The Providence Bruins kicked off their 28th season in franchise history with an impressive 3-0 victory over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last week.
The P-Bruins expect to embark on a new era in Federal Hill this season. Several new faces replaced some familiar names as the young crop of arrivals hope to capture the attention of New England hockey fans.
Legace joins Vladar as McIntyre departs
Providence, like its Stanley Cup finalist parent club, faced some tough choices this off-season. The club allowed Zane McIntyre, the team’s starting goaltender since 2015 and the franchise’s career leader in wins (86) and shutouts (11) sign with the Utica Comets.
The Bruins signed Maxime Legace to a two-year, two-way deal to replace the former North Dakota standout. The former property of the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights set career bests in goals against average (2.43) and save percentage (.914) a season ago.
Dan Vladar returns for his second full season in Providence, looking to improve on 13-13-4 record and a .898 SV%, despite posting a solid 2.73 GAA and a pair of shutouts.
Boston GM Don Sweeney also inked top goalie prospect Kyle Keyser to an entry-level deal. The 20-year old from Coral Springs, Florida started in Game 4 during last year’s playoffs and will most likely start the year in Atlanta (ECHL), but may receive a few call-ups during the season.
Impressive trio returns to Providence’s blue-line
Boston’s defense corps may be all but set in stone at the moment, but those left out of the final roster cuts will only benefit Providence.
While the P-Bruins will likely lose a solid, puck-rushing defenseman now that Conor Clifton following his full-time promotion, a trio of young veterans will help fill the void. Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen and Jeremy Lauzon will all start the year with the Baby B’s as they hope to impress upper management enough to earn a future trip or two up I-95. The team also brought in two other seasoned vets in Alex Petrovic from the Edmonton Oilers and Josiah Diddier of the reigning-champion Checkers.
Young Cooper Zech displayed quite a bit of playmaking skills when he latched on with a Providence toward the end of last season. Now in his first full season in pro hockey, Zech looks to build on his offensive skills and fill in the hole left by Clifton’s promotion.
Providence brings back a good amount of size as well, with the 6-foot-7 Chris Breen and the 6-foot-6 Wiley Sherman returning for their seventh and third seasons in the organization, respectively.
A deep forward core looks to set the tone.
A healthy mix of young guns and veteran leadership among the group of forwards give the P-Bruins something to build on.
Jordan Szwarz, last year’s team captain, lone all-star and leading scorer with 46 points, moved on to the Belleville Senators during the off-season. Paul Carey expects to pick up the slack after Providence tabbed him as the 25th captain in franchise history. The Weymouth native registered 60 points during his time in Providence and Bellville a season ago.
Ryan Fitzgerald, who was also named an AHL All-star before missing 11 games with an arm injury, re-upped with the Bruins on a one-year, two-way contract over the summer.
Peter Cehlarik, who equaled a career-high with 38 points a year ago, returns and is the favorite amongst the forwards to be the first callup to Boston.
Anders Bjork continues his development, this time starting this season in Providence as opposed to starting in Boston the last two years, and hopes to avoid the injury bug that has bothered him over his first two years. Cameron Hughes (28 points in 2018-19), Trent Frederic (25 points) Zach Senyshyn (24 points) and Anton Blidh (23 points) round out the list of noted returning forwards.
The forward group is where we tend to see the new faces replace familiar ones. Aside from Szwarz’s departure, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson returned to his native Sweden in late May. Karson Kuhlman, after his impressive postseason showing, could now be a permanent fixture in Boston. Gemel Smith and Mark McNeil, both of whom had solid seasons in their one-year stints in Providence, left for Tampa Bay and Europe, respectively. NHL vet Lee Stempniak, who provided some valuable leadership late last season, recently announced his retirement.
But the plethora of talented prospects are ready to fill the void.
After collecting 83 points in 60 Ontario Hockey League games last season, Jack Studnicka joined the P-Bruins for the Calder Cup playoffs and collected a goal and an assist. Twenty-one-year-old Oskar Steen, fresh off a 49 point-campaign in Sweden, finally makes his way to North America after originally being drafted by Boston in 2016. Jakob Lauko makes his professional debut after shining for a season in the Quebec Major Junior League as does Pavel Shen following his three seasons in Russia.
Newcomer Brendan Gaunce rounds out the forward. The 26-year old matched his career-high with 38 points in Utica last season.
A tough divisional road ahead
The P-Bruins will once again face some stiff competition in the Atlantic Division, starting with defending champ Charlotte. Bridgeport and Hershey, both of whom finished ahead of Providence last season, may very well be in contention once again. Lehigh Valley, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Springfield — teams Providence edged out for the final playoff spot — each return hungry following last year. Hartford, meanwhile, looks to rebuild after a tough 69-point campaign even with their solid start to the new year.
Despite the roster turnover, Providence has plenty of experience and firepower to make a return trip to the playoffs for the eighth straight season. They’re already off to a solid 2-0 start following opening week victories over Leigh Valley and Hershey.
The P-Bruins only made it past the second round once over the last four seasons. They hope for a change of fate and a breakthrough season in 2019-20.
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