SPRINGFIELD, MA Its pretty easy to get lost in the Providence shuffle if your name isnt Spooner, Knight, Bourque or Caron.
Providence Bruins forward Craig Cunningham was taken in the same 2010 draft class as Tyler Seguin, Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight among others, and hes largely flown under the radar during his time in the Bs organization. That can happen sometimes with fourth round draft picks, but the 22-year-old started to catch the eye of Providences coaching staff last season when he shifted from center to left wing.
The Trail, British Columbia native a place thats also the hometown of Ray Ferraro and Jason Bay among others continues to plug along with uncommon steadiness and strength on his skates, the high-effort willingness to play defense and now the ability to chip in offensively from a bottom-six forward spot.
Those are the kind of qualities that have Providence coach Bruce Cassidy convinced that Cunningham might just have a shot at the next level even if hes only 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds.
Hes been good. At camp we played him at center, but he played his best hockey last year on the wing, said Cassidy. He gets his shot off. He goes to the net. His defensive responsibilities arent as great because one thing about Cunningham is that he has to work to get around on the ice. Hes not a natural skater like Spooner so playing at wing frees him up that way a little bit.
Hes also a competitive and caring kid. He takes to coaching and he wants to win. We just have to find a line for him like a lot of guys. But I think hes got a chance to make it. He was a winner in junior with the Vancouver Giants, so he has a bit of that mentality. Hell do what it takes.
Cunningham went back to center for parts of training camp when the team needed a few extra centers to make the numbers work, but hes been back at the wing with the start of the AHL season. Cunningham potted his second goal of the season in Providences 3-1 win over the Springfield Falcons at MassMutual Center on Saturday night, and continues to build on a promising second AHL season.
Cunningham finished with 20 goals and 36 points last season, and is looking to improve those totals along with his minus-12 rating from last year. That improvement will start with more time spent around the goalie crease area where he was rewarded with a goal against Springfield.
Its a big weekend for us. All 20 guys both nights really bared down and got strong on the puck, said Cunningham of Providence sweeping a pair of weekend games against Manchester and Springfield. Weve got some older guys this year that can be bigger and stronger on the puck, so we just need to play that way every night.
I dont really have a number thing in my head for what I want to achieve this year. I just want to improve all the time. With all the guys in the AHL its a great opportunity for guys to show they can play, and just keep improving. I just push ahead every day and try to learn from the guys around me.
Its clear to anyone watching that Cunningham has made some big improvements heading into this season, and hes now making a name for himself along with all the other recognizable ones dotting the P-Bruins roster.