Matthew Poitras debuts as top-six center

Bruins lineup projection 3.0: Matthew Poitras debuts as top-six center originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins underwent significant changes over the offseason, which was expected after the team went all-in at the trade deadline and then fell woefully short of its goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci both retired. Taylor Hall was traded. Tyler Bertuzzi, Garnet Hathaway, Dmitry Orlov and Connor Clifton all left in free agency.

The Bruins did sign a couple veterans in the offseason, most notably a reunion with Milan Lucic, but one exciting aspect of the upcoming season is how many young players should make the Opening Night roster.

Whether it’s Matthew Poitras, Trent Frederic, John Beecher or Jakub Zboril, the Bruins are finally giving some meaningful roles to young players. And more reinforcements, including top prospect Mason Lohrei, could be on the way soon if injuries become a factor.

This season also is an important one for many veterans. Can Pavel Zacha thrive in a top-six role and produce even more offensively than last season when he set career highs in goals and assists? Can David Pastrnak score 60 goals for the second consecutive campaign? Will Jake DeBrusk play so well that the Bruins re-sign him to a long-term extension? Will Brad Marchand excel in the role of captain and extend his streak of 20-goal seasons to 11?

The Bruins won’t be as dominant as they were last season, which is to be expected after a record-breaking year with 65 wins and 135 points. But there is more than enough talent remaining on this roster for Boston to be a top regular season team and a threat in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

We’re just a few days from the opener against Connor Bedard’s Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden on Wednesday. So let’s look at our final lineup projection ahead of the regular season.


!function(){“use strict”;window.addEventListener(“message”,(function(a){if(void 0![“datawrapper-height”]){var e=document.querySelectorAll(“iframe”);for(var t in[“datawrapper-height”])for(var r=0;r<e.length;r++)if(e[r].contentWindow===a.source){var[“datawrapper-height”][t]+”px”;e[r].style.height=i}}}))}();

The best-case scenario for the Bruins in camp and the preseason was a top prospect exceeding expectations and earning a meaningful role on the Opening Night roster. Fabian Lysell was the favorite to be that guy, but instead it was Matthew Poitras.

After losing their No. 1 and No. 2 centers — Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci — to retirement in the offseason, the B’s were desperate for someone to step up at center. The fact that it was a prospect on an entry-level contract makes it even sweeter for the Bruins.

Poitras not only put up good stats in the preseason — three goals, two assists in five games — he showed remarkable poise with the puck, won over 50 percent of his faceoffs, was consistently in the right positions on the ice, and battled hard for pucks against stronger opponents. His game even drew a comparison to Toronto Maple Leafs star Mitch Marner from Brad Marchand.

“He’s earned the right to stick around for a while, that’s for sure,” Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said of Poitras after Friday’s preseason win. “He just seems to be in the right spots. He has the puck a lot because he’s always in the right support position. And when he gets the puck, he’s poised with it. He’s calm beyond his years with the puck.”

The best way to maximize Poitras’ skill set is putting him with other top-six caliber forwards. To his credit, Poitras did prove in his final preseason matchup that he’s capable of creating offense with bottom-six guys. His line with Morgan Geekie and Trent Frederic versus the Rangers last week played excellent. But it makes more sense to put him with Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk — two guys who can finish scoring chances and provide responsible defense and plenty of grit.

The Bruins will have nine games to determine if Poitras is fully ready for the NHL. After that, they must decide to keep him and burn the first year of his entry-level contract, or send him back to the OHL. He’s not eligible for the AHL right now.

Pavel Zacha and David Pastrnak have fantastic chemistry, and James van Riemsdyk is a good fit with them as a big body who can wreak havoc in front of the net and win puck battles in the dirty areas.

Poitras’ emergence allows Charlie Coyle to remain as the No. 3 center, a spot where he can impose his will against lesser competition and provide much-needed offense from the bottom six. Coyle and Frederic worked well together last season, so it makes sense to keep that duo intact with another like-minded player in Geekie.

After Patrick Brown was waived Sunday, it became pretty clear that 2019 first-round pick John Beecher had won the fourth-line center job. Beecher brings plenty of size to the ice, he’s a good penalty killer and he wins a lot of faceoffs. He’ll bring plenty of truculence, and a little more offensive upside to the fourth-line center spot compared to recent players who have played that role in Boston.

Although nothing has been announced as of this writing, it seems likely that Danton Heinen’s PTO will eventually turn into a regular contract. Heinen’s versatility, goal scoring, high hockey IQ and familiarity with Montgomery make him the strongest candidate for the extra forward spot.

Jakub Lauko appears to have made the team over A.J. Greer, who was waived Sunday.


!function(){“use strict”;window.addEventListener(“message”,(function(a){if(void 0![“datawrapper-height”]){var e=document.querySelectorAll(“iframe”);for(var t in[“datawrapper-height”])for(var r=0;r<e.length;r++)if(e[r].contentWindow===a.source){var[“datawrapper-height”][t]+”px”;e[r].style.height=i}}}))}();

The blue line is pretty straightforward. The top two pairings from last season remain intact. If’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?

Despite playing well in camp and the preseason, top prospect Mason Lohrei is likely to start in Providence, where he can play 25 minutes a night in all situations and get much-needed experience against stronger and faster competition compared to what he saw at Ohio State.

The Bruins have lots of depth on the left side of the blue line, and while you could make a case that Lohrei brings a more all-around skill set to the table than Derek Forbort, the veteran defenseman is a key part of the No. 1 penalty kill unit. If there’s an injury on the left side, or if someone’s performance drops off significantly, Lohrei should be the next man up.

Ian Mitchell played well over the last few weeks and is a little more NHL-ready than Lohrei. He could even push Kevin Shattenkirk for ice time after the ex-Lightning defenseman failed to impress since the start of camp.

The Bruins were No. 1 in goals allowed and No. 7 in shots allowed last season. Goaltending was a huge part of that success, but so was the excellent talent level and depth they had on the blue line. With most of that group returning for 2023-24, Boston should continue to be one of the league’s toughest teams to generate offense against.

Oct 3, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Mason Lohrei (6) gets set for a face-off during overtime against the <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Washington Capitals;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Washington Capitals</a> at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports


Starter: Linus Ullmark

Backup: Jeremy Swayman

Brandon Bussi played well in the preseason and camp and submitted an early “save of the year” candidate in the preseason opener against the Rangers. He has a bright future, and now must build on his stellar rookie campaign during which he finished No. 2 among all AHL goalies in save percentage. A strong 2023-24 season in Providence could help Bussi earn a backup role in Boston if the Bruins don’t bring back the Ullmark-Swayman duo for 2024-25.

But for now, the league’s top goalie tandem from the 2022-23 regular season returns. It gives the B’s a tremendous foundation to build from. Boston isn’t likely to finish as the second-highest scoring team again based on the offensive firepower it lost in the offseason, so the best path to success is defense and quality goaltending.

It would be stunning, frankly, if Ullmark repeated his Vezina Trophy-winning performance of last season when he led the league in wins, save percentage, GAA and goals saved above expected. But even a small regression for the Swedish netminder would maintain his status as a top 10 goalie for the regular season.

Swayman has the potential to take over the No. 1 role if he plays even better. The 24-year-old backup finished fourth in both save percentage and GAA last season. He was re-signed to a one-year, $3.475 million contract as a restricted free agent in the offseason.

Ullmark played a career-high 49 games last season — eight more than his previous high and 12 more than Swayman did. That large disparity was the result of Ullmark playing at an elite level consistently throughout the campaign. When a guy is playing that well, you ride the hot hand. But after Ullmark got banged up late in the season and into the playoffs, it’s probably better for the Bruins to keep the playing time as even as possible to avoid late-season injuries prior to the playoffs.

Some of these injuries are just bad luck and not the product of too much work, but it wouldn’t be surprising if we see something similar to the even 41-41 split in games played between Ullmark and Swayman in 2021-22.

As always, Ullmark and Swayman ultimately will be judged by their playoff success (or lack thereof). But for the regular season, they are the best duo in the sport.

Leave a Comment