For Bruins prospect Austin Czarnik, it has been, in every sense of the phrase, a very up-and-down year.
To put Czarnik’s year in perspective: he battled an illness that shelved him to start the season, was recalled and optioned a combined three times and is a minus-three with just one assist in six games with Boston. Down in Providence, he leads the Baby Bruins with 11 points on five goals and six assists. That is a textbook definition of a roller coaster season.
Czarnik, however, is determined to create more ups than downs.
“I feel more comfortable out there,” said the former Miami Redhawk who signed as an undrafted free agent in March of 2015 and is now in his third full season as a pro. “The more you’re in the league the more you understand and the more plays you can make. The more plays you can make the more comfortable you get. So I just have to keep doing the same thing and make the plays I can make and score when I can.”
With 11 points in nine games, Czarnik is currently on pace to shatter his previous career highs in scoring set back in his first full year in Providence in 2015-16 (20-41-61, plus-17 rating).
When Czarnik was first optioned back to Providence on October 17, he returned to the P-Bruins lineup with a vengeance. In his first game at Springfield on October 20th, Czarnik snapped home two goals and added an assist in Providence’s 5-2 victory. Czarnik proceeded to register at least two points in three of his next four games (the one game he didn’t have a multi-point game, October 21 vs. the Belleville Senators, he registered an assist), before being recalled on November 2 after David Backes was placed on injured reserve. Later that night, during the Bruins’ 2-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, Czarnik tallied his first NHL point of the season with an assist on Riley Nash’s goal early in the second period.
Czarnik’s high of his first NHL point in 2017-18 was short lived. In the three games that followed Czarnik went pointless and was a minus-four. On November 9, a day after going a minus-two and only taking nine shifts for 7:22 of ice time against the Rangers, Czarnik was sent back to Providence.
Czarnik’s struggles did not end there, however. He was held without a point in his next three contest with the Baby B’s, collecting a minus-four rating in the process.
But Providence coach Jay Leach believes that Czarnik is capable of turning things around and understands the challenge of constantly moving back and forth from Providence and Boston as well as keeping the focus on one’s game.
“Like a lot of our guys, he’s literally had an up an down year,” Leach said after this past Friday’s loss vs. the Hershey Bears. “Sometimes that is a challenge. Right now, I think we’re at that stage where we have a lot of movement and guys really need to kind of reel it in and focus on where they’re at. It’s one game at a time and (Czarnik) is someone that has all the ability in the world to do that and he will be looked at one of those leaders to toe the line and get some chances for us.”
As he’s done all season, Czarnik found a way to bounce back. During Providence’s 4-1 revenge win over Hershey on Sunday, Czarnik found the back of the net on the power play with eight seconds remaining in the second period to put the Bruins up 3-1. It is something that Czarnik hopes can kick-start another scoring streak, eventually leading to a permanent call-up to Boston.
“I know what they (Boston) expect from me and I know what I need to do up there,” Czarnik said. “Now it’s just back to work down here and just trying to get back up. I just need to keep on working and there are parts of my game that I need to work on. I feel like I need to work on my stop and starts, one thing I feel like I’ve gotten away from down here, and I feel like I need to work on my shot too. They want me to shoot more so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
They say that what goes up must come down. Austin Czarnik, on the other hand, is looking to defy that logic and elevate his game to a point where he can become a full-time fixture in the Bruins lineup. According to Leach, Czarnik has mastered the AHL level and feels that his time to shine with Boston could very well be near.
“[Austin Czarnik] would be considered an elite player at this level,” Leach said. “He plays a lot of minutes for us and he’s got the ability to change a game really on any shift he’s out there.”