Points or no points, Matt Poitras is solidifying a full-time spot in Bruins’ lineup


“I think his will is very underrated. We’ve got a hockey player on our hands.”

Matthew Poitras #51 of the Boston Bruins skates against the Detroit Red Wings during the third period at TD Garden on October 28, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Red Wings 4-1.
Matt Poitras has posted five points in his first eight games with the Bruins. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

With every game that Matt Poitras etches his name into the Bruins’ stat sheet, his vacant locker in the OHL’s Guelph Storm’s dressing room gathers more and more dust.

The rookie’s three-goal salvo over two games against the Ducks and Blackhawks last week offered the most tangible evidence yet that the fresh-faced forward can finally unpack his spare suitcase on hand for a sojourn back to the junior hockey ranks. 

Saturday’s home win over the Red Wings offered no such immediate validation of Poitras’ efforts to stick in the NHL full-time. The 19-year-old pivot did not record a point over his 16:07 of ice time, winning just two of his eight faceoffs.

But based on Jim Montgomery’s postgame musings, one would think that the poised forward skated off the TD Garden ice with a pair of primary helpers.

Many unproven, raw talents in the NHL can stitch their face onto a highlight reel by way of a blistering shot or slick saucer feed.

But few youngsters can consistently pop night in and night out, especially in areas of the game that can’t be quantified via a quick glance at a statbook.

“I really liked the way he responds every time he gets tested,” Montgomery said of Poitras after Boston’s 4-1 victory over the Red Wings. “Even there was a shift where his line was out there a long time, hemmed in our end.

“I thought, ‘Oh, boy.’ He’s bent over. You could tell he was exhausted, legs were straight-legged. And then somehow he finds juice to actually create the turnover and get the puck out of the zone. His will — we see the skill, we see the smarts. But I think his will is very underrated. We’ve got a hockey player on our hands.”

The Bruins still have one more game to determine if Poitras will stick with the NHL roster all season long or return to the OHL. Boston intends to see through that entire extended trial before opting to make the call.

“We haven’t made a decision. We’re gonna wait until the ninth game,” Montgomery added. “He’s playing great.”

Given both Montgomery’s repeated praise and the evident lift that Poitras provides Boston’s reworked lineup, a permanent spot with the Bruins should come as little surprise. 

For Charlie McAvoy, it’s been Poitras’ puck-protection skills and elusiveness that have captured his eye, rather than his crisp playmaking. 

“I think that’s been the biggest thing that stands out to me is his confidence with the puck. We’ve played a lot of teams here to start that play a man-on-man style. So tonight you saw him tons of times just feel really confident with the puck, wherever he is in the offensive zone — whether he’s gonna carry it, he’s gonna hold it, protect it and wait until he sees a good play. That’s super impressive.”

Poitras’ knack for hovering around Grade-A ice and fearlessness when putting an opposing D-zone structure on its heels has paid dividends for a Bruins roster in need of a regular 5v5 scoring punch.

But the centerman has also developed a keen sense of knowing how to collapse defenses by dragging skaters out of position — setting the stage for quality chances by deferring to his seasoned teammates. 

His secondary assist on Matt Grzelcyk’s 4v4 tally on Thursday night against Anaheim offered a prime example of Poitras’ impact in the offensive zone. 

Operating up high along the offensive blue line can sometimes be a recipe for disaster, especially for a 180-pound rookie with a combined 406 pounds of heft closing in on him in Ducks skaters Cam Fowler and Ryan Strome.

But after shielding the puck away from both NHL vets, Poitras dragged Fowler and Strome out of position along the boards — ultimately curling back and lofting the biscuit back over to McAvoy before he could be knocked off the play.

Before Strome and Fowler could reset after chasing down Poitras, McAvoy set up a wide-open Grzelcyk for a one-time blast, giving Boston a 2-1 lead at the time.

Not every prolonged stretch of keep-away will yield the same results. An inevitable opposing odd-man rush or breakaway bid off a rookie miscue awaits every young player cutting their teeth in the NHL.

But at this point, the Bruins should welcome those growing pains for Poitras at the NHL level.

He has little left to prove anywhere other than the top hockey league in the world.

“He’s really good, especially for a young guy,” fellow center Pavel Zacha said of Poitras. “Being so poised with the puck in the offensive zone — making those plays and also winning puck bottles. I think for a young guy that’s really hard and he’s been showing that he can be in this league.”