Providence Bruins

Jun 19, 2017


Fans of the Boston Bruins have been waiting for a young defenseman to come up to the big club and make an impact for years. Fans of the Providence Bruins this season saw young potential blue liners who could fill that void fairly soon. With a solid crop of rookie defenders that played in 2016-17 and some even younger ones that got their first pro hockey taste at the end of the season, the organization has a lot to look forward to.

Matt Grzelcyk spent most of the season with Providence, though he did make his NHL debut with Boston during a two-game NHL stint in mid-December. A third round pick in 2012, the 23-year old joined the organization after four seasons with Boston University and the former Terrier captain did not disappoint. Skating alongside veteran Alex Grant for most of the season, Grzelcyk was third among P-Bruins defensemen in scoring with six goals and 26 assists for 32 points. He led all rookie blue liners in those categories as well as in rating where he posted an impressive +13. Among all AHL rookies, Grzelcyk ranked in the top eight in points, assists and +/-. Known as a solid offensive player coming into the AHL, Grzelcyk certainly showed his play-making ability translates to the pro game. He was second on the team in power play assists, as 12 of his 26 helpers came on the man-advantage. When Grzelcyk did well, so did Providence as the team was 20-3-4-2 when he recorded a point in 2016-17.

Rob O’Gara is the opposite of Grzelcyk in almost every regard with the exception of NHL potential. A fifth round pick in 2011, O’Gara stands tall at 6’ 4”, 207 lbs. and uses that frame to keep opponents away from the crease and off the scoreboard. O’Gara was paired alongside Tommy Cross most of the season, and that combination formed one of Providence’s top two defensive pairs in 2016-17. The 23-year old isn’t much of scoring threat with just four goals and nine assists for 13 points, but he was third amongst defensemen with a +11 rating. This included a stretch where he was a +17 over 28 games from December 18 to March 25. He also made his NHL debut this year, skating in each of Boston’s first three games of the season. Though he battled through some injuries this season, including one that kept him out for most of the postseason, his physical play certainly gets the attention of NHL teams as that style will translate at the next level.

While Grzelcyk and O’Gara were the main rookie blue liners in Providence this season, they were not the only ones throughout the course of the season. Ben Marshall was up and down from the ECHL most of the season, but when he played for the P-Bruins provided a solid puck moving defenseman. In 14 games, he scored two goals and had six points with a rating of +6. Emil Johansson, a seventh round pick in 2014, came over from Sweden after signing his entry level deal in late March. He skated in six games while earning his first career point. 2015 second rounder Jeremy Lauzon transferred from the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in late April, but never appeared in a game. Both Johansson and Lauzon are expected to be a big part of the Providence defense in 2017-18.

The rookie most Boston fans are already familiar with is Charlie McAvoy, who got his professional start with four games in Providence before getting the call to the NHL for the postseason. With his playoff performance, he is all but assured to the start next season with Boston as his days in Providence are likely over.

Boston is looking for young defensemen that can step into an NHL role next season, so Grzelcyk and O’Gara are great candidates to make the team out of camp. Grzelcyk could give them a solid puck-mover that could potentially help on the power play from their bottom pairing while O’Gara can provide a shut-down blue liner that could help on the penalty kill. The expansion draft and team philosophy for the bottom spots will determine if one or both start 2017-18 in the NHL.

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The Providence Bruins are the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Boston Bruins, playing their home games at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, RI. Spanning more than 20 years, the Boston/Providence affiliation is one of the longest and most successful player development partnerships in professional hockey history.

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