BostonBruins.com - In the end, the American Hockey League's 2019-20 campaign will go in the books as incomplete. That was made official last week with the announcement that the season would not resume after being halted in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A lack of a stretch run and postseason grind will not, however, diminish the stellar rookie campaign of Providence Bruins centerman Jack Studnicka. The 21-year-old transitioned full time to the professional level and did not disappoint, registering 23 goals and 49 points in 60 games, ranking fourth and third, respectively, among AHL rookies.
"Studdy, for all intents and purposes, had a terrific year," said Providence Bruins coach Jay Leach. "Twenty-year-old kid jumps right in, plays every real scenario. Down the stretch, I was really leaning on him and Cameron Hughes as the guys to seal some games out for us. His competitiveness, his speed, his hockey sense really shone through and was able to be very productive on both sides of the puck. I think he had a terrific year."
Studnicka, a second-round pick of the Bruins in 2017 and considered a vital piece of the Black & Gold's future, appears to be right on track in his development as he works toward rounding out a complete 200-foot game, while also aiming to shore up his strength and durability.
"First pro year is definitely a learning curve in terms of preparing yourself to compete every night at a level of consistency that you might not have had to in junior hockey," said Studnicka, who had spent four seasons in the OHL with Oshawa and Niagara from 2015-19.
"Off the ice, I learned how to watch more of the veteran players and how they take care of their body, how they eat, how they stretch, prepare, cool down - stuff like that that doesn't always happen in junior hockey.
"I think it was just a learning curve to learn how to become a pro and to approach the game like a pro. Down in Providence, I couldn't have a better cast to have that done right with the leadership they had."
Video: Studnicka Answers Fans Questions in Town Hall
The Ontario native, who led the P-Bruins in goals and points, credited Leach and the team's veteran core of Paul Carey, Alex Petrovic, Brendan Woods, and Brendan Gaunce for going out of their way to create a welcoming environment that, no doubt, fits into one of the fundamental themes that the Bruins organization strives to uphold.
"There's not older and younger guys, it's just more team atmosphere and everyone loved coming to the rink and loved playing together," said Studnicka, who was named to the AHL's All-Rookie Team on Tuesday afternoon and to the AHL All-Star Classic in January. "I think I can speak for the whole team when I say that I really think we had something special down there, the way it was a team-first mentality. Everybody was happy with each other's success. At the end of the day, we just wanted to win the hockey game."
After four years in the OHL, Studnicka knew there would be adjustments on the ice, as he dealt with the uptick in speed and strength. But he quickly realized that striking the right balance with his off-ice commitments should be his main focus.
With schooling and other activities no longer his priorities, the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder began spending as much time at the rink as possible to make sure he was keeping up with his workouts and nutrition.
"When you get to be a pro, your main obligation is hockey and your only obligation is hockey," said Studnicka. "Getting to the rink 30 minutes before your supposed to to get a warmup in…then staying later at the rink, cooling down or doing an extra workout or therapy or something like that to make sure your body feels better and ready to go whenever that next game is."
On the ice, Studnicka has had a similar focus. With the hope that one day he becomes a pillar of Boston's strength through the middle of the ice, he has aimed to piece together a full 200-foot game, knowing that his offensive abilities will always shine through.
"I'm not as strong as a lot of the players in pro hockey," said Studnicka, who named Patrice Bergeron, Charlie Coyle, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane as players he has tried to learn from. "We kind of keyed on ways to get around that in the offensive zone, whether that's protecting the puck or holding onto the puck or taking space that you have to separate from your guy in the offensive zone.
"[The organization] just wanted to make sure that I was always approaching the game to play a 200-foot game and not cheating on offense, just making sure that I'm playing the right way and taking care of the defensive zone and the offense will come."
That blend came across clearly with Studnicka's emergence on the Providence penalty kill, as he led the AHL with seven shorthanded goals. Studnicka recognized P-Bruins assistant coach Ryan Mougenel for providing daily video sessions that highlighted proper PK techniques and often singled out Bergeron's work from the night before in Boston.
"When you start to get opportunities shorthanded and you put them in, it's definitely a confidence booster," said Studnicka. "Definitely more important to kill the penalty - and that's something I had to learn throughout the year.
"The seven shorthanded goals were nice, but I think I just wanted to learn how to be a penalty killer…the coaching staff really helped with that."
Video: Studnicka's shorthanded goal highlights
Studnicka also noted that the Bruins' brass has tried to preach the importance of embracing his opportunity with Providence. While he did get the call from the big club for his first two NHL games in November - picking up his first NHL point during his debut, an assist on Danton Heinen's third-period tally in an 8-1 win over Montreal - Studnicka's main concentration has been on his development at the AHL level.
"Mentally, they want me to be in a head space where my feet are," said Studnicka. "I think this year was really important that they wanted me to be fully engaged where I was in Providence…there are always ways to get better as a hockey player…I'd like to improve everything about my game."
With sports on hold, Studnicka has been spending time with his family at their home in Michigan, where his workouts have included dog walking, roller blading, and garage exercises with his stepbrother. Despite his rookie campaign with the P-Bruins now complete, he knows he must stay ready given the possibility that Boston could require his services when and if the NHL resumes this summer.
"I haven't heard much on that topic," said Studnicka, who noted what a privilege it was to be part of Boston's 'Black Aces' squad during last spring's run to the Stanley Cup Final. "Obviously, you see the rumors on social media on what the plan is. I would love for a scenario like that to play out. Hopefully the NHL comes back and I'm able to be a part of that. Would definitely be something that I'd be looking forward to.
"I've had a good year down in Providence where I've kind of proved that I'm able to contribute and help the organization win. Whether that's as a Black Ace or playing, that's for them to decide.
"I'm gonna be ready. I feel ready. And I'm just willing to do whatever they ask when the time comes."
Video: BOS@MTL: Studnicka supplies Heinen for first point