BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins have an opening at center on the third line. Jack Studnicka doesn't see why he can't win the job.
The Bruins lost center Riley Nash, who signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets as a free agent July 1, and missed out on free agent center John Tavares, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs that day. With Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci Boston's top two centers, Studnicka is hoping to seize the opportunity.
"I'm going in [to training camp] with the mentality that I want to make the big club," the 19-year-old said during Bruins development camp this month. "It's always a dream of mine to play in the NHL. Looking at the roster spots that are a bit up for grabs ... I'm going to put my head down and go to work and hope for the best."
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When the Bruins selected Studnicka in the second round (No. 53) of the 2017 NHL Draft, he was billed as a playmaking, two-way forward. He lived up to that description during a rookie tournament in Buffalo in September and then impressed in training camp. Because he was under 20, the Bruins had to return Studnicka, then 18, to Oshawa of the Ontario Hockey League if they weren't going to keep him in the NHL.
The Bruins were too deep for Studnicka to get a chance to play for them last season, so he took advantage of another year in the OHL. Oshawa's captain had 72 points (22 goals, 50 assists) in 66 games and capped his season by joining Providence of the American Hockey League and getting five points (one goal, four assists) in five games.
"His year was strong, real strong," Boston director of player personnel Jamie Langenbrunner said. "He looks to be even a little bit stronger physically from the end of the year in Providence until now. He's putting in the work and he wants to be a player."
Studnicka (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) again can't be sent to the AHL because of his age, so he'll either play in the NHL or the OHL this season. The competition for the Bruins' third center job figures to be stiff, with two other rookies, Trent Frederic and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Sean Kuraly among the other contenders.
Neither Studnicka's accomplishments from last season nor his performance in development camp will get him his coveted NHL job. He knows he has to put in more work before training camp.
"I think getting stronger over the summer [is a priority], you hear it all the time with young guys," he said. "A big part of my game, I want to really start winning my one-on-one battles, being able to be relied on in big situations like face-offs, be strong. So I think a big part of [my improvement] is going to come in the gym this summer."
Though Studnicka aims to improve physically, his mentality has impressed the Bruins front office.
"I think if you would have asked him last September, his goal was to make the team also," Langenbrunner said. "He wants to do that, that's great. We're not going to take that away from him. If he's able to push and take that job, then great."