If Georgii Merkulov wants to have more than just a cup of tea in the NHL before fellow Boston Bruins rookie Matt Poitras returns from the World Junior Championship, he’ll need to do more than get scoring chances.
By no means do the Boston Bruins not want Merkulov to use the scoring skill that has earned him his NHL debut on Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden.
“Probably a combination of those both,” Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said when asked if Merkulov’s recent hot streak for the Providence Bruins or opportunities arising on his roster was why Merkulov was called up to the NHL on Friday. “We want to score more, but we don’t want to score more by sacrificing our team defense — and that message has been made clear to Merck.”
The 23-year-old, 5-foot-11, 176-pound forward, who was a 2022 undrafted NCAA free agent signing by the Boston Bruins, has been ripping it up for the Providence Bruins. He has ten goals and eight assists in his last 12 games and, as of Thursday night, was fourth in the AHL scoring this season with 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists) in 31 games. That’s following a rookie season in which the Ryazan, Russia native, had 24 goals and 31 assists in 67 games. That was following his one season playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes with 20 goals and 14 assists in 36 games.
The Boston Bruins are averaging 3.09 goals per game through 33 games this season but have only scored over three goals 12 times this season, with the 4-1 win over the Sabres on Wednesday being the latest. Prior to that, the Bruins were outscored 14-7 in their previous four games. So clearly, they want Georgii Merkulov to light the lamp, but they don’t want his mistakes to lead to their opponents doing the same.
“The reason he got called up is because of his 200-foot game, not because he’s scoring a lot, because on our team, we have guys that are paid a lot of money to score goals, right?” Montgomery pointed out. “And he’s got to come and support that and be part of what we’re trying to build as a team. But it’s exciting for him because here he gets the opportunity to play his first NHL game, and that’s exciting, and that’s good energy to bring to the group as well.”
Following practice on Friday, Merkulov made it clear to the media that he’s on the same page with the Bruins.
“The coaches and staff addressed some of the things that I have to work on down in Providence — hunting pucks, be better defensively, and keep producing, too, be better on the forechecks, and also down low defensively,” Merkulov said.