The Bruins are not setting any limits on Matthew Poitras during training camp.
The 2022 second-round pick will not turn 20 years old until March 2024. He’s yet to log a game up in the pro ranks, with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting him to just two full seasons in junior hockey.
But Poitras’ relative lack of experience stands in contrast to the impressive stat lines he’s produced since getting drafted, as well as the cerebral, advanced offensive skill set that has allowed his stock to soar over the last year.
And if he’s ready to make a push for the NHL roster this fall, the Bruins are not going to get in his way.
“His hockey sense, his skill, really stand out for us,” Bruins GM Don Sweeney said of Poitras earlier this summer. “The pace of play and the strength of play against NHL players is what dictates whether a player can make that jump. It’s a big jump, but we really like his hockey IQ.”
The Bruins aren’t putting any restrictions on Poitras and his efforts to make the jump from the OHL to the NHL.
Unfortunately, the NHL and CHL (Canadian Hockey League) are a bit more rigid when it comes to Poitras’ path moving forward.
As a result of the NHL-CHL transfer agreement, prospects are not allowed to be re-assigned to the AHL until they are 20 years old, or have played four seasons. There are certain exemptions that can be granted, as is the case with Seattle Kraken forward Shane Wright this upcoming season.
But for Poitras, he’ll likely need to either earn a spot up in the NHL ranks this fall — or spend another year down in junior hockey.
Given all that he’s already proven down in the OHL, Poitras is hoping for the former over the latter.
“I think for me, obviously every year you come to any type of camp — I want to make the team, I want to impress,” Poitras said Wednesday at Warrior Ice Arena. “I’m gonna try and do my best to make it hard to send me back to juniors.”
The Bruins’ inability to draft and develop a proven top-six pivot over the past decade has stood as one of the Original Six franchise’s most glaring shortcomings, especially with both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci not getting any younger.
After operating on borrowed time for the past few years, the Bruins have few long-term solutions now that both Bergeron and Krejci have hung up their skates.
Both Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle will be pressed into top-six duties this season.
But if Boston is looking for a featured, long-term option down the middle, a dearth of internal options in the prospect pipeline will likely force Sweeney and Co. to scour the free agent or trade markets for top-six talent in the years ahead.
But a blue-chipper like Poitras offers hope that the Bruins fill one of those vacancies with homegrown talent — be it this fall or next.
Praised for his “elite brain” by Bruins assistant GM Jamie Langenbrunner, Poitras has diced up defenses during his two seasons with the OHL’s Guelph Storm. Last year, he scored 16 goals and dished out 79 assists over 63 games.
“The way he sees the ice…I mean, he still put up [79 assists] and didn’t get rewarded on most nights somehow,” Bruins player development coordinator Adam McQuaid said of Poitras. “He can make plays; I think the next step for him is to continue to get stronger, the physical development.
“He has a willingness to want to take pucks to the dirty areas, to the net. Getting stronger will allow him to do those things, so I think we’re just rounding out his game.”
Poitras may not have the size and skating ability of a Johnny Beecher, nor are his highlight reels inundated with clips of dekes and dangles like fellow prospect Fabian Lysell.
But the 6-foot center still regularly impacts the game by way of changing pace, positioning down low, and poised passing.
“You’ve seen snippets all year, every day, his ability to play in space, his ability to create space, his elusiveness,” Langenbrunner said of Poitras. “He buys time for himself. He has that knack where he can look guys off and find lanes.”
Unlike other gifted passers his age who opt to skate to the outside in search of seams, Poitras has a knack for creating those defensive faults himself by bringing the puck into Grade-A ice.
It’s a sought-after skill set, but one that could lead to plenty of punishment at the pro level.
As such, Poitras has focused most of his offseason work this summer on bulking up and honing his skating ability.
The next step is proving it out on the ice this fall, especially against elevated competition.
“I really want to make this team,” Poitras said. “It’s my dream to play in the NHL. Yeah, I have to go back to juniors if I don’t make it. But I’m just gonna try and put my best foot forward and see what happens.”
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