After two frustrating seasons, Bruins’ Knight still trying to find his niche

BOSTON – The less said the better about Jared Knight’s rookie season with the Providence Bruins in 2012-13 – he played only 10 regular-season games because of a recurring hamstring injury.

In his second year in 2013-14, Knight was healthy enough to play 58 games. That’s the good news. The bad news: he managed just five goals. In one agonizing stretch, he went 35 straight games, from November to March, without scoring.

“It was a learning year,’’ Knight said wryly before Wednesday’s preseason game against Washington.

Now, as he enters the final season of his entry-level contract with the Bruins, the clock is ticking on the 22-year-old right winger, who was drafted at the top of the second round, 32nd overall, in 2010, ahead of NHL regulars Brendan Gallagher (147th overall) of Montreal and Tyler Toffoli (47th overall) of Los Angeles, as well as Boston prospect Ryan Spooner (45th overall).

After a summer of training at home in Michigan under a program put together by Bruins’ strength and conditioning guru John Whitesides, Knight believes that this is the season in which the puck starts going in for him.

“I was drafted as a goal-scorer. I still think I can score goals,’’ said the 5-foot-11, 203-pounder, who picks corners like a sniper in practice and was three for six in shootouts last season.

Last Sunday in Providence, he displayed his quick stick and hard shot, snapping a rebound past goalie Jeremy Smith that sent the water bottle atop the net flying. Knight was happy to get on the board, even in an intrasquad scrimmage.

“Good to get it over with. You have to build on it and kind of gather some confidence and bring that into the next game, too. It was definitely nice to get one out of the way, for sure,’’ he said.

A scoring drought like the one he endured last season “wears on you. It definitely makes you grip the stick a little tight,’’ he said.

While he is a decided long shot to make the Boston roster out of camp this season, a strong showing would help him reestablish himself as an NHL prospect.

Knight, who is expected to be in the Bruins’ lineup Saturday night in Detroit, got off to a solid start in his first preseason game against Washington on Wednesday.

In the first period, he got a step on a defenseman and bulled his way to the net for a shot. In the process he bowled over Caps’ netminder Braden Holtby and was penalized for goalie interference. Crashing into either the goalie or the net at the end of a rush has become something of a Knight trademark.

Skating alongside Justin Florek and Bracken Kearns, he had a glittering chance in the third period but couldn’t convert. Knight was physical on the forecheck and didn’t hesitate to barge into the dirty areas of the ice. That’s where he was – behind the Caps’ net — when he was bulldozed by big John Erskine, drawing a boarding penalty that paved the way for Zdeno Chara’s late game-winner on the power play.

That kind of play – generating an opportunity through physical play — is something that P-Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy wants to see more of from Knight. And it could be a key for Knight as he looks to carve out a niche for himself as a pro.

“Hopefully, (the injuries are) behind him and he can get into a rhythm, find his place in the lineup. He might be one of those guys where it was a certain way in junior and then he has to modify his game,’’ Cassidy said in a pre-camp conversation.

“Higher energy, force turnovers, use your body. He’s a strong guy. Be physical on the forecheck. Create some havoc with his speed and his physicality. He’s going to have to use it to create offense. Whereas in junior he was creating offense with the puck a lot, maybe now he has to do it in a different manner.

“If he could be a good two-way player that can chip in offensively, become a better 200-foot, all-around player, I think the organization would be happy with that, for now, where he’s consistently in the lineup, maybe in a third-line sort of role, get on special teams, be a 15-to-18-minute-a-night player. Then he’s making progress,” Cassidy said.

After two frustrating seasons, Knight is keeping a positive outlook. “I’m going to keep shooting the puck,’’ he said.

Said Cassidy: “We’d all love him to be a 30-goal scorer — they don’t grow on trees.’’

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