By Steve Conroy
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka are all staring at the opportunity of their lives. Now it’s up to one of them to seize it.
The three centermen are all vying for the third line pivot job vacancy and it’s clear they’re all going to get a good long look from Bruins’ management. Not only are all three participating in this weekend’s rookie tournament -- starting Friday with a game against Pittsburgh Penguins rookies at 3:30 p.m. -- the trio will also be going to China with the main group of veterans next Tuesday.
They each bring something different to the table. Frederic is the bruiser, Forsbacka Karlsson is the skilled, cerebral two-way player and Studnicka is a bit of a hybrid.
Providence coach Jay Leach had Forsbacka Karlsson for a full season last year (though he was limited to 58 games because of a concussion) and Frederic played 13 games after signing out of the University of Wisconsin. He’s seen Studnicka at a couple of development camps and last year’s training camp.
“JFK has high-end skill. He can make high-end plays. You can put him with some real skilled players and he’ll be able to make play. Freddy is a little more old school. He’s up and down (the ice). He can make plays. By no means is he lacking on the skill front but he is a little bit more an abrasive style, hard down low. And from what little I’ve seen of Jack, he’s probably a cross between the two of them, really,” said Leach, adding with a grin. “If you could just mark them all into one, we’d have a hell of a player.”
JFK, the 2015 second-round pick who’ll turn 22 on Halloween, had to focus last year on the physical nature and the urgency of the pro game. The former Boston University Terrier scored 15 goals with 17 assists last year.
“He was playing against younger players and when you play against men, you have to be harder on pucks and close quickly,” said Leach of the right-handed center. “It’s almost unfair, but we compare everyone to (Patrice) Bergeron, but at the same time it’s great. It sets a level, it sets a standard that all these kids are trying to get to. So if you were to compare him to Bergy, that’s what he’s working on, the ability to close, to compete on pucks and then let his offensive instincts take over.”
The left-handed Frederic, a 2016 first-rounder, notched 5-3-8 totals in 13 Providence games at the end of last season, but his style of play is what caught most people’s eye. The St. Louis native just might make an interesting pairing with David Backes.
“I don’t want to compare him to older Bruins, but he’s not afraid of confrontation. He’ll show that at any level,” said Leach. “He came right to us and went right after a guy in Lehigh the second night he played. He’s got that. He’s got the ability to skate. He’s got some hands. A little raw when he came to us, but literally in the four weeks was like we were seeing a pro player. He’s got a huge upside and a lot of fun to watch.”
Frederic’s area of focus in the offseason was getting a little quicker. He worked some of the summer with a skating coach in Madison while skating with a group of pros there.
“My first couple of steps were the big thing and I was working on my hands a little, too. I worked on a bunch of other stuff with my skating. But my first two strides and my quickness off the puck was something I tried to work on,” said Frederic, who weighed in at a strapping 212 pounds on Thursday.
The 19-year-old Studnicka, the youngest of the three and a 2017 second-round pick, may be the darkhorse simply because of his age, but he wouldn’t be going to China if he wasn’t highly thought of. For now, he’s thinking more of the process than the goal.
“There’s obviously internal competition,” said the lanky Studnicka, another righty, “but at the same time you want to focus on our game and leaving it all on the line.”
The road to the dream begins on Friday in Buffalo.