How Matthew Poitras decision impacts Bruins in short and long term

How Matthew Poitras decision impacts Bruins in short and long term originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins have been very lucky to begin the 2023-24 NHL season.

After more than a decade of having one of the best 1-2 punches at center (if not the best) with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, they have found another young center who has the potential to be a top-six player for a long time.

Matthew Poitras' emergence is the biggest storyline surrounding the B's in the early part of the season. He had a tremendous training camp and preseason, and he's built on that momentum with a good first nine games of the regular season. Keeping him past nine games means his entry-level contract begins this season. The 10th game is Thursday night at TD Garden against his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Bruins announced Tuesday that Poitras would remain with the team past the nine-game threshold.

“He earned it," Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery told reporters Tuesday. "I think we’re comfortable with him. There’s still no guarantees here the rest of the year. But we feel the way that he’s progressed that for the time being he’s gonna be a Bruin. And he’s helping us win hockey games. and that’s the most important thing, right? He’s still 19, so we’re gonna be cautious.”

Here's how the Poitras decision impacts the Bruins right now and over the next several years.

A versatile fit in the lineup

The Bruins are trying to win now. Even after losing a bunch of good players in the offseason, including their top two centers in Bergeron and Krejci, they still want to contend for the Stanley Cup this season. And with an 8-0-1 start, they have the look of a contender.

This isn't a team looking to develop young players at the expense of winning games. One of the primary reasons why keeping Poitras was a pretty easy decision is the fact he's making a meaningful impact on the Bruins' ability to win. His five points (three goals, two assists) rank seventh on the team. He's one of five Bruins players with three or more goals. He ranks No. 4 on the team in 5-on-5 shots with 23, and his 18 scoring chances at 5-on-5 rank second to David Pastrnak (26), per Natural Stat Trick.

Poitras scored twice against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 22, including the game-winner. Both goals came in front of the net. Poitras showed off his speed and finishing ability in a win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 24 by scoring on a breakaway.

Another impressive aspect of Poitras' game is his willingness to fight for puck possession in the tough areas of the ice -- in the corners, along the boards, around the front of the net, etc. He's listed at 5-foot-11 and 177 pounds, and yet he has no issues competing for pucks against bigger and stronger competition.

There are areas he needs to improve in, and faceoffs are probably the main one. He has won just 40.6 percent of his 5-on-5 draws so far. But in fairness, a lot of young centers struggle in the faceoff dot early in their careers.

Overall, Poitras has the offensive skill needed to play a top-six role. He also has shown good versatility in being able to play on the first, second or third lines. He can produce with elite offensive players like Marchand and Pastrnak, and he can also drive offense with players such as Morgan Geekie on his wing.

Consistency is key for Poitras. It's a long season, and the competition is much stronger and faster than what he faced in the OHL the last two years. But so far, Poitras looks like he can handle the challenge.

Salary cap implications

It's impossible to overstate the value of Poitras' entry-level contract. If he is able to produce offensively like a real top-six or No. 3 center in the NHL, the Bruins will be devoting less than $900,000 in salary cap space to a very important part of their lineup through 2025-26. For a franchise like the Bruins that always spends to the cap and is typically tight on space, Poitras having such as a small cap hit is a massive coup.

And if you look at the Bruins' top-five centers, all of them are on good contracts for at least this season and the 2024-25 campaign. The Pavel Zacha extension -- four years, $19 million -- is looking like an absolute bargain as well.

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Saving cap space on Poitras allows the Bruins to devote precious salary cap dollars to other areas of need on the roster. Both left and right wing need upgrades. Brad Marchand is arguably the best all-around left wing in the league David Pastrnak is an elite right wing and might lead the league in goals this season. But after them, the B's have Jake DeBrusk and James van Riemsdyk as their next-best wingers and both are on expiring deals. Adding a top-six wing who can score over the next year or year-and-a-half would benefit the Bruins tremendously. If Poitras is legit, they'll have the cap space to do that.

Top-six centers are very expensive. In fact, eight of the top 12 cap hits among forwards for this season are centers. Having a legit top-six center on an entry-level contract for three years is like having a top-tier NFL quarterback on a rookie deal. It's such an advantage from a salary cap perspective.

No need to trade for veteran top-six center?

Before Poitras' emergence, the Bruins were a team often mentioned as a potential destination for Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele or Calgary Flames center Elias Lindholm. Scheifele was removed from trade rumors after he signed an seven-year extension with the Jets last month. Lindholm remains unsigned, and if it doesn't look like he'll ink a new deal before the trade deadline in March, the Flames would be wise to move him.

Sportsnet's Eric Francis reported Monday that the Flames, who have started the season 2-6-1, have paused all contract talks.

The Bruins might not need to give up their remaining top trade assets to acquire Lindholm (or a similar player) if Poitras is able to fill a top-six center role. It's always possible that B's general manager Don Sweeney might look to acquire Lindholm anyway. He's a really good two-way center and only 28 years old. But Poitras' emergence makes finding another top-six center much less of a priority, assuming the 19-year-old forward continues to play well.

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If Poitras is legit, then the Bruins should be fine with him, Zacha, Coyle and Beecher/Brown as their centers going forward. In that scenario, they can use their cap space to target a top-six winger. If Poitras needs more time to develop or goes through prolonged slumps over the next few months, then maybe the Bruins could target Lindholm.

The Bruins don't have many good trade assets left after going all-in last season. They don't have a first-round pick in 2024 and no second-rounders in 2024 and 2025. Boston's prospect pool ranks among the bottom of the league, too. Not having to give up what's left for a player like Lindholm would allow the Bruins to restock the cupboard and continue adding young players through the draft who can help the team in the future.