Preseason reps are important for young players trying to crack the Boston Bruins roster, and Matthew Poitras made the most of his opportunity Sunday night.
The 2022 second-round pick scored a goal and added an assist as part of a strong debut during Boston's 3-0 victory over the New York Rangers in the preseason opener at TD Garden.
It was Poitras who got the Bruins on the board first. He scored on the power play in the opening period with a wrist shot that beat Rangers goalie Jonathan Quick.
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Poitras also picked up an assist on Jake DeBrusk's second-period goal. The 19-year-old center got the puck and made a quick decision to find DeBrusk, who capitalized on the scoring chance.
Overall, it was an impressive all-around performance from Poitras. In addition to his goal and assist, he won seven of 12 faceoffs and featured prominently on special teams by playing 1:20 on the power play and 1:51 on the penalty kill.
"I felt pretty good," Poitras told reporters after the game. "It's a lot different than what I'm used to. It's faster. Guys are bigger. I felt better as the game went on and got more confident with the puck."
Poitras was No. 4 when we ranked the top 10 Bruins prospects in July -- a few weeks after the 2023 NHL Draft. He's coming off a fantastic second season for the OHL's Guelph Storm during which he tallied a career-high 95 points (16 goals, 79 assists) in 63 games. His 79 assists ranked second among all OHL players.
The young center isn't eligible for the AHL right now, so he'll either make the Bruins roster or go back to the OHL for the 2023-24 campaign. What are the chances Poitras actually makes the B's roster? He's probably a long shot right now. He's a talented prospect with an exciting future and projects to be an NHL regular, but he has never played above the OHL. Like most forwards his age, he still has plenty of room for improvement defensively.
"For me, they've told me my D-zone stuff -- to play at the next level you gotta be reliable and be able to be trusted on the ice and taking draws in your own end," Poitras said. "So I'm just trying to be hard on pucks, get body positioning and be in the right area for the D if they need me coming up the middle. Just keep supporting the D and be strong down low and being physical."
One of the adjustments players must make when transitioning to the NHL is dealing with the physicality and speed of the action. It's way more intense than anything players like Poitras face in junior hockey.
"The hits along the wall hurt a bit more and they drain your energy a bit more," Poitras said. "That's the main thing I noticed, but I felt good out there."
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One of the encouraging aspects of Poitras' debut was that he didn't look out of place. Even against stronger and faster competition, he was still able to consistently make the right plays and competed hard. That's what you want to see from a young player trying to earn a roster spot.
“He competes on draws, he competes for loose pucks, not timid at all in any area,” Montgomery said of Poitras in his postgame press conference Sunday. “There’s one play in the second period where he dove down to win a battle and he got low and he won that battle and then he drove by someone to take a hit. He could’ve taken a hit – he took a glimpse of a hit, and, again, a sign of an elusive player that they didn’t get a big piece of him. Those kind of plays show me his competitive fire and that he wants the puck.”
Poitras does have a chance to make the team. The Bruins need more offensive skill in their lineup, especially after losing so much scoring firepower in the offseason. His playmaking skill and ability to win faceoffs are impressive.
But there's a lot of competition for the bottom-six forward spots in camp. John Beecher, for example, is more NHL-ready than Poitras and has a decent chance to win the fourth-line center role. Poitras will really need to stand out to stick with the NHL club in October.
“It’s a big challenge,” Montgomery said of Poitras making the team out of camp. “Because it’s a man’s league out there. He didn’t see the NHL tonight. It’s a really good start, but that’s what he needs to do. He played a really good game and he’s going to get another game. If he keeps playing, he’ll get rewarded. It would be a pleasant surprise if he was able to do it for us.”