(Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)

By: Andrew Bluestein | Follow Me On Twitter / X @adbblue

The Boston Bruins have dealt with numerous injuries on the blueline this season. Because of that, they have used a total of nine different defensemen and haven’t had a consistent lineup of pairings on the back end. The latest defenseman to suffer an injury is Derek Forbort, who was placed on LTIR on December 23rd. 

He has already missed the required ten games and is eligible to return, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time soon. Head Jim Montgomery said he’s still far off from returning to the lineup, but that bodes the question: when he can return, what happens with the defense pairings? 

Rookie Mason Lohrei has shown signs of improvement defensively lately and has proved he can play consistently in the NHL, appearing in 22 games. However, he has been benched at times throughout the season, and it happened again in Thursday night’s 6-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he played just 8:29 and was a -3. Lohrei started the season with AHL affiliate Providence and has had a couple of stints in the minors this season.

Ian Mitchell is another guy who’s been up and down from the AHL this season and has found himself in and out of the Boston lineup. The 24-year-old defenseman has proven he can play at the NHL level, appearing in 13 games for the Bruins. However, he’s only averaging 15:18 of time on ice per game. He also seldomly kills penalties, averaging just 36 seconds of shorthanded time on ice. Mitchell is currently assigned to the AHL in Providence. 

Parker Wotherspoon has also gone back and forth from the AHL to the NHL this year and currently finds himself as Boston’s sixth defenseman. He’s drawn into the lineup just twice in the team’s last five games since Matt Grzelcyk’s return from injury. Wotherspoon has appeared in ten games for the Bruins this season, has been a solid stay-at-home defenseman, and has seen his minutes increase from his first stint in the NHL this season. 

So, who becomes the odd man out on the Blue line once Forbort is healthy? There’s still plenty of time for Jim Montgomery to make that decision, but if things are trending the way they have been, it would make the most sense to keep Wotherspoon up as the sixth defenseman. He’s earned it with his solid stay-at-home style of defense and his ability to kill penalties. Lohrei has been good and has improved, but it’s clear Montgomery still wants him to improve at certain things. It also doesn’t make much sense to keep him up in the NHL if he’s not going to play regularly. 

Derek Forbort has been one of the best penaltykillers for the Bruins during his time with the organization. This season, he leads the team in shorthanded time on ice per game at 3:43. That is also fourth in the league in that category. Although the Bruin’s penalty kill has been solid in Forbort’s absence, it’s clear his presence is missed. He’s one of the best shot blockers on the team and does a good job protecting the front of the net. When he is ready to return, he’s likely to slot back into the lineup.