BostonBruins.com - Bruce Cassidy has noticed a difference in Jack Studnicka.
The 21-year-old has always been able to dazzle with his speed and skill, a combination that has clearly been the driving force behind an accelerated rise into the Bruins' top six.
But there is one particular trait that has stood out above the rest of late, one that has progressed dramatically even since the Ontario native arrived for training camp back in the fall.
"Jack seems much more confident with the puck than maybe in training camp in September and October," said Cassidy.
Confidence, of course, is the key to any hockey player's development, especially when suiting up alongside some of the game's greats. And it's that personal growth that Studnicka, like his coach, believes has helped to put him in position to potentially take hold of a spot in Boston's postseason lineup.
"Definitely feel the most comfortable I have throughout training camps, Black Aces, stuff like that," said the natural centerman, who has shifted to right wing to skate alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk for a large chunk of the last two weeks.
"Every single time we're able to join the team in a situation like this, I think I get more comfortable, getting to know the guys, being around them pretty much, in a situation like this, 24/7. Definitely every day gets easier.
"But in terms of comfortability, 100 percent comfortable now in comparison to past times where I would have been nervous or almost a little starstruck to share the ice with some of these guys. I think I've matured in terms of being comfortable."
Studnicka has had his fair share of National Hockey League experience in recent months, between his stint as a Black Ace during Boston's run to the Stanley Cup Final last season, a lengthy stay at last fall's training camp, and a two-game cameo with the big club - including his NHL debut in Montreal - back in November. But the opportunity in front of the P-Bruins' leading scorer now is unlike any he's had in his brief professional career.
"Just trying to show up, being a younger guy, and provide some energy," said Studnicka, who paced Providence with 23 goals and 49 points and was named to the AHL's All-Rookie Team during his first full professional campaign. "Worst case, push other guys that are ahead of us in the lineup to do better. Trying to be confident and show that I can help contribute to winning."
Video: Studnicka and Bjork talk to media on Tuesday morning
The 2017 second-round pick and Anders Bjork have been the beneficiaries of a depleted right side, seeing extended time in the top six during training camp thanks to the absences of wingers David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase.
"It's really exciting," said Bjork, who subbed in for Pastrnak alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand for the majority of camp, as he did briefly during his rookie season in 2017-18. "Neither of us have played NHL playoff games. We're both excited and probably have the same mentality of trying to bring energy into the room…I think that's where our heads are at. We're both fighting to do the best we can for the team."
Pastrnak has since returned to Boston's top line, though Kase remains in Boston, while fellow trade deadline acquisition Nick Ritchie has now missed five consecutive practices. With the Bruins just two days away from their lone exhibition game against Columbus and five days from their opening round-robin contest against Philadelphia, Cassidy has some holes to fill and it doesn't appear that he's afraid to give the kids a shot.
"Right now, those two guys have a leg up and then there's [Karson] Kuhlman who I know is a dependable player, certainly has played with Krejci and DeBrusk and has been fine," said Cassidy. "I think Jack has a little bit more upside offensively right now. That's the reasoning for giving him an opportunity. We've never seen it. Good chance for a test run with that line and then see Anders back with Coyle."
Bjork had been a healthy scratch for three of the final four games leading into the NHL's pause back in March as Kase and Ritchie began to take hold on middle-six wing spots upon their arrivals from Anaheim. But a four-month hiatus may turn out to be a silver lining for the 23-year-old, who Cassidy called the best player on the ice for Day 1 of training camp on July 13.
"[He] played well, I thought, with Bergy and March," said Cassidy, who upon Pastrnak's return has reunited the Notre Dame product with Charlie Coyle and Sean Kuraly to form a third line that had some success earlier this season. "He could be an option with Krech and Jake, he's been there before. I liked him with Coyle this winter when they played together."
Like Studnicka, Bjork - who had 9 goals and 10 assists in 58 games this season - is crediting an uptick in confidence as one of the main reasons for his strong start to camp.
"When you're with those guys who are playing so hard and confident and aggressive, you've got to play with your own confidence and not be hesitant," said Bjork, now over a year removed from his second shoulder surgery. "That's something that I have to do playing with Bergy or Coyle or whoever. All those guys play with a lot of confidence and it's something that I've learned that you've got to do and build some chemistry and be hard to play against.
"Part of playing with such high-end players is finding the right way to support them. A lot of that comes with communication and learning as you go."
Studnicka, meanwhile, is proving to be an intriguing fit alongside DeBrusk and Krejci, who has already indicated to Cassidy that he enjoys the way the youngster plays, particularly when it comes to making something happen in traffic.
"It's been really fun to be able to practice with those guys," said Studnicka, who led the Bruins' post-practice stretch on Tuesday. "They're both proven offensive players in the league. David's been around for a long time and seems to always be in the right spot and do the right things and makes high-end plays. To be on the other end of those is something special and something I'm not taking for granted.
"I'm just trying to bring work ethic to that line. Jake on the other side, obviously, has high-end speed. I'm just trying to keep up with him and show that I can play at a pace that he plays at and when the ability to make a play arises, try to contribute making plays with two good players.
Eventually, the Bruins hope to have both Ritchie and Kase back at their disposal, but if Studnicka and Bjork prove to make a positive impact, Cassidy is not going to hesitate to keep them in the lineup.
"Say it's Jack, say it's Bjork that takes off and Ondrej's not ready and they've strung together five, six, seven games, played a round, whatever, I'd have to seriously consider making a change to a guy that I've seen more of," said Cassidy, noting his unfamiliarity with Ritchie and Kase could factor into his decision making.
"Those are things you decide down the road. There may be other situations that come up, injuries or whatever…it wouldn't be automatic that I put Ondrej in if the young kid was playing well."