David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase missed Bruins practice again Thursday, which isn’t a surprise given Cam Neely’s acknowledgement on Wednesday that the two right wings probably won’t be back on the ice until the team gets to Toronto.
The longer they remain “unfit to participate,” though, the more likely it becomes that the Bruins may in fact have to turn to one or two of their younger forwards to step into a top-six role.
There is of course the possibility that Pastrnak and Kase still aren’t even cleared by the time games start, though the Bruins hope that won’t be the case. But even if they are, there may still be a spot up for grabs.
The expectation is that Pastrnak won’t need much time to get up to speed and find his chemistry with linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Obviously, his spot in the lineup is not in jeopardy. Once he’s cleared, he’s right back on the top line.
Things aren’t as straightforward with Kase, though. He only played six games with the Bruins before the pause, and didn’t exactly set the world on fire or develop much chemistry with anyone. He’s now missed so many valuable reps that it shouldn’t be taken for granted that he’s just going to be handed the second-line right wing spot next to David Krejci.
Coach Bruce Cassidy acknowledged Thursday that Kase has “some catching up to do,” and that playing one of the young forwards who have been getting practice reps in the top six isn’t out of the question.
Anders Bjork, Karson Kuhlman and Jack Studnicka have all seen practice time with Krejci and left wing Jake DeBrusk, with Studnicka getting the reps there Thursday. Bjork and Studnicka have also seen time on the first line, which is where Bjork was Thursday.
The tone and approach has clearly shifted from just plugging guys in to fill spots in the first couple practices last week to taking a real look at who fits where and what the Bruins’ options really are if Pastrnak and/or Kase have to miss game time, or if Kase returns but doesn’t earn a spot that high in the lineup.
“We could (use one of the younger forwards),” Cassidy said. “Clearly, Ondrej hasn’t joined us. We’re traveling Sunday, so we’re down to two practices here before we hit Toronto. He’s got some catching up to do. So yes, if we feel that he’s not caught up and Bjork is playing well, or Jack for that matter. I’ll say Bjork and Kuhly because they were here pretty much a pretty major part of the year. But if it happens to be Jack or someone else in that mix, that’s the direction we’ll go.
“I guess I haven’t seen Ondrej play in the playoffs. Sometimes those guys have the advantage, the veteran guys, they’ve been there. It is a different game, the stakes go up, and you’ve got to experience it, I think, to truly appreciate it. But like I said, I haven’t seen him play a lot of playoff hockey, so he would be a guy we’re not 100 percent sure on either, on how he’s going to perform at that level. We assume that he’ll be fine, better than fine, he’ll be good. But now you’re chasing it a bit getting this far behind.
“So we have to look at that. And we’ve said that all along, that, take out the injury factory, there could be people that for testing purposes, fall behind and you have to rely on depth, and we’re experiencing a bit of that right now even though we haven’t played any games. So the potential certainly does exist.”
Here are some more notes from Thursday:
Among the forwards who saw penalty kill time were Nordstrom, Kuhlman, Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner and Par Lindholm. Although Bergeron and Marchand didn’t get PK time Thursday as they were on the power play side, and there may be some concerns about guys getting overworked right off the bat if they’re playing in every game situation, Cassidy said they “absolutely” will still be used on the kill.
*** Cassidy didn’t exactly slow down the Studnicka hype train. When the Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont asked him about a comparison between Studnicka and a young Bergeron, Cassidy said there is a “fair comparable” there.
“I think it’s a fair comparable in terms of how they play right now,” Cassidy said. “Bergy is good at everything, but he’s not like this flashy guy, and I do see that with Jack. He’s a second effort player, never quits on a play, can make plays, smart, works both ends of the ice. I think Bergy’s shot is obviously ahead of Jack’s, and rightfully so. Jack has to work on that part of it, and I’m sure Bergy did as well over the years. Some of that’s getting stronger, some of it’s knowing the league, that a quick release is paramount if you want to score goals.
“Bergy started in the league as a right winger, Jack may have to do that. I don’t want to project, but when you look at Bergeron, Krejci, Coyle, Kuraly, Lindholm, we’re pretty strong down the middle. So that might be an opportunity for him to make our team on the wing. So he learns a different part of the game.
“Yeah, I’m going to say there are some similarities at the same age. Listen, I hope he turns into the next Bergy. That would be great for the franchise and great for the individual. It’d be great for us as coaches because (Bergergon) is second to none in terms of a player and a person, so if that happens I think the Bruins will be in good shape for the next 10 years.”
As far as the here and now, Cassidy reiterated that Studnicka’s best chance to play right now would be on the wing given the Bruins’ depth at center, his natural position. Cassidy noted that there are parts of playing wing that might be easier for him right now (less defensive responsibility) but other parts he needs to adapt to (more play along the walls, especially on breakouts).
“We’re going to have to see how he performs on the wall with a D pinching down on him,” Cassidy said. “Will he have the composure to make a play when he has time, or the strength to get it out when he doesn’t, or tie it up? I think those game situations will dictate that. He’s the same player I think in terms of hounding pucks, with the puck, as a center or winger. That part of his game I don’t think changes a lot from what I’ve seen. He likes to pursue it. He’s a good second effort player. He’s going to make plays whether he’s in the middle or on the right side, or want to make plays, and he has here.
“But it will be the little details of the game. Even his D zone I assume wouldn’t change a whole lot from center to wing. In fact it’ll be easier on the wing, less stress on him having to battle down low against bigger bodies. So that part of the game will be a little bit less taxing on him. But it is the board work and making plays in tight spaces, so those are a couple areas where we’ll have to see how it works out for him.”