Bruins give Austin Czarnik big opportunity with Ryan Spooner shelved
Austin Czarnik, all 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds of him, has been trying to prove he belongs for his entire hockey career. He’s been able to confirm it every step along the way so far, but the jury is still out whether he can be an everyday player in the NHL.
But with Ryan Spooner out with a concussion, Czarnik is getting another shot, starting last night against the Red Wings, centering the third line with Frank Vatrano and Jimmy Hayes. After the morning skate, Czarnik felt ready to bring the best of what he had already shown so far, and a little bit more than that.
“For me it was hard coming up. I was cut from pretty much every Triple-A team pretty much because I was too small. It’s been a hard process for me. I always had just one person who’s believed in me and that’s how I’ve gotten through my whole career pretty much,” Czarnik said. “(The Bruins) believe in me right now and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to show what I have again. I think now, I’ve played simple so much this year, I can’t start to try to make plays and realize what plays I have to make and not just try to get the puck in. I’m going to try and create space for my linemates.”
Going into last night, Czarnik had 5-8-13 totals and was minus-10 in 42 career NHL games. After suffering a fracture in his foot Feb.?4 against Toronto, Czarnik was on injured reserve for six games before being sent back to Providence upon being cleared to play. He had a goal and four assists in his five games in Providence.
“I think just getting in those games was important. I played five down there, so I was just focusing on faceoffs, focusing on defensive zone and I think over the last two weeks it’s gone well down there, so I’m happy with it,” said Czarnik, 24. “I’m comfortable in the middle. I think that’s where I’m supposed to be in my career and being back with Frank’s good because we have chemistry from the last two years. I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Interim coach Bruce Cassidy coached Czarnik in Providence last season and played him exclusively at center. He’s played both wing and center with the Bruins. Cassidy did not go so far as to say he can only be successful in the middle, but he does believe Czarnik is a better player there. More importantly, Cassidy said Czarnik needs to bring the energy level to every shift.
“Czarnie’s a guy who, when he’s finding his game, he’s got good energy. He’s on the puck, he’s creating turnovers with his foot speed and his hockey IQ,” Cassidy said. “He and Vatrano certainly have some chemistry. And he’s been good in situational hockey for us. His (penalty kill) work has been pretty solid. The power play, he was up high before and I think he’s better suited down low making plays around the net, so we’re going to give that a go. He’s going to get to play in all situations, so hopefully he’s ready to respond. He’s been up here so he should know what to expect in that regard.”
Cassidy said he’s seen some growth in Czarnik’s game since last season.
“His understanding of the game is better. He’s playing against men. In the American league, he’s playing against big guys and energetic guys, but they’re not men yet and as a smaller guy he’s had to learn what he can get away with and what he can’t. So this time around we’re going to find out what he’s learned in that area,” Cassidy said. “But like a lot of guys, it’s about getting reps playing with and against top end, world class talent. And he’s a smart guy. He’s got good hockey IQ and he thinks the game well. It has to be one of his best assets.”