For Bruins to be at their best, Matt Poitras needs to stay in NHL ranks

Bruins

“He’s a hockey player. He competes. He believes in himself.”

Boston Bruins center Matthew Poitras, right, celebrates with goaltender Linus Ullmark after the team's win against the Anaheim Ducks in an NHL hockey game Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif.
Matt Poitras scored two goals during Boston’s win over the Ducks on Sunday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 COMMENTARY 

Matt Poitras defied the odds last month, going from a roster-bubble candidate destined for another stint in junior hockey to a fixture in Boston’s lineup.

But breaking camp with the NHL roster following a strong preseason offered no guarantee that Poitras could unpack his spare suitcase on hand for a trek back to Guelph, Ontario.

Boston was still afforded nine games to see if Poitras had the mettle (and strength) required to withstand the gauntlet this is the NHL’s regular-season slate. Once that extended trial run wraps, the Bruins can either burn the first year Poitras’ entry-level contract and keep him in Boston all season — or ship him back to the OHL.

The Bruins don’t need to make a call on their promising pivot for another four games. But the 19-year-old forward might have made the decision for them with his breakthrough outing against the Ducks on Sunday night.

There is no one set script to follow when it comes to carving out a role in the NHL ranks as a teenager. Each player’s journey differs, with varying hurdles presenting themselves in the form of advanced competition, punishing play, and a frantic travel schedule that saps the strength from the legs of even the springiest young skaters.

Earlier this month Don Sweeney mentioned then-rookie David Pastrnak’s two-tally game against the Flyers on Jan. 10, 2015 as the validation Boston needed to keep him up long-term. Milan Lucic believed a Gordie Howe hat trick achieved in Los Angeles during his fourth career game proved he belonged. 

And on his first West Coast road trip, Poitras helped Boston improve to 5-0-0 with a two-goal salvo in the span of 3:49 against Anaheim.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Poitras said postgame. “Just seeing the puck go in the net, I was really excited. I don’t really know what I did. Kind of blacked out a little bit. Just super excited and super happy. It’s a surreal feeling.”

Poitras hasn’t really missed a step since the league calendar has flipped to the regular season. Over the last 30 years, only four Bruins have recorded their first multi-goal game at a younger age than Matt Poitras (19 years, 226 days):

David Pastrnak (18 years, 230 days)
Phil Kessel (19 years, 107 days)
Patrice Bergeron (18 years, 172 days
Sergei Samsonov (19 years, 164 days)

Good company to be in.

Through five games with the Bruins, Poitras is now up to three points (two goals, one assist) while averaging 14:09 of ice time per contest. He’s slotted all over Boston’s lineup over this early stretch, building a strong rapport next to Morgan Geekie on the team’s middle-six unit.

Sunday’s win served as the strongest endorsement yet that Poitras warrants a full-time spot with the Bruins, even at his age.

But Poitras’ elevation into a full-time NHLer shouldn’t just be a case of Boston rewarding a rookie for an impressive nine-game stretch. The Bruins should keep Poitras around because … well, they’re a whole lot better when the teenager is in the lineup.

In a season where question marks have lingered over the Bruins’ scoring capabilities and their standing as a viable contender in the post-Bergeron era, Poitras has offered some unexpected (and much-needed) clarity.

Poitras was finally rewarded with tangible production on Sunday night, but the young forward has been one of the best Bruins out of the gate when it comes to consistently generating chances in the offensive zone.

Even with a muted performance against the San Jose Sharks last Thursday, Poitras is tied with Pastrnak for the most high-danger scoring chances on the team with six over 59:55 of 5v5 ice time.

Of his eight shots on goal, five have come from the low slot.

His poise with the puck and passing ability are evident whenever he hops over the boards. But his willingness to engage down low and hover around Grade-A ice has paved the way for steady production out of the gate, as was the case with his two tallies against the Ducks.

“If you’re going to produce in this league, you’ve got to be willing to play inside the dots,” Jim Montgomery said of Poitras. “That’s what I love about him. Whether it’s one-on-one battles in corners or getting in the hard areas, he’s willing to go to the areas where you’re going to have success.”

Poitras has been more than just an early bright spot on a Bruins roster trying to generate consistent offense. He’s already established himself into a strong play-driver, especially alongside two wingers who need to serve as key middle-six cogs in Jake DeBrusk and Geekie.

During that trio’s 10:21 of 5v5 ice time against Anaheim, the Bruins outscored the Ducks, 2-0, and generated an impressive 11-1 edge in scoring chances. Getting DeBrusk going will give Boston some added scoring punch, but Poitras’ chemistry with Geekie has also been noteworthy.

Tabbed as a breakout candidate with Boston given his strong offensive totals under limited minutes last season with Seattle, Geekie has started to find his stride next to the Bruins’ rookie. During their 46 minutes together in 2023-24, the Bruins have outscored teams, 4-1, and held a 13-5 edge in high-danger scoring chances. 

If Poitras can continue to mesh with Geekie and DeBrusk, it allows Montgomery to keep a hefty third line of Charlie Coyle, Trent Frederic, and James van Riemsdyk intact — while also opening the door for Boston to assemble a potent top line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Pavel Zacha. 

Few believed that Poitras was ready for NHL reps this season, with the playmaking center serving more as hope for the future amid a bleak landscape of center depth in Boston.

But with Poitras, the future appears to be now.

The Bruins should have no objections.

“He’s a hockey player,” Montgomery said. “He competes. He believes in himself. He’s always willing to hang on to pucks and make plays that are going to produce offense.”


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