The on-ice portion of the Bruins’ training camp opened Thursday and the theme of it, for many participants, is clear.
Jobs are available.
It is often foolhardy to read into line combination on Day One of camp and most of the units were an intentional mix of veterans and young players.
But there were a couple of groupings that bear watching. One was a potential fourth line that had 22-year-old hopeful John Beecher, the B’s first round pick in 2019, between Milan Lucic and Jakub Lauko. Another interesting combo had 19-year-old Matthew Poitras, arguably the B’s best prospect at center, between David Pastrnak and Jesper Boqvist.
Lining up with Pastrnak may not have been Poitras’ welcome-to-the-NHL moment just yet, but it did get the kid’s attention.
“It was pretty cool. He’s one of the best players in the world. Any time you can skate with a guy like that, you’ve got to try and raise your compete and level of play. Obviously, I was little nervous to play on a line in practice with a player of that caliber but it was really cool,” said Poitras. “He’s a super nice guy. He came up to me and made me feel comfortable. Obviously skating with a guy like that, as young guy, I felt a little nervous. He said, ‘Don’t be nervous, just play and have a good practice.’ ”
Linking Poitras with Pastrnak was part of coach Jim Montgomery’s tendency to make chronologically diverse lines at the start of camp, but it’s also a recognition of where he thinks Poitras’ skill level could take him one day.
“He’s a high-end thinker,” said Montgomery. “He’s shown the ability to make a lot of plays. He had (79) assists in the OHL last year, almost one and a half a game. He’s a play-making center and we just wanted to see what he could do with a proven goal scorer. That’s the thinking. Just wanted to see if there’s chemistry.”
Poitras is in a tough spot. Still a teenager, he cannot play in the AHL this year so his only hope of going pro is if he makes the Boston roster, a tall task for a 19-year-old even with all the open spots. If he doesn’t make it, he’ll have to go back to his junior team in Guelph.
Poitras, who flashed his skill in the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo last weekend, hopes to take the next step in his career.
“The goal for me is to just to try and make the Bruins. It would be a dream come true for me to play in the NHL,” said Poitras. “But I just want to put my best foot forward and try and make it as difficult as possible for them to send me back to juniors.”
Beecher, meanwhile, has set his sights on locking down that fourth line center spot, one for which he’ll face some veteran competition from the likes of Patrick Brown and Boqvist. Montgomery said he wanted to see how the 6-foot-3, 215-pound University of Michigan product looked playing with two players he expects to be on the roster.
Montgomery also reiterated how he believes his team needs to be more physical at both net fronts, which could help Beecher, who learned to use his frame better as the season went on in Providence last year.
“I think everybody at camp is fighting for a spot and I think if I’m to contribute to the team this year and be able to help them, then that’s probably where I’ll do the best,” said Beecher of the fourth line pivot. “It’s not a role that I have an problem playing. I’ve played on so many high-powered offenses, if you look back at my time at (the U.S. National Program) and then over at Michigan, I’ve always played that power forward role, being heavy, being hard to play against in the D-zone. So it’s definitely something I take a lot of pride in.”
While nothing will be handed to any youngster, hopefuls like Beecher and Poitras can take motivation in the fact that the B’s have prided themselves on opening spots for players who earn it in training camp.
“That was the first message that I talked to the group today about,” said GM Don Sweeney on Wednesday. “Training camp is the ultimate opportunity for every player in that room, whether you’re on a PTO or whether you’re an established player. You make hard decisions in this business. We want players. Jakub Lauko is a great example from last year and A.J. Greer is another good example from last year. They just made sure that the decision was really hard on us and rightfully so. They played well. And everybody in that room should realize that they can be next.”
The competition is officially on.
Another youngster looking to stay in the mix this year is 2021 first-round pick Fabian Lysell. While Montgomery said it’s tough to make any judgments on a hectic first day of camp, he did say Lysell brought a mixed bag.
“I noticed him at times struggling defensively,” said Montgomery. “And I did notice at times his incredible speed and he took pucks to hard areas, which is what we’re looking for from him on the offensive skill side of things. We can correct the defensive miscues, but it was great to see how aggressive he was offensively.”