(Photo Credit: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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

With Matt Poitras competing in the 2024 World Junior Championships for Canada, Boston Bruins fans wondered what would happen to recent call-up Georgii Merkulov when Poitras returned from the tournament. On Saturday afternoon, Bruins fans got their answer. Ahead of the team’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden, general manager Don Sweeney announced Merkulov was assigned to the Providence Bruins and Jesper Boqvist was recalled to Boston.

The decision to send Merkulov back to Providence comes four games into his National Hockey League career, where the 23-year-old has yet to score a point. After logging 15:08 of ice time in his NHL debut against the New Jersey Devils on December 30th while anchoring a third-line role alongside Trent Frederic and James van Riemsdyk, Merkulov found himself slotted on the fourth line the past few games. As a result, the center experienced a decline in ice time, skating just 6:23 in Thursday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Merkulov’s assignment to Providence will only provide the talented forward a better opportunity to develop his skills, where he notched a 14-16-30 stat line this season.

The announcement was somewhat anticipated, as Boston’s depth at the center position has been fully displayed recently. Morgan Geekie has been playing well in the middle of Pavel Zacha and David Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle has proved to be an excellent fit with Jake DeBrusk, and Poitras is expected to return to a third-line role with Frederic and Danton Heinen. Slotting Merkulov on the fourth line is not an ideal spot for the skilled goal scorer, leaving management no choice but to return him to Providence.

To reinforce the roster, the team also recalled Boqvist to round out Jim Montgomery’s depth. He’s appeared in two games for the Black and Gold this season, posting a 10-13-23 line in Providence in the meantime. The 25-year-old forward has notable NHL experience, playing four seasons with the Devils before joining the Bruins organization. Although anything can happen, it is unlikely Boqvist will find himself in the Bruins lineup during his time with the big club.

Despite Merkulov’s highly anticipated call-up not unfolding as many fans expected, the decision to return him to the American Hockey League is by no means a punishment or an indicator that the prospect is not suited for the NHL. Instead of skating meaningless minutes for the Bruins on a fourth line, Merkulov will return to a top-six role in Providence, where he can make his case for another chance with the Bruins. And, before the regular season concludes, Merkulov will likely receive that shot.