This fall, 19-year-old Matthew Poitras broke onto the scene and turned heads at Boston Bruins camp, enough so to earn himself a spot on the Bruins opening night roster.
Now, the teenager will have a chance to showcase his talent on one of international hockey's biggest stages.
Bruins News: Matthew Poitras Gets World Juniors Nod
In a somewhat surprising move, the Boston Bruins announced on Monday that they would be assigning the forward to represent his native Canada at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championships. The World Juniors are a celebrated part of the hockey calendar, as the best under-20 national teams in the world all compete in an annual tournament organized by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).
Poitras' participation on Team Canada isn't questionable because he isn't deserving of a spot. Poitras has suited up for 27 of the Bruins' 29 games this season, collecting five goals and eight assists, and will garner leadership responsibilities as a more seasoned player on Canada's roster. Rather, it's slightly unorthodox for an NHL club to allow a player that has established themselves in their lineup to step away from the NHL schedule and compete at the World Juniors.
Speaking to the media following the announcement, Boston general manager Don Sweeney conceded that the decision was "unique", but emphasized that there was no downside to the decision.
"It’s unique in the fact he’s playing in the NHL, so that’s the first thing that probably goes through anybody’s mind as ‘What’s the trade off?’- Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney
But there’s really no downside for him to go and represent and be a leader on that team, and hopefully accomplish the ultimate goal as all young players playing hockey have a chance to try and accomplish."
Over the last few weeks, it has become apparent that Poitras still needs some fine-tuning at the NHL level. He was scratched for Boston's Dec. 7 game in what head coach Jim Montgomery alluded to as a rest day, and was then benched for the third period of the Bruins' next game on Dec. 9. If the grind of an 82-game NHL season has taken some of the wind out of his sails, that could help rationalize the team's decision.
That idea was reinforced by Sweeney using the word "reset" when speaking to the benefits of allowing Poitras to leave the Bruins and join Team Canada. Sweeney has previously said that the team is cognizant of managing Poitras' workload in his first NHL season.
"I think what gets him a chance mentally and physically to have a little bit of a reset, go and play against your peer group."- Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney
Essentially, the Bruins are banking on the decision as an investment in Poitras' future. Boston's front office is trusting that the long-term benefits of allowing Poitras to play for Team Canada at this year's World Juniors will outweigh the drawbacks of his absence on the team's performance in the interim. There is also undoubtedly optimism that the experience could rejuvenate him and provide the youngster with a second-half jolt.
Poitras will have a chance to grow his confidence level playing amongst his age group, and as Sweeney pointed out, he has the opportunity to hone his leadership abilities as an "older" player on Team Canada as one of the few with NHL experience under his belt.
With the Bruins advantageously positioned in the standings, the front office can take more liberties with Poitras' availability nearing the mid-point of the season. If this decision was being made in the midst of a playoff push, then Sweeney and company should definitely be under more fire.
The 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship will be played from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. Poitras and Team Canada will be attempting a three-peat at the tournament in Gothenburg, Sweden, having taken home the gold medal in 2022 and 2023. Canada will open up against Finland on Dec. 26.
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