The name of their building has changed and so have some of the faces on the roster.
But one thing that remains the same for the Providence Bruins is the expectation that they will again be in the playoff hunt in the AHL’s Atlantic Division.
The puck drops on the P-Bruins’ 31st season at the newly christened Amica Mutual Pavilion – formerly the Dunkin’ Donuts Center — on Friday night.
Providence has put very competitive teams on the ice on a regular basis recently and the latest edition should be no exception. The team has an interesting mix of exciting rookies and good veterans.
Over the summer, the Bruins worked to surround the young players with “really good character, veteran guys, guys who have been through some of these battles at both (the AHL and NHL) levels and who want to win and continue to get better,” said Evan Gold, Boston Bruins assistant general manager.
“One thing we wanted to do is get a little more offensive, be able to score a little easier at times on the power play and five on five, and then I think there was a focus on adding a little bit of length and size to the back end. We’re really excited about the mix in terms of talent and competitiveness,” he said.
Heading into his second season as head coach, Ryan Mougenel liked what he saw in training camp.
“Speed is going to be a big part of who we are. It feels like we’re really fast in practice, much faster than last year,” he said.
“(Management) did a real good job of recognizing high quality people, which for me is one of the most important things when you are adding pieces around young players. I think there’s going to be some hiccups and some growing pains, but that’s what we’re here for, to navigate that.”
Here’s how the team looks:
Providence has a good mix up front.
Lettieri is a proven AHL player with 47- and 48-point seasons under his belt. He has a wicked shot and has been a point-per-game scorer in the league the last two seasons.
It should be interesting and entertaining to track the development of first-rounders Fabian Lysell and Johnny Beecher and free agents Marc McLaughlin, Georgii Merkulov and Luke Toporowski.
Lysell projects as potentially the most electric offensive player to wear a Providence sweater since David Pastrnak. He can fly and has an excellent scoring touch.
At 6-foot-3 with blazing speed, Beecher can be a runaway train on skates. It remains to be seen if he will be a point-producer as a pro, but his size and skating ability will likely generate chances for him and his linemates.
Many observers believe McLaughlin played well enough in camp with Boston to make the team. It wouldn’t be a surprise if his stay in Providence is a short one.
Merkulov, who scored 20 goals as an Ohio State freshman last season and impressed with the P-Bruins in a late-season audition, has superb hands and hockey IQ. It’s been a while since the P-Bruins had a skilled Russian in the lineup but Merkulov fills the bill.
Toporowski, a free agent signed out of the WHL, is a shooter, plain and simple. At the Prospects Challenge last month and in training camp he showed no hesitation to get to inside ice even though he’s under-sized. He has a bomb of a shot and he unloads it at every opportunity.
Returnees Joona Koppanen, Chris Wagner, Oskar Steen, Sammy Asselin, Justin Brazeau are all capable players. Curtis Hall, Alex-Olivier Voyer and J.D. Greenway provide depth.
If his preseason performance is any indication, free agent Joey Abate will get under the skin of opposing teams in short order.
Eduards Tralmaks and Matt Filipe start the season on the injured list. Tralmaks, looking to build on a 14-goal season last year, could be back by the end of October.
“Offensively, there’s a lot of creative players. There’s a lot of players with tons of courage who play the right way, like Marc McLaughlin,” said Mougenel.
You can never have too many defensemen. Providence starts the season with nine.
Entering his third pro season, Jack Ahcan is the team’s best puck-mover and the most offensively talented defenseman. Look for him to be one of the best players not only in the Atlantic Division but in the entire league.
Josiah Didier is a stout defender who provides peerless leadership as team captain.
Free agents Kai Wissman, Connor Carrick and Dan Renouf look like solid additions.
Nick Wolff, coming off a solid training camp with Boston, brings a physical presence and is good on the penalty kill.
Mike Callahan and Victor Berglund are developing prospects. Rookie Jacob Wilson rounds out the group.
“Our back end is going to have that Bruins identity – hard and tough to play against,” said Mougenel.
Boston signed free agent Keith Kinkaid over the summer to provide depth behind NHLers Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman.
Kinkaid has 167 games of NHL experience under his belt. In the AHL, he’s played well against Providence on a number of occasions.
“We think we’ve added a very capable veteran guy, good person, who is going to lead the group,” said Gold.
Kyle Keyser starts his second full season with the P-Bruins. Rookie Brandon Bussi was sent to Maine of the ECHL, where he is expected to see plenty of action.
“Goaltending should be strong. Keyser really had a lot of growth at times last year. The net’s up to them, they’re going to compete for it and I love the fact that Bussi is going to push from below,” said Mougenel.
You just never know in the American Hockey League.
The regular season is a six-and-a-half-month battle of attrition. The roster you start with is often not what you finish with.
Veterans aren’t a lock to play as well as in previous seasons. Prospects that are expected to thrive as they arrive from college or junior hockey or Europe don’t always do so.
Callups, injuries and trades can wreak havoc.
The P-Bruins have made the playoffs every year since 2012. They’ll make the playoffs this year, too.
Get your popcorn ready. The fun starts Friday night.
Providence rookie Joey Abate fights Springfield’s Nick Isaacson in a preseason game on Oct. 8. (Photo courtesy of Providence Bruins)