It’s not difficult to see why Austin Czarnik might have been a little overlooked headed into this Bruins training camp when forecasting favorites among the forwards to win a roster spot on the big club. After all he’s only 5-foot-9 and 167-pounds coming off just one very solid season at the AHL level for the Providence Bruins, and there are bigger, stronger forwards candidates that maybe rank a bit higher on the prospect list than him.
But the 23-year-old Czarnik put together an excellent training camp last fall before finishing with 20 goals and 61 points for the P-Bruins last season, and now he’s doing the exact same thing again this time around.
“Yeah, I feel more comfortable. I think we could have been a lot better in a lot of areas. Overall I think everyone is just happy to be back on the ice,” said Czarnik, who along with Frank Vatrano was one of the real starts of camp last season. “You know that type of mentality and you know mistakes are going to happen, and you’ve just got to move forward from it so everyone’s happy to be back.”
The former Miami University star is clearly happy to be back, and it’s showing on the ice with each chance he gets to show his tenacity, withering fore-check and his willingness to crash the net despite his smallish stature.
Czarnik was one of the most dangerous forwards on the ice for the Black and Gold in their preseason opener, and collected a key assist on Boston’s first goal of the game when he pushed a puck through the neutral zone before setting up on odd man rush for Jimmy Hayes and Jake DeBrusk.
This time around Czarnik scored the game’s only goal on a nifty rush during four-on-four play through the offensive zone by Ryan Spooner, who drew in the defense and dished to Czarnik for a wide open tap-in chance.
So it’s a couple of big plays in each of the first two preseason games that led to goals, and a genuinely excellent level of play throughout both contests. It’s something the Bruins coaching staff has taken note of along with his skating speed and hardnosed mentality, and now they have to figure if it fits in with their other NHL pieces.
“We were just talking about it. Everybody has that same feeling. He’s playing well. He moves well. He’s on the puck. He competes, and that’s the thing you’re looking for really,” said Bruins assistant coach Joe Sacco. “Like right now, we know there’s going to be mistakes made by a lot of our players, especially the younger ones.
“We’re looking to see who’s got that competitive, you know, that competitive fire. [We’re looking for] who’s going to go out there and who can compete at a high level. I know he’s not big in stature, but he plays bigger than he is. He’s had two pretty good games so far.”
Czarnik had a couple of good games early in B’s camp last year before flat-lining a bit at the end when the NHL jobs were seriously on the line, and the 23-year-old wants that story to change endings this time around. It remains to be seen where he’s going to fit as yet another center among Boston’s group of training camp players this month, but Czarnik might just force the Bruins to make a tough decision if he keeps playing at his current high level.