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Another Providence Bruins season ended last week with their first round loss to Charlotte in four games. Despite the tough ending, the team gave their fans something to cheer for with plenty of noteworthy highlights and developments of key players Bruins fans can look forward to.
All this came in the aftermath of a tough 3-7-1 stretch during the opening month of the season. Head coach Jay Leach guided the team through rough waters following that tough start, including a run of 11 points in 12 games in November, as Providence stayed alive in the Calder Cup playoff race; eventually grabbing the fourth seed in the Atlantic Division.
The Baby B’s had the unfortunate draw of taking on the AHL-leading Checkers in the first round. Providence came out with a series split in the first two games before the series shifted to North Carolina.
Charlotte’s talent, however, proved too much for the Baby B’s in Games 3 and 4. Andrew Poturalski netted goals in both games and Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 45 of 46 shots over the two contests as Charlotte outscored Providence 7-1 — 3-0 in Game 3 and 4-1 in Game 4 — to move on to Round 2.
Yes, the P-Bruins had another tough first-round exit — their fourth in the last five years. But plenty of good came out of this season.
Providence acquired some veteran leadership that bowed well for the young squad. Most notably, an offensive-starved P-Bruins brought in Paul Carey in January from the Belleville Senators. The Weymouth native had a stellar season in Providence collecting 22 goals and 11 assists for 33 points in 30 games in his second go-around with the club. The Bruins signed the 30-year old to a two-year, two-way contract extension in March.
About a month after the Carey trade, another familiar name returned to the Bruins organization in Lee Stempniak The frisked vet, who inked a one-year deal in February, performed admirably for Providence tallying 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) in 20 games.
Gemel Smith’s addition completed the veteran turnover for the Bruins’ AHL club. The former Dallas Star played a pivotal role for the P-Bruins down the stretch with 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists) in 47 games.
As good as the vets were, the development of young prospects is what matters most at the AHL level. The pipeline came through again with prospects playing key roles in both Boston and Providence this season. A total of seven P-Bruins made the trip up I-95 to make their NHL debut in 2018-19.
Karson Kuhlman, a year removed from his stellar tenure at Minnesota-Duluth, is up in Boston gaining valuable Stanley Cup Playoff experience. The right winger tallied 30 points in 58 games during his first season in Providence.
Urho Vaakanainen, widely regarded as Boston’s best overall defensive prospect, opened the season in Boston before collecting 10 points in 30 games. Vaakanainen helped guide Finland to a World Junior Championship gold medal, in which one could argue that he was that team’s best d-man.
Vaakanainen’s development took a major step forward, but Connor Clifton earned the recall for Boston’s playoff run as he replaced the injured Kevan Miller. The Quinnipiac product showed off his versatility this season — occasionally playing wing at certain points of the season — and finished the year as Providence’s top-scoring defenseman with 27 points.
Trent Frederic got his shot in Boston as well, bringing the crowd to its feet after dominating Winnipeg’s Brandon Taney in a fight in January. Jeremy Lauzon got a good look in Boston, while 2015 first round picks Zach Senyshyn and Jakub Zboril finally cracked the Bruins’ lineup.
Though he did not necessarily make his NHL debut, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson had an extended stay with the big club, playing in 28 games and recording nine points. JFK battled the injury bug a bit in Providence causing him to miss some time. The former Boston University standout produced when he was healthy, tallying 16 points in 28 games.
Another untimely injury caused Ryan Fitzgerald to miss the AHL’s All Star Game in Springfield in January. The former Boston College product finished the season with 37 points (9 goals, 28 assists).
Jordan Szwarz replaced Fitzgerald in Springfield. He earned that distinction in his first season as Providence’s captain, tallying a team-leading 46 points (23 goals, 23 assists) during the regular season. The veteran’s performance carried over into the postseason tallying a pair of goals and assists against Charlotte.
Peter Cehlarik’s production in Providence — 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 53 games — resulted in more promotions up I-95. The 23-year-old Slovak tallied four goals and two assists in 20 games with the big club, with his two-goal outing in Philadelphia back in January providing his best NHL highlight to date.
Cameron Hughes and Anton Blidh continued to step up their developments. Hughes notched 28 points in 52 games, while Blidh’s physical presence resulted in a career-high 94 penalty minutes to go along with his 23 points in 74 games.
In net, Zane McIntyre found himself in the top-10 in wins (25) and the top-15 in goals-against average (2.59). The Bruins recalled McIntyre during the tail end of the Charlotte series to serve as Boston’s emergency goalie. Dan Vladar, in his first full season as Providence’s backup, recorded 13 wins, two shutouts, a 2.73 GAA and a .898 save percentage.
A few late additions provide the club with some future options. Defenseman Cooper Zech played in 12 games toward the end of the season and collected four assists. The former Ferris State product netted two goals and showcased his impressive decision making against Charlotte.
Top prospect Jack Studnicka returned to Providence from the Ontario Hockey League and had two points during the playoffs. And netminder Kyle Keyser also made the jump from the OHL, starting in Game 4 with McIntyre and Vladar (injury) both unavailable.
A few of the P-Bruins, like Studnicka, Lauzon and Vaakanainen, are prime candidates for an opening night roster spot next year. But they themselves a good nucleus to build on following their 2018-19 campaign.
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