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  • 2017-18 Providence Bruins preview

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    2017-18 Providence Bruins preview

    Jake Kerin October 6, 2017

    If you approached an AHL expert prior to the beginning of last season’s Calder Cup playoffs and said that the Providence Bruins would make a run all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals as the Atlantic Division’s fourth-seed – defeating Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hershey along the way – you would most likely have been called a lunatic. But that’s exactly what occurred.

    Despite being on the brink of elimination in both series, the P-Bruins rallied past both WBS and Hershey in five and seven games, respectively, before watching their magic vanish in the conference finals in five games to the Syracuse Crunch.

    But just as there is a buzz of optimism around Causeway Street for the big club, there is as much, if not more, for the team at La Salle Square. The notion the Boston Bruins will be, for some time, loaded with young talent, will most certainly be highlighted during this upcoming American Hockey League season.

    Offensively, Providence returns five of their top-eight scorers from a season ago, most notably Jordan Szwarz and Danton Heinen. Szwarz, a 26-year-old former Phoenix Coyote draft pick led the P-Bruins in scoring last year, producing 22-32-54 totals while Heinen, a 22-year-old fourth-round pick of the Bruins back in 2014, had himself a fine rookie campaign and paced Providence in scoring during the playoffs with nine goals and nine assists for 18 points.

    With Jake DeBrusk making the jump to Boston and Wayne Simpson signing with the Capitals during the offseason, second-year left winger Peter Cehlarik and third-year center Colby Cave are expected to pick up the scoring slack. Former Boston University standout Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, a prospect most are very confident will crack the Boston lineup in the near future, will take part in his first full season with the P-Bruins as well as former Boston College star Ryan Fitzgerald and Zachary Senyshyn, the third of the Bruins three first round picks in 2015. Anton Blidh, Colton Hargrove, and Justin Hickman are among the remaining notable returnees up front.

    On the back end, Providence will look to replace the scoring touch of Alex Grant, who was second among all AHL D-men with 17 goals. Enter a familiar name – Tommy Cross. Providence’s all-time leader in games played returns for his sixth full season with the Baby B’s and third as team captain.

    Along with Cross is a few relatively new faces on the Baby B’s blue line. Taylor Doherty and Ben Marshall, who both saw some action with Providence last season, should see increased action this season while Boston’s 2015 13th overall pick Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon, the team’s second-round pick of that year, will each be in the midst of their first professional seasons. Rob O’Gara, basically the final defenseman cut from the big club, returns for his second season.

    Zane McIntyre will once again be expected to carry the load in net for Providence. The netminder is coming off a stellar sophomore season, sporting a 21-6-2-1 record with 2.03 goals against average (good for second in the league) and an AHL-leading .930 save percentage.

    With the Bruins losing Malcolm Subban on waivers to the Vegas Golden Knights, Dan Vlader will be the backup for the time being. Vladar saw time in eight games last season, putting up some pretty solid numbers; a 4-0-2-0 record with a .921 save percentage and a 2.62 goals against average.

    For the third time in three years, there will be a new coach directing traffic behind the Providence Bruins bench. Former P-Bruins captain Jay Leach takes the reigns as head coach after serving last season as an assistant to Kevin Dean, now an assistant in Boston. Leach previously served as an assistant with Adler Mannheim of the Deutsche Eishockey League in Germany during the 2014 season as well as an assistant under Mike Sullivan with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2015-16 and served as interim head coach when Sullivan was promoted to be the bench boss of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Trent Whitfield, another former Providence and Boston forward, will once again serve as associate coach and former Saginaw Spirit (Ontario Hockey league) head coach Spencer Carbery joins as the assistant coach. Former NHL Goaltender Mike Dunham will take over as a goaltender development coach after spending the last nine years as the goaltender coach for the New York Islanders.

    Yes, there is quite the buzz down in Providence as well. With an offense and power-play that both ranked in and around the top-10 and a defense that was top-five both in goals against and penalty-killing percentage, the P-Bruins are well-built.

    Even with the talent returning, the P-Bruins have the potential to grab more. Austin Czarnik will start the season on Boston’s injured reserve list as will Torey Krug. When those bodies are healthy, who will be returned to Providence? Could Czarnik spend some time as he recovers? Will DeBrusk or playoff hero Sean Kuraly be returned when there is no room after Czarnik’s return..if he returns to Boston that is? Or will Anders Bjork be deemed ‘not yet ready’ and be sent down? And when Krug returns, it will all likelihood be Matt Grzelcyk that is sent back to Providence, which will unquestionably give the P-Bruins a large boost.

    Who will be the first skater called up when needed and who will be the first sent down? It remains to be seen as Providence opens its 2017-18 season against the Springfield Falcons on Saturday night at the Dunkin Donuts Center

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