Matt Poitras’ first NHL season was a success.
The 19-year-old smashed his way onto the Boston Bruins roster with an exceptional training camp. He breezed past the 10-game mark, the cutoff for sending him back to the OHL without burning the first year of his entry-level contract.
He appeared in 33 games, 33 more than he and the Bruins expected. The shifty right-shot center scored five goals and 10 assists while averaging 13:24 of ice time per appearance. In October and November, Poitras was a good No. 3 center behind Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha. He showed the Bruins a future beyond Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Poitras made his teammates with the Guelph Storm anxious but realistic about a return to junior.
Poitras’ first NHL spin, however, has concluded in an unexpected and disappointing manner.
On Wednesday, the teenager underwent surgery on his right shoulder. The team estimates his recovery to be five months.
“Our medical staff made the recommendation for Matt to proceed with the surgery rather than continue playing with an unstable shoulder and risking further damage,” general manager Don Sweeney said in a statement. “Everyone involved supported the decision as to do what was best for him at this time. Matt is just starting his Bruins career and is a key part of our future.”
On Jan. 9, Poitras tried to throw a check on the Arizona Coyotes’ Sean Durzi. It did not go well. Poitras came out of the confrontation holding his right shoulder. He did not return to the game.
Poitras played in three more games: Jan. 20 against the Montreal Canadiens, Jan. 22 against the Winnipeg Jets and Jan. 25 against the Ottawa Senators. He practiced as recently as Monday.
Poitras’ shoulder injury was the latest setback in a season that started with promise. He had an assist in his NHL debut against the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 11. Poitras punched in his first and second career goals against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 22. He played a career-high 18:42 on Oct. 20 against the Florida Panthers.
But Poitras’ wheels started to grind in early December. Coach Jim Montgomery made him a healthy scratch for the first time on Dec. 7 against the Buffalo Sabres. Two nights later, Montgomery benched Poitras in the third period against the Coyotes. Following the benching, Montgomery and Poitras had a meeting to discuss what went wrong and how they would proceed.
He was back out of the lineup on Dec. 15 against the New York Islanders. The reason for that healthy scratch was because the Bruins were playing the New York Rangers the following night. Their biometric data, among other things, told them that practicing load management with the rookie would serve all parties well.
Poitras had an assist against the Rangers on Dec. 16. It was his final NHL game for 2023. The Bruins loaned Poitras to Team Canada for the World Junior Championship, partly because they believed playing with his age group would boost the center’s confidence.
It did not go as planned.
Canada fell short of the medal round with a loss to Czechia. Poitras recorded two goals and two assists in five games. Upon his return, Poitras was looking for NHL traction when he hurt his shoulder.
Poitras’ full-stop ending leaves the Bruins down two centers from the beginning of the year. Johnny Beecher, Poitras’ roommate, is currently in Providence after starting the season on the varsity roster. Ideally, the Bruins would add a center prior to the trade deadline. Their more immediate need, however, is at wing.
As for Poitras, his interrupted rookie season should be a good baseline for years to come. He projects to be a No. 2 center who could grow to play in all situations. He saw some power-play time on the No. 2 unit.
Poitras has a bright future. He just won’t see more of it with the Bruins in 2023-24.
(Photo: Jerome Miron / USA Today)