Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

The Boston Bruins entered the 2023-24 season with a number of new faces on the roster, from the new rookies to free agency signings. Through the first eight games of the season, many of them have been impactful for both good and not so great reasons. 

Related: 3 Bruins’ Predictions for First Half of 2023-24 Season

After the historic 2022-23 regular season and its disappointing end, many were curious and maybe a bit apprehensive for the next season to begin, especially with the retirements of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Without any “major” signings, there were concerns with how they would be able to replace the two superstars.

So far though, the Bruins have played well, and the new faces have played instrumental parts in their 7-0-1 start. They have, of course, also contributed to some of the challenges the team has faced so far. But overall, many of them have made a positive first impression at the beginning of their tenure as a Bruin.

Matthew Poitras

The name on everyone’s mind so far this season is the 19-year-old center, Matthew Poitras. While he is definitely not a complete replacement for either Bergeron or Krejci, he has been impressive in his NHL debut. The 2022 second-round pick made his NHL debut a bit sooner than many would have expected, but he has not looked out of place on Boston’s roster. 

Matthew Poitras, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Poitras has three goals and five points in eight games and was instrumental in their win against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 22. He’s shown maturity in his play, being able to bounce back from bad shifts or quieter games and come back strong. It’s clear that he has learned a lot in a short time, and even just from his preseason appearances, seems to be improving and processing the game at a faster level. The hockey IQ, skills, and maturity are all there for him to be a full-time NHL player. 

General Manager Don Sweeney has nine games to decide if he’ll send Poitras back down to junior. The ninth game comes on Oct. 30 against the Florida Panthers. But, I believe that he has done enough to earn his spot, and I am not alone in that opinion. The organization is also already including him in community outreach events, like their annual Halloween costume hospital visit.

Amongst the new faces, Poitras has gotten the most attention, and he’s been the most impactful player. He’s ready to be a full-time NHLer, and I am excited to continue to watch him grow this season.

James van Riemsdyk

James van Riemsdyk is coming off of one of the worst seasons of his career in 2022-23, where he only registered 12 goals and 29 points in 61 games for the Philadelphia Flyers. At 34, he is certainly more towards the end of his career than the start. But the Bruins took a chance on him at free agency, signing him to a one-year, $1 million contract with the hopes that he’ll be able to use his specialty as a net-front presence to help the team’s powerplay. 

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So far, the results have been pretty good. If the Bruins had one area of weakness in their game last season, it was the powerplay. Without a lot of cap wiggle room, van Riemsdyk was the best available option, and it very well may be looked back on as the best free-agent signing when the season is all said and done. He has three goals so far this season, two of them coming on the powerplay. In eight games, he’s already matched the two powerplay goals he had last season, and his three powerplay points have almost matched the four total points he had on it in 2022-23. 

James van Riemsdyk, now a member of the Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It would be nice to see him get a bit more involved in 5-on-5, but he’s developing some good chemistry on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic. All three are big guys, and it’s been showing in their play so far this season. 

Like Poitras, the first impressions of van Riemsdyk have been largely positive. The Bruins’ powerplay still needs some work, but it is better when he is out there on the ice. In their most recent game against the Detroit Red ings, his net-front presence went a long way in making space for Pavel Zacha’s powerplay goal.

Morgan Geekie

25-year-old Morgan Geekie got the biggest free agency signing contract of the Bruins’ offseason. He signed a two-year, $4 million deal. While offseason expectations were that he would slot in as the third-line center, with the ascension of Poitras, he’s actually ended up slotting in on the second-line wing position. 

He has been pretty solid so far. Not the most impressive, but he also hasn’t done anything noticeably bad. He has three points, including a goal, in eight games. The second line of him, Poitras, and Jake DeBrusk is starting to generate some chemistry, and I think, with a bit more time, could become a force to be reckoned with. 

Geekie has been a solid signing so far, and hopefully, as he gains more comfort in Boston’s system, will generate a bit more offense.

Johnny Beecher

The Bruins’ second rookie to make their NHL debut so far this season. Johnny Beecher, the 22-year-old American, had a great preseason and training camp, earning the fourth-line center spot (though he has also spent some time out on the wing). The opening games of his NHL career have shown so far that the front office and coaching staff made the right decision including him on the roster. 

From getting into a fight in his first game to making great contributions on the penalty kill, he has found ways to make contributions and be memorable, even if the points haven’t necessarily come yet. He only has one assist so far but is still finding ways to generate offensive opportunities.

John Beecher, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The fourth line has already seen some changes to it, with Milan Lucic going on LTIR and Jakub Lauko set to miss a week after his scary and gruesome injury near his eye. Beecher has been the anchoring presence on that line through the start of the season and hasn’t appeared to be ruffled by it at all so far. He’s showing that he can play with a rotating cast of linemates, which is a good sign for a young player new to the NHL. If he can just get a bit more offense, he will be invaluable to the bottom-six.

Kevin Shattenkirk

Kevin Shattenkirk has had some good moments so far and some not-so-great moments as well. He was definitely someone I was interested in keeping an eye on in the offseason, and through the first eight games, I have not been as impressed as I hoped. He and Derek Forbort have had their struggles as the third pairing, and he was replaced by Ian Mitchell (more on him below) for their game against the Los Angeles Kings. 

There have been bright moments, including his great shot on net that Zacha was able to redirect for his first goal of the year in their second game against the Chicago Blackhawks. I also thought he had a pretty solid game the first time they faced the Ducks. So he has not been awful, but not terribly impressive either through these early games. It will be interesting to see what the Bruins decide to do going forward, particularly if some guys start really impressing down in Providence.

Patrick Brown, Ian Mitchell, Jesper Boqvist

I lumped these three together because there isn’t a whole lot to say about them, as they’ve each played five or fewer games so far. 

After a disappointing preseason and training camp, Patrick Brown has been okay. He’s only averaging around nine minutes of ice time with the Bruins so far, so he isn’t getting a ton of chances. But he’s been fine. If the forward group was completely healthy, he wouldn’t be playing, but he’s a good and safe option while other guys are out. He’s the kind of player that you know almost exactly what you’ll get out of him. Though if the team can make the money work, I would prefer to see Danton Heinen signed and playing. 

Ian Mitchell, who started as the seventh defenseman and then got some opportunities, was recently sent down to play with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL). He had a great play in the first Ducks game that contributed to Poitras’ first NHL goal, but other than that, unfortunately, his start with the Bruins has been more memorable for some bad penalties he’s taken. I think he’ll benefit from some more minutes down in Providence, and hopefully, he’ll get called back up later in the season and show more of the solid play he showcased in the preseason. 

Jesper Boqvist was a last-minute call-up for their Oct. 26 game against the Ducks, so there isn’t a ton to go off for him right now, especially since he only played for six minutes. He’s been called up and down a lot in recent days, so it will be interesting to see if he gets a few more games in the coming weeks, particularly with the Lucic news.

Solid Start for the Bruins

The Bruins have had a solid start to the season, just like most of these new faces have had solid starts to their careers in Boston. As expected, they need to work on generating a bit more offense, and the powerplay continues to plague them. But overall, early impressions of this team are that it’s good. They have some tough competitions ahead of them, including their first matchup with the Florida Panthers since the playoffs on Oct. 30, but things are looking good right now. 

Related: Bruins Can Grow From Early Season Adversity

A special shoutout also to Lucic. He’s not technically a new face in Boston but has made his return after being traded back in 2015. He’s out for a little bit now after taking a puck to the ankle in their game against the Kings. Prior to his injury, he was playing well on the fourth line with Beecher and Lauko, providing a great veteran presence to the two rookies, and contributed two assists in four games. Hopefully, he has a speedy recovery and is back on the ice soon. 

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