(Photo Credit: Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

By: Jason Cooke | Follow me on Twitter / X @cookejournalism

It all happened so fast for Matt Poitras. In the span of five months, the 19-year-old OHL standout landed a roster spot with the Boston Bruins and has yet to look back. The 2022 second-round pick got a hot start in Boston, showcasing his raw offensive talent while posting 11 points in his first 24 games as a Bruin.

However, what would have been Poitras’ 25th game anchoring a third-line center role for the Black and Gold took a turn. Instead of skating alongside his usual linemates Trent Frederic and James van Riemsdyk, Poitras was on TD Garden’s ninth floor as a healthy scratch for a matchup against the Buffalo Sabres on December 7th.

Described as a “planned” off-day for the youngster by Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery, the scratch summed up a slow start to December for Poitras, averaging just over ten minutes of ice time in three games. Poitras regularly hit the 14-minute mark of playing time per game in November.

“It’s something we’ve been discussing, is trying to put him in situations to have a lot of success,” Montgomery said after Boston’s 3-1 loss to Buffalo. “So this was planned, he’ll be back in the lineup on Saturday. This is an opportunity for him to build some strength and rest into his program.”

Poitras and the Bruins had just concluded a stretch of eight games in 14 days with three separate road trips before returning to home ice against the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 3rd. While Poitras is acclimating himself to the grind of the NHL season, the Bruins coaching staff concluded it would be beneficial to give the rookie an off day to recover.

“I feel pretty good,” Poitras said on NESN’s Morning Bru podcast ahead of his healthy scratch against Buffalo. “The schedule is obviously hectic. We just finished three (games) in four (days) and three (games) in four (days) a couple weeks ago, so it’s a lot of games, but I’m a young guy, so I should be able to handle this level of schedule.”

Although Poitras was inserted back into the lineup the following game in Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes, he didn’t touch the ice for the entirety of the third period, logging just 8:26 of ice time. Even though the Bruins were without Pavel Zacha due to an injury suffered during the game, Montgomery shortened his bench at the center position. As a result, Frederic moved to the middle in an increased third-period role.

“It’s value in game management, something that we talk to him about and (is) still lacking in his game right now,” Montgomery said of the decision to sit Poitras down. “We are paid to win hockey games, and I’m going to go with the guys that I think are going to win us hockey games.”

While there’s no doubt Poitras’ offensive skill is NHL caliber, his 200-foot game requires some adjustments. Leading 3-1 against Arizona on Saturday, Poitras turned a puck over in the neutral zone, directly resulting in a Michael Carcone goal. Poitras fumbled a pass, making a subpar effort to recover it as Arizona transitioned to an odd-man rush.

Later in the period, Poitras may have thought he redeemed himself, making a great play that led to a Danton Heinen goal at the 10:48 mark of the second period. Poitras backchecked into the neutral zone, corralling a puck in front of the Boston bench before slipping it to Heinen for the score.

Ultimately, Poitras’ efforts on the Heinen goal weren’t enough to keep him on the ice in the third period in what was a strong message from Montgomery. While he allowed his players to be creative and have freedom with the puck, Montgomery is beginning to adopt a more defensive play style that demands 200-foot play up and down the roster. The 5’11”, 177-pound Poitras must adjust his compete level in all three zones to ensure playing time as the season progresses.

Conversely, the Bruins coaching staff needs to treat this situation carefully. Amidst a season where Boston is constantly searching for secondary scoring outlets, Poitras could soon step into a group of consistent producers for the Bruins who put the puck in the back of the net. Bruins fans were highly critical of former head coach Bruce Cassidy’s treatment of prospect Jack Studnicka, claiming the strict coaching discouraged the youngster and ultimately hampered his development. As Poitras’ ice time dwindles, it will be interesting to see how he responds. As always with recent trends, it’s not time to panic just yet: Poitras has already solidified himself as a player who can handle adversity. After all, he is only 25 games into his young career.