February 2, 2011

Arniel making huge strides in second pro season

Providence Bruins forward Jamie Arniel. (Getty)

That Jamie Arniel is having an All-Star caliber season in the AHL for the Providence Bruins is no real surprise.

As one of the more versatile players in the Boston Bruins organization, Arniel has elevated his game in his second pro season, scoring 16 goals and 30 points in 46 games with Providence, while earning several callups to the big club and playing his first NHL contest. His latest reward for the positive year he’s having was a trip to the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic in Hershey, Pa. as a replacement for defenseman Steve Kampfer, who has found a home in Boston.

"(The All-Star Game) was definitely a lot of fun," he told hockeyjournal.com after returning to Providence from the festivities. "I was a little nervous going in; not sure what to expect, but the guys were great, we ended up winning the game and I had a pretty good time."

Arniel finished second in the skating event at the AHL Skills Competition, and then followed that up with a goal and an assist in the Eastern Conference’s 11-8 victory.

"We didn’t have a whole lot of down time," he said. "We did some community events and then had the skills competition on Sunday. We had a post-skills comp party after and my parents came down (from Ontario), so it was great to spend some time with them."

Arniel’s speed and hockey sense have made him one of coach Rob Murray’s go-to guys in Providence this season where he’s already eclipsed his season totals from a year ago.

"The biggest difference we’ve seen in Jamie from last year is that he’s finding the back of the net," Murray said earlier this season. "With his speed, he has the ability to generate scoring chances and get the puck into situations where he can score. Last season, he wasn’t using that speed as effectively as he is now. To his credit, he’s not only getting himself in position offensively, but he’s finishing off those chances."

Arniel acknowledges the off-season work he did to improve his strength and conditioning. Always blessed with the excellent set of wheels, he had difficulty at times fighting through some of the traffic and defensive schemes as a rookie. This year, it hasn’t been an issue, and he made a significant impression on the team in camp.

"It was definitely big for me," Arniel said when asked about the overall camp experience in September. "I worked hard over the summer and pushed myself more than I ever had. I ended up sticking around, and when the team sent me down, they told me that I stayed a lot longer than they had thought I would. They said that I had a chance to be a depth player for the Bruins this season, so that provided a lot of motivation for me to start."

Murray said that Arniel’s consistency this season is what allowed him to make his NHL debut and flourish in his role as Providence’s top two-way player.

"Last year, we could see that Jamie had the skill but he left us wanting more," said the coach. "That has not been an issue this season. He’s playing as well as anyone."

The Bruins traded up in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft to secure the OHL standout because they recognized a value pick in the Kingston native. The nephew of former B’s forward and current Columbus Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel entered the 2007-08 campaign with high expectations, but, he got off to a slow start and was traded to the Sarnia Sting in December, never really getting it going in his draft season. The B’s pounced, and in a bit of irony, made the deal with Columbus to secure Arniel’s services with the 97th choice.

Three years later, the 21-year-old is in the books as having played in the NHL, while his uncle is behind the bench with the team that could have selected him.

"Everybody’s pretty excited," Arniel said of his family’s outlook this year. "My grandfather (Doug Arniel) is really happy. He has a son who is an NHL coach after having a good career as a player, and his grandson played in his first NHL game. My father’s pretty excited, too— it’s something that everyone in the family can take pride in."

Arniel has a tough chore ahead to crack a Boston lineup that has several players who bring a similar mix of speed and skill that he possesses, but one year ago, he watched Brad Marchand get an opportunity to play with the big club. Now, Marchand is among the team’s up-and-coming young stars along with Arniel’s Providence teammate Kampfer, with the clear message being sent to the others on the farm that the organization will reward work and performance with an NHL opportunity.

"The Bruins just don’t give people spots—you have to earn them," said Arniel. "Some teams give young players spots on their team and then they have to prove they belong. In Boston, you have to put in the work to earn the chance to be there. "

If Marchand’s and Kampfer’s success has been any indication, then by the 2011-12 season, the Bruins could have another young impact performer in Arniel.

"It was great playing in my first NHL game but I want more," he said. "I know what I need to do to play at that level and so the rest of this year is an opportunity for me to keep doing the little things so that I can take that next step and hopefully stay in Boston."