a physical player and that’s certainly part of his game,’’ said Leach. “Did a terrific job there at the end. I don’t think he liked some of the liberties that were being taken against some of his teammates and so he stepped up huge for us there.”
Fisticuffs aside, Wolff so far has lived up to his billing.
“Overall, he was solid. He’s looked to to be a defensive defenseman with good positioning and a good stick and be physical and he was all of those. He was relatively clean with the puck in most areas of the ice. It was a good performance,’’ said Leach.
The Providence Bruins opened the season with a 4-1 victory over Bridgeport on Friday afternoon. There were a number of good performers for the P-Bruins. Here are three of them:
Lauko, who doesn’t turn 21 until next month, had himself a game on Friday. He posted a pair of assists. His shot was tipped in by Zach Senyshyn on a power play in the second period and he fed an absolutely perfect saucer pass to Sammy Asselin in the third period for a shorthanded goal.
“He’s certainly a stronger player. He’s familiar with the pro game now,’’ said coach Jay Leach. “It was a broken year for him last year just because of injury (Lauko tore up his knee at the World Juniors and underwent surgery) and he was a young player in this league.
“He’s matured a year, he’s shown that. I think he’s comfortable with the system. He’s always had the speed, but he’s able to get inside a bit more now and win a puck battle. He knows how to penalty kill. We’ve got him playing in all situations now. There’s certainly maturation from the time we had him last year to now.”
Lauko is one of the fastest players on the team. When he gets going, he can make opposing defensemen uncomfortable. His body and his game are growing.
“Noticeable difference, I’ll say that, just in strength more than anything. He’s starting to look like a man and the player we obviously envisioned him being,’’ said Leach.
In his first pro game, Ahcan was the smallest player on the ice, but one of the best, too.
He seemingly came out of nowhere to join the rush in the first period. He moved the puck and also defended well.
“He was very noticeable. I can’t see well from this bench (in Marlboro), but I noticed him,’’ said Leach.
“I said it the other day, he’s a little bit of a bulldog down low. He doesn’t really get knocked off pucks. He can close and for a little guy especially, it’s pretty impressive. And then obviously his ability to grab a puck and go and make a play.
“That goal with Sammy Asselin, that all starts with Jack winning a puck battle down low, having some poise and getting it up to Steener (Osker Steen) and they’re off and running. He was as advertised, that’s for sure, and you can tell he loves to compete. Certainly an exciting first game for him.’’
Senyshyn had a strong preseason game in Hartford last Sunday and he kept it going on Friday, scoring a goal from the edge of the crease and using his speed and size effectively all day.
“He was really strong. He obviously plays in every situation for us. He was good on the walls, certainly good at the net front for that power play goal. He’s becoming a real leader for us. He’s been in the system for a bit now and he’s certainly taken on that role,” said Leach.
“Showed some speed, certainly, through the neutral zone, was in on the forecheck. He was on time for pretty much everything. He had a nice game.”
A string of similar showings could earn Senyshyn an opportunity in Boston down the road.
The games finally begin for the Providence Bruins on Friday.
Like I always say, better to start the season four months late than not at all.
Courtesy of COVID-19, this will be an AHL year the likes of which we have not seen before (and never want to see again), but I’ll gladly take it.
“I’m not going to tell you it’s not different. It is different,” said coach Jay Leach. “We’re not practicing in our rink. We’re not playing in our rink. We’re only playing three teams, really only two. That’s just a fact.’’
Putting all that aside, the P-Bruins are raring to go.
“I think they are looking at this as an opportunity to play 26 games and display what they’ve got and set themselves up for next year. Whether there’s playoffs or all that stuff, the bottom line is these games go in the record books. Those statistics go on HockeyDB and Elite Prospects.
“It’s a pro hockey season. At the end of the day, you’re still evaluated on your performance and how the team does, whether we win or whether we lose. That’s really our take on it. We want to win every game.’’
There’s been significant turnover on the roster. Players such as Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril have earned promotions to Boston. Veterans Chris Breen, Peter Cehlarik and Ryan Fitzgerald are no longer with the team.
The new faces are a mix of free agents from the NCAA – Boston scouts continue to do a first-rate job there — and major junior, as well as a couple of promising draft picks.
The shorter game schedule leaves more time for practice and off-ice work. Player development remains a priority.
“Our expectations don’t change. We’re in the business of developing NHL players in a competitively successful environment. We do it as well or better than anybody, in our estimation, and that will continue,’’ said John Ferguson Jr., Boston’s executive director of player personnel and Providence’s general manager.
Here’s a breakdown of this year’s team, the 29th in franchise history.
The P-Bruins have a talented tandem in 22-year-old rookie Jeremy Swayman and Dan Vladar, a fifth-year pro at age 23.
Swayman was very sharp in Providence’s only preseason game, making 29 saves in a 3-1 win at Hartford.
“Sway had a heck of a career at Maine and certainly has shown with us up to this point that trend has continued,’’ Leach said.
Vladar posted a .936 save percentage and 1.79 goals-against average last season, best in the AHL in both categories.
“There’s a lot of upside there. He showed what he could do last year and we’re excited about that,’’ Leach said.
Vladar currently is with Boston’s taxi squad, but is expected to get starts with the P-Bruins.
“We view goaltending as a position of strength, that’s for sure,’’ Leach said.
The P-Bruins have a pair of intriguing offensive D-men in Jack Ahcan, a rookie from St. Cloud State, and Cooper Zech, both of whom scored a goal in the preseason game. They are similar in size – small — but they skate and handle the puck well.
“They both want to make plays heading down ice, whether it’s off the rush or in the offensive zone. Off the rush, they’re either joining or leading, mostly joining. And in the offensive zone, they’re coming off that blue line and they’re going to make a play,’’ said Leach.
“As you saw with both of them (in the preseason game), if there is a path to the net with a shot they are going to take it. They are certainly offensively inclined. We want them to be. We’re going to look to them for offense.
“And to be honest, they both have the ability to defend. Coop’s really worked on that. He had a couple really nice squashes and Jack is really pretty strong down low. He’s knocking guys off pucks. Both of them can play a two-way game even when, I’m sure, their mentality is they want to get up the ice and score some goals.’’
Nick Wolff, a bruiser at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, has a different set of skills. Defending with attitude is his strong suit. There will be a learning curve as he transitions from college after four seasons and two NCAA championships at Minnesota-Duluth. .
“Wolfie, like any big defensive defenseman that is going to come into the professional game, he’s going to have his ups and down, just learning timing and angles and the speed is so much different. He wants to make a difference with his physicality. A lot of times that’s great and sometimes it might put him out of position.
“He’s going to have to find that line. That comes with experience. We certainly want him to go after it. If he makes his mistakes, he makes his mistakes being aggressive and physical. He’s got some sneaky finish, believe it or not. You might see that from time to time, as well,’’ said Leach.
The availability of Urho Vaakanainen, Boston’s 2017 first round pick, is an open question. He’s been on Boston’s taxi squad this week, then was sent to Providence today. It stands to reason Boston would want him playing in Providence, instead of sitting in Boston. Obviously, he’ll be a big add for the P-Bruins when he is available.
Sixth-year pro Josiah Didier is a leader and a rock-solid defender. He plays the right way, as coaches like to say, shift in and shift out. It’s not a coincidence that Zboril blossomed in the second half of last season while partnering with Didier.
Rookie Brady Lyle put up good numbers in the Ontario Hockey League.
“I think he’s worked on his skating during the pause and that’s shown. We’ll continue to get him in more offensive situations. I’m sure that’s where he feels most comfortable, but we also want him to make sure he’s crossing off all the boxes to make sure he’s able to play in most situations,’’ said Leach.
Joel Messner and rookie Andrew Peski round out the group.
“Mess is certainly familiar with us and we’re familiar with him. He’ll be a little bit of a veteran back there because the other guys really haven’t played a whole lot. Peski certainly can skate, he’s strong. I thought he was real solid in (the preseason) game,’’ Leach said.
“As a whole, there’s not a lot of experience, so sometimes you’re going to see some scruffiness out of the group. That being said, they will only improve and with that improvement you’ll have some youthful energy and life that eventually will get to a pretty nice spot.’’
Providence’s first line in the preseason game was Paul Carey-Cameron Hughes-Robert Lantosi.
As Leach said, “There’s a lot to like on that line.”
“Hughesy the guy that gets it going. He’s in on the forecheck, he’s got a good stick and works back. PC, obviously, has scored 44 goals in 90 games for us. He’s going to be that guy. And Tose certainly had a good start to his North American career last year with his production. He’s got a bunch of speed and can handle the puck.’’
The line of Jakub Lauko-Joona Koppanen-Zach Senyshyn created some chaos with its speed. Senyshyn stood out on a couple of rushes.
“He put some time in this summer. He went to a different group, working out up in Ottawa. (Chris Kelly) got him in with another group that he really liked. He worked on some strength and endurance and it’s showing, in my opinion,’’ Leach said.
“Obviously, he’s a little bit more mature and familiar with the system. I think you’re also going to see him taking pucks to the net a little bit more and being a little bit more aggressive, even when he’s shooting. You can tell he’s got a little bit of that mentality. We’re excited that hopefully he continues to trend upward.’’
Lauko looks to have made a complete recovery after knee surgery a year ago,
“He looks strong to me. He’s rolling off people. There’s really no signs of hesitation. He’s fast. He won a couple of puck battles, he just missed on some opportunities. He’s raring to go, for sure,’’ Leach said.
Oskar Steen, who centered rookies Matt Filipe and Curtis Hall on Sunday, should be one of Providence’s top forwards.
“I think he’s picked up a half a step, at least from what I’ve seen in the last month or so. He had a tough start to training camp when he missed a bunch of time. Now he’s back at it and the other night he had a couple of real nice looks off the rush,’’ Leach said.
“He’s always going to be the guy that’s digging for pucks and he’s got an NHL shot. And he’s certainly a bit more vocal this year, which is great. He’s taking a little bit more charge. We’re going to look to him to be a bit of a leader. This is really his third year pro and I think he’s wanting to take that step. He’s certainly going to play in all situations and be one of our leaders up front.’’
Sam Asselin, Pavel Shen and Alex-Olivier Voyer are other forwards who will be in the mix.
“I like to roll four lines. It will continue that way. Whether these lines stay the same — they never really do — but there’s certainly something to work with. The centers are young, but solid. Then we’ve got options, too. Sammy Asselin has played more center than wing. We certainly know that. He was pretty good the other night. He can jump in and out. Curtis (Hall), I think, played more center than wing last year. He’ll fit in that mix, too, if we want to change guys in and out,’’ Leach said.
WHAT TO EXPECT
With some interesting prospects in their lineup, Providence should be a fun team to watch.
In a season of just 26 games and with only two other teams in Providence’s division, wins and losses will never matter less. How the young players develop will be the story.
“We’re young. We can skate. We’ve got a lot of energy,’’ said Leach. “We’re going to make mistakes. My hope is that when we make mistakes, we make up for them with speed and energy, frankly. Execution, poise, all that comes with experience and is probably something that we’ve got to continue to work on, but hopefully we can make up for it with our youthful energy and our skating ability.’’