The best move the Boston Bruins could make right now to help rookie center Matt Poitras get back on track would be to send him to the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championships.
The 19-year-old rookie pivot sat out another game on Friday night as the Bruins continued to apply a load management plan to help Poitras develop and adjust to the mental and physical rigors of the NHL.
“As planned,” coach Jim Montgomery said of Poitras’ absence. “With the maintenance plan we’ve put in place for him for load management.”
The Boston Bruins have not ruled out sending Poitras to arguably one of the most exciting sports events on the calendar that kicks off on Dec. 26 in Gothenburg, Sweden, and runs until Jan. 5
“We’re not making a decision on that right now,” Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery replied when asked if Poitras could be headed overseas to join his Canadian hockey compatriots. “No decision.”
If Montgomery had been asked that question directly a month ago, he – and, for that matter, Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney – would’ve likely answered with a firm ‘No’ before moving on to the next question as Montgomery successfully did in his pre-game media availability prior to the Bruins’ 5-4 shootout win over the New York Islanders on Friday night. Poitras will be back in the lineup on Saturday night when the Boston Bruins welcome the New York Rangers to TD Garden. However, could this be his last game with the Bruins until after the New Year?
Hockey Canada announced their roster for the World Juniors last Wednesday and took off for Sweden the following day. According to two sources already on the ground in Gothenburg, there is ‘serious buzz’ that Team Maple Leaf could be adding Matt Poitras to a roster that already has four players who have gained NHL experience this season. The expectation is that the Bruins will give Hockey Canada an answer by tomorrow, and if the 19-year-old Whitby, Ontario, gets the green light, Poitras could be on his way to Sweden by Monday.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Bruins have allowed a top prospect with NHL games under his belt to go to the prestigious tournament that has been the launching pad for so many NHL superstars. David Pastrnak went to the 2015 tournament in Toronto and Montreal and had seven points in five games. A month later, Pastrnak became a full-time NHLer and has never looked back. Just last season, the Bruins also allowed top prospect Fabian Lysell to go north to Halifax and Moncton for the 2023 tournament, but things didn’t go well for Lysell as he had no points in seven games and still hasn’t caught on at the NHL level.
As longtime NHL analyst and my co-host on ‘The Eye Test Podcast,’ Pierre McGuire, pointed out on Friday, experiences like Lysell’s aren’t usually the case for players in Poitras’ situation. A trip to Sweden and a chance to dominate in a pressure tournament on a grand stage like the World Juniors could be just what the doctor ordered for Poitras.
“I’ve been around the World Juniors since 1989; it doesn’t stifle players, it only helps them,” McGuire said. “If you watch Matt Poitras play right now, he’s not nearly comfortable enough playing in an NHL environment. He’s not strong enough on the puck; he’s not strong enough on the backcheck; he used to dominate the puck below the hash marks, but he’s not doing that anymore, and you can see defensively, he’s getting pushed around; he’s getting roughed up.
So now, you let him go over there – he’s playing on an elite Canadian team; they’re not a little bit good, they’re really good – he’s going to play elite minutes if he goes.”
In the last two games Poitras has played, he’s struggled mightily on the defensive side of the puck, and as a result, his minutes have dwindled. He even found himself benched for the third period of the Bruins’ 5-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes a week ago, despite the Bruins being down a center after Pavel Zacha was injured in the first period. Montgomery moved Trent Frederic to center again, and with Zacha now on injured reserve with an upper-body injury, it was Frederic in the middle again on Friday night and Poitras watching from the UBS Arena press box.
The Boston Bruins have three games left after tonight’s tilt with the Rangers. They host the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday and then play a back-to-back on the road, at Winnipeg on Friday and at Minnesota on Saturday before they break for the holiday Dec. 24-27. The Bruins will then play five games over the course of the World Junior Championship. So at best, between now and the end of the tournament on Jan. 5, Poitras will play four games as part of his load management.
This puck scribe agrees with McGuire. Let the kid go play more games and more frequently in Sweden, build his confidence back up, and gain experiences so many pro players credit for their future success.