BRIGHTON, Mass — Don’t look now, but it’s young D-man Jeremy Lauzon, of all people, that has stepped into the training camp roles normally associated with former Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
Patrice Bergeron, of course, will be named the new captain of the Bruins in the next week prior to the start of the regular season, and No. 37 is the unquestioned leader of the group. But on the ice, it’s the 23-year-old Lauzon that’s slid into a left side pairing alongside No. 1 workhorse Charlie McAvoy throughout the first few days of an abbreviated Bruins camp. It’s the big, heavy Lauzon that will be expected to step up and play a bigger role on the penalty kill along with Branon Carlo and Kevan Miller on the other side of the defensive zone.
It would be fair to say that part of the reason the Bruins parted ways with the 43-year-old Chara as a PK/shutdown defenseman specialist is because they are grooming the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Lauzon in a very similar role. Lauzon has shown he can be hard-hitting and physical, and he’s been impressive in his NHL stints with Boston over the last few years.
It’s clear the Bruins aren’t asking Lauzon to step in and be the kind of Hall of Fame presence on and off the ice that Chara was for the last 14 years in Boston. That should be obvious to anyone and would be an impossible ask.
But if the former second round pick can dole out a few licks on the ice, lean on the other team’s best players in the defensive zone and win key battles around the net while leaving the puck-moving razzle dazzle up to his partner McAvoy, that’s a combo that could certainly work for the Boston Bruins.
“We’re not asking them to replace players that left. We’re asking them to play to the best of their abilities every night and grow as players and be a better player as the year goes on,” said Bruce Cassidy of the plan with young guys like Lauzon getting auditioned for prime roles in the NHL lineup during training camp. “That’s what is in front of them right now and why we’ve partnered them with certain players that we think will compliment, and help, them get to where they need to be. That’s a bit of the plan right now and we’ll see how it goes.”
There have been plenty of breadcrumbs along the way revealing that an opportunity like this was coming for Lauzon after he’d developed into a punishing stay-at-home defenseman in Providence over the last three years. Perhaps the biggest piece of evidence was the two-year, $1.7 million contract signed a little over a year ago that pretty much guaranteed he was going to be a part of the NHL picture in Boston moving forward.
The contract came as he was in the midst of stepping up and playing well through B’s injuries on the back end last year and showing Boston Bruins management, he was ready to carve out a bigger role. Things weren’t great for him in the Toronto bubble last summer, but Lauzon had plenty of Black and Gold company in that category during a very unusual situation.
“I’m just trying to look forward to the opportunity I was going to have this year. Obviously, I’m a big body that plays hard and wins some puck battles. I think Charlie and me could be a really good pair together,” said Lauzon, who had a goal and 13 points along with a plus-22 rating for the P-Bruins last season. “We’re both guys that compete a lot and play big minutes against the other team’s big lines. That’s my goal. I want to make Charlie better and I’m going to focus on that. It’s a big opportunity and I think I’m ready for it. I’m just going to jump into it and make a good impression.”
It will be interesting to see exactly what McAvoy is capable of while consistently playing with a partner that’s a little more mobile, can recover more quickly and allows him to take calculated offensive risks a little more often.
None of this is to say that Lauzon is guaranteed the top pairing role in the Bruins lineup, of course. He’ll need to hang onto it as reports swirl that the Bruins are still interested in free agent D-man Ben Hutton. There’s every chance the B’s could chase after top offensive D-man Oliver Ekman-Larsson again should be become available on the trade market during the season.
But for now, it looks like Lauzon’s job to win in training camp based on skating with McAvoy each and every day, and that’s a testament to just how high his stock has risen in the B’s eyes over the last couple of seasons.