Now that Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery has made good on his word to more strictly manage Matt Poitras’ ice time, a greater sense of trajectory for the latter’s rookie NHL season is emerging.
The 19-year-old center has now played 15 regular-season games and is settling into a third-line role between Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen, as evidenced by a recent stretch of four games in which Poitras saw diminished powerplay and overall ice time, mitigated somewhat by the Bruins’ Nov. 14 romp in Buffalo.
By simple math – which we know not to trust in predicting hockey seasons, much less careers – Poitras’ 4-4-8 scoring in 15GP would project out to 22-22-44 totals for 2023-24.
Drafted 54th overall (second round) in the 2022 NHL Draft, Matt Poitras represents a potential success for Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney in his second-round attempts to discover a successor for Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci (both second-round picks themselves).
Sweeney has used first-round picks for centermen, having drafted Johnny Beecher (30th overall in 2019), but like 25-year-old Trent Frederic (29th overall in 2016), the 22-year-old Beecher was tabbed for depth. Beecher took a major step this season, succeeding journeyman Tomas Nosek but, more to the point Sean Kuraly, as the rangy, hard-skating, checking center that the Boston Bruins want in their bottom six.
Frederic’s ruggedness is a little more in the mold of Lyndon Byers, a subtly skilled right winger who broke in with the Fall ’83 class of Geoff Courtnall, Greg Johnston and Doug Kostynski. A very tough customer whose late ’80s conquests included Clark Gillies and Craig Berube, Byers gravitated so heavily toward an enforcer’s role that his hands were chronically banged up and his hockey potential never quite fulfilled.
Through his own thick and thin so far, Frederic has proven himself a disciplined center-turned-wing who is willing and ready to answer the call but also one benefiting from the modern era of detailed coaching/management in a league that, through expansion, has leveraged playoff-type discipline into the regular season.
Those somewhat successful draft picks notwithstanding, Sweeney has hit on Poitras in a manner that he had not with Jack Studnicka in 2017 (second round, 53rd overall). Studnicka seemed to be developing normally in Providence but, when recalled to Boston, failed miserably, and upon reassignment needed to work hard to rebuild confidence.
The Studnicka era ended in Boston with his Oct. 27, 2022, trade to Vancouver for 24-year-old goaltender Michael Dipietro and 20-year-old Swedish defense prospect Jonathan Myrenberg. Sweeney commented in the press that the Bruins were in part to blame for Studnicka’s failure to successfully launch his NHL career as a Bruin. He has yet to establish himself in Vancouver either.
The quest to farm up long-term replacements for one of Bergeron or Krejci began before Sweeney’s tenure as Boston Bruins GM. His predecessor, Peter Chiarelli, also tried to get Boston’s future ducks in a row by drafting centers Ryan Spooner (45th overall in 2010) and Alex Khokhlachev (40th overall in 2011) in the second round.
Chiarelli’s picks had a tough roster to crack in that the Bruins were 2011 Stanley Cup champions and loaded down the middle. Spooner’s NHL opportunity didn’t materialize until Krejci went out for several weeks of the 2014-15 season with a hip injury.
Although Spooner’s career NHL stats are fairly comparable to what Poitras has done in a much shorter sample, the Bruins decided during the 2017-18 season that they were done watching the former wear out his “10-to-2” skating maneuver. (Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner also skates this way frequently except better. The move is to turn the upper body toward the middle of the rink while continually aiming the skate blades north-south. The player in flight shows pass but only to slow the checker and preserve speed up ice.)
Little did the maneuver produce the offense it promised in development camp when Spooner used it to turn defense prospects into pylons. In the NHL, however, neither the puck nor Spooner wound up at the net. Instead, he wound up in New York in the deadline package that briefly brought Rick Nash to Boston. Two more NHL teams later, Spooner took the move to Europe in 2019 and has become a KHL success.
Ditto Khokhlachev, who most famously suited up for a depleted Bruins squad in the 2016 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium. It was one of only nine NHL games for the malcontent, who went back to Russia after two frustrating seasons in the AHL (51 points in 65GP and 43 points in 61GP).
Khokhlachev’s plight was reminiscent of that of Sergei Zinovjev, the Bruins third-round pick in the 2000 draft who would play 10 NHL games and four AHL games before publicly complaining that the AHL is not as good as the pro hockey available in Russia. The 2003-04 Bruins were also loaded, but to no surprise Zinovjev went home and became a very good player in the KHL for many years, later becoming a GM.
What can we say, though, about Poitras at this point?
It is a long season of ebb and flow, and the nature of Poitras’ success appears to have a buildable foundation. He competes and, while overmatched at times, is overwhelmed by neither the competition nor the occasion.
He has shown playmaking instincts that, while yielding inconsistent fruit, have produced in a manner that promises more. Poitras seems physically and mentally sturdy, a creative talent whose instincts are not directed at skirting the hard parts of hockey but rather getting better at those details.
Forward lines are bound to change again, given the Boston Bruins are now skating a top line, two third lines and a fourth. Meantime, as Poitras is carefully managed and gets physically stronger and quicker, the NHL still seems 15 games in to be the right league for him to continue his development.
Plus, the kid is enjoying this joy ride and he’s a joy to watch.
Below is an abbreviated recap of Matt Poitras’ age 19, rookie NHL season (date, opponent: G-A-P +/-, TOI (PP TOI), faceoffs won-lost):
Oct. 11 vs. Chicago: 0-1-1 +1, 14:50 (2:52 PP), 5-2
Oct. 14 vs. Nashville: 0-0-0 E, 14:04 (1:59 PP), 2-5
Oct. 19 at San Jose: 0-0-0 -1, 12:18 (0:30 PP), 4-5
Oct. 21 at Los Angeles: 0-0-0 +1, 13:25 (0:51 PP), 5-6
Oct. 22 at Anaheim: 2-0-2 +2, 16:07 (1:22 PP), 5-7 (GTG, GWG, 1st star)
Oct. 24 at Chicago: 1-0-1 +1, 16:02 (2:30 PP), 4-5
Oct. 26 vs. Anaheim: 0-1-1 E, 15:22 (0:36 PP), 5-5
Oct. 28 vs. Detroit: 0-0-0 +1, 16:07 (1:54 PP), 2-6
Oct. 30 vs. Florida: 0-0-0 -1, 18:42 (0:12 PP), 2-6
Nov. 2 vs. Toronto: 0-0-0 E, 16:44 (0:27 PP), 2-1
Nov. 4 at Detroit: 1-1-2 E, 14:00 (1:36 PP), 1-4
Nov. 6 at Dallas: 0-0-0 E, 13:11 (1:20 PP), 3-6
Nov. 9 vs. NYI: 0-0-0 E, 14:30 (0:37 PP), 4-8
Nov. 11 at Montreal: 0-0-0 -1, 12:30 (0:00 PP), 3-3
Nov. 14 at Buffalo: 0-1-1 +1, 15:07 (2:24 PP), 2-2