This time of year in free agency preparations it is always interesting to see when teams announce plans for the future. The Boston Bruins did yesterday:
Sweeney on Paul Postma, Kenny Agostino, Brian Gionta and Austin Czarnik:— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) May 31, 2018
“Postma, Agostino, Gionta will not be offered contracts...I think Austin [Czarnik] is intrigued by what may exist elsewhere. We certainly haven’t closed the door. We don’t think he has as well.”
Paul Postma is big and a RH shot, he’s never really caught on in the NHL but as a 7/8 type guy he wouldn’t be a bad option at all, though he might find a better situation or role somewhere else to try and be someone’s “Chad Ruhwedel” type of signing. The Penguins already have one Ruhwedel and adding Postma is overkill there.
Kenny Agostino is a former Pens pick - involved in the Jarome Iginla trade! In 2016-17 he put up 83 points (24g+59a) in 65 AHL games, but the success hasn’t translated to many NHL opportunities. He’s played 14 NHL games in the last 3 seasons for 3 different teams (Calgary, St. Louis, Boston) and never caught on anywhere he has been.
The intriguing name on this list, however, isn’t Postma or Agostino, it’s Austin Czarnik.
The diminutive forward was undrafted but a top college free agent in spring 2015 after finishing a great career at Miami (Ohio). He chose Boston and while he hasn’t broken through to be a full-time NHL player, he sure isn’t far off from his hockeydb.
Due to his age and lack of NHL games, Czarnik qualified for unrestricted free agency. He’s dominated the AHL, basically being a point-per-game player since he entered it in 2015. His NHL stats are unimpressive, and for what it’s worth Czarnik did get lost in the shuffle by some of his peers like Danton Heinen, Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk and Sean Kuraly who all jumped Czarnik at one point or another for NHL playing time.
Add in Ryan Donato and Peter Cehlarik as other young players looking to break through and it’s easy to see why Czarnik will consider options outside of Boston moving forward. They have a lot of great young players and his NHL opportunities have been limited in the past, and probably would be limited in the future.
Czarnik was pretty good in his biggest NHL sample (2016-17) with an impressive 54.4% Corsi For% and the 13 points (5g+8a) in 49 games. His zone starts were balanced too, suggesting he doesn’t need to be sheltered or start extensively in an offensive role.
General manager Jim Rutherford told the PG’s Jason Mackey he wants to get more scoring for their 4th line just last week.
“I think we will probably look at getting a little more balance throughout the whole lineup,” Rutherford said. “We want to make sure we have the four lines that can produce. We may be able to do that from within, depending on how it gets structured.”
A guy like Czarnik is how you get a better 4th line, his comparison (from 2016-17) to Tom Kuhnhackl (2017-18) shows a player much more likely to help a team, via the SKATR Comparison.
If the Pens want a better 4th line, they need to stop using guys like Kuhnhackl and Carter Rowney who add virtually nothing but the perception of being a good penalty killer. And the word “perception” is used because the Pens allowed 9.14 goals/60 with Kuhnhackl killing penalties this season, with all the other regular PK forwards in the 6-7 GA range.
Use a 4th line of Zach Aston-Reese, Riley Sheahan and Czarnik and you’ll get scoring. Saddle it with players like Kuhnhackl and you’re not going to get much.
The NHL is all about finding the next star from an unlikely place, and take a look at Czarnik’s hockeydb and it looks a lot like this career so far, doesn’t it? Extremely great scoring at the AHL level, not much of a chance in the NHL. Also, this player is about 5’9 and a right handed forward and is the same age at this point below as Czarnik is now...
This resume belongs to Jonathan Marchessault who would leave Tampa that summer and turn into a 30-goal scorer for Florida in 2016-17. While Czarnik (probably) doesn’t have that type of high-end ceiling or a high likelihood of ever being a top NHL level scorer....It’s easy to see that sometimes players can slip through the cracks until they get a chance.
All Czarnik needs is the opportunity. If the price is right, the Penguins would be a great spot to give him a full-time job and from there see if Czarnik can play himself up the lineup or take advantage of an injury to get some shifts with a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin type and see what happens.
Pittsburgh is a high-skill team, but any team can always add more. Czarnik is young, should be relatively cheap and seems like a pretty good bet for some smart NHL team to make and it’ll be interesting to see who that team is next month.