PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Austin Czarnik's first full professional hockey season could not have gone much better.
The Detroit native burst onto the scene with the Providence Bruins in 2015-16 after starring for four years at Miami University (Ohio), tallying 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games, which placed him seventh in the American Hockey League in scoring. His speed, skill, and scoring touch made him one of the league's most exciting players.
The 24-year-old followed up his impressive performance with a strong training camp last fall to secure a spot on Boston's Opening Night roster. Czarnik played in the Bruins' first two games of the 2016-17 season - also his first two NHL contests - but a concussion at the end of training camp set him back and ultimately led to another stint in Providence.
But Czarnik returned to Boston a couple of weeks later for a lengthy stint with the big club, before another assignment to Providence and a lower-body injury in February put a damper on the final two months of his regular season.
"I think anytime you spend a certain amount of time in the NHL and you're sitting here, it's a good thing," said Czarnik, who notched five goals and eight assists in 49 games for the Bruins this season. "It's a lot of learning curves that I've been through this year and injuries and things like that that have happened. So, it's a good year to learn from, definitely.
"I just have to build off of it. The NHL is a hard league to play in. You just have to take what you've gotten so far from there and try to move on with it."
Despite what was an up-and-down sophomore campaign, Czarnik is staying upbeat and embracing his role as part of the P-Bruins leadership corps. He ended up with six goals and 17 assists in 22 games for Providence and appears to be gaining more confidence as the Calder Cup Playoffs roll deeper into the spring.
"You get a chance and it doesn't go great, and you come down, you're up and down a couple of times. It's difficult, especially for a young player who cares and wants to make his impact on the league," said Providence head coach Kevin Dean, whose team trails their second-round series with the Hershey Bears, 2-1, with Game 4 set for Friday night at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
"To his credit, he's come down here and worked hard. He's been a good pro and for the most part in the regular season, his stats were pretty good. This time of year, it gets harder to get the puck and he's going to have to work harder to get it. When he does, I'm sure he'll be good."
The 5-foot-9, 160-pound forward looked pretty good with the puck in Providence's Game 1 victory over Hershey, when he forced an errant pass at the P-Bruins blue line and surged past the Bears defenseman into an open neutral zone.
Chris Porter then threaded a pass to Czarnik, who broke in all alone on Phoenix Copley and sniped one over the glove of the Hershey goalie for a 1-0 lead midway through the first period.
"His compete level has been high in this series," said Dean. "I talked to him [recently] about putting him in spots to get pucks a little bit easier and better puck support, staying below the puck and staying inside of guys. He's a terrific player. If he has the puck, he's going to make plays."
In addition to having the puck more, Czarnik has been working on improving his success at the faceoff dot, as well as shoring up his defensive game. Both are crucial pieces to being a dependable centerman at the NHL level.
"I think faceoffs have been huge - just trying to get better at those every single day," said Czarnik, who won 42.9 percent of his faceoffs with Boston this season. "It's so important in the NHL. Obviously, you can always get better defensively…I was minus-10 on the year in Boston. That's unacceptable. So, just come down here and try to do the best you can defensively and build off of it."
While he was disappointed to not spend the entire season at the NHL level, Czarnik is making sure to use his time in Providence wisely. He knows that sulking will not get him back to Boston.
"When you get sent down, it's not what you want to happen," said Czarnik. "But, you can do whatever you want with it. For me, it's personally trying to get back up as soon as I can to try to prove to them that I should be there. So, you just have to want to get better and want to get back up there.
"Those guys [in Boston] are the hardest workers as a team and you have to want to do that. It's a fun time to be up there, but it's not guaranteed by any circumstances.
"I was honored to have the chance to play there this year and I'm just going to try and get back up there and become a full-timer next year."