In about a few weeks, the Boston Bruins will have to make another tough decision, especially on the back end.
To be fair, they probably expected this course of action after Mason Lohrei’s promotion. The talented rookie blue-liner provided timely offensive production through his first three games, adding an assist in his NHL debut against the Maple Leafs last Thursday and capped Boston’s recent two-game road trip with his first career goal Monday night in Dallas.
Lohrei arrived for his first career NHL action to fill in for a short defensive core. Charlie McAvoy began serving his four-match suspension, while Derek Forbort and Matt Grzelcyk missed time due to injury.
As much as Lohrei showed off his puck-moving instincts and offensive chops, the 20-year-old blue-liner suffered some defensive setbacks. He committed a pair of penalties in Boston’s 5–4 loss to the Red Wings. He also saw his ice time decrease after developing the turnover bug during the Bruins’ 3-2 win over the Stars, including a cough-up near Boston’s offensive end that ultimately led to Wyatt Johnston’s second-period marker.
Perhaps Lohrei was trying to overcompensate with three reliable blueliners in the lineup. But Jim Montgomery didn’t want to use Lohrei’s benching in Dallas as punishment. Instead, Boston’s second-year bench boss wanted his new defenseman to listen and learn.
“What we wanted him to learn is that it’s 2-0. We are in control of the game and we did very well in the first four or five minutes of the (second),” Montgomery explained. “It’s about learning to master the game. You’re on the road, playing against a good team, and you can’t capitalize on those opportunities at the offensive blue line. It is not necessary. We can wear them down at the back of the net and get them out to 60 yards.”
Even after his productive performance in training camp, the Bruins brought Lohrei into action a little earlier than expected. But they don’t want the former Ohio State Buckeye to deviate from his strengths as a playmaker while learning as he goes.
And he’ll gain more insider knowledge in the coming days as McAvoy’s suspension nears its end and Forbort is set to return.
“When you have space, you make plays. We don’t want to take away from his God-given ability to make plays because he has that God-given ability,” Montgomery added about Lohrei.
“I think that’s just part of the learning curve. We don’t want to take away a young man’s ability to make plays.”
The Bruins drafted Lohrei primarily because of his playmaking ability. He will continue to refine his strengths while working on his defensive development, hoping to grow into a reliable two-way defender.
Whether Lohrei will continue to develop with the big club or at Providence will be a hotly debated topic once the Bruins activate Grzelcyk from long-term injured reserve.
On the one hand, the Bruins could benefit from Lohrei getting an extended run next to Brandon Carlo on Boston’s second pair. The two developed quite good chemistry with each other during training camp and the final three games.
In the past, Carlo’s stay-at-home prowess has complemented the more offensive blueliners he’s teamed with, including Grzelcyk and Torey Krug. But Lohrei’s 6-foot-4 frame and puck-moving attributes give the Bruins a different dynamic on their second pair.
Montgomery and the coaching staff may want to see Lohrei with McAvoy when the latter returns to Boston’s lineup Saturday night in Montreal. The Lohrei-McAvoy combination would provide more balance at Boston’s back end, bringing Hampus Lindholm back to the second duo with the defensively reliable Carlo.
Lohrei’s status in Boston will become more complicated — perhaps around Thanksgiving — upon Grzelcyk’s return. First, Grzelcyk’s reliability in 5v5 situations makes him a keeper in Boston’s top two pairings. The Bruins were outscored 3-2 during Lohrei’s 49:10 time on ice in full-strength scenarios, with Boston’s opponents holding significant leads in shot attempts (59-40) and shots on goal (32-22).
Of course, Lohrei will get more chances to improve his 5v5 stats. Still, finding a fit for Lohrei won’t be easy once the Bruins have their full complement of left-shot defensemen (Grzelcyk, Lindholm and Forbort).
Grzelcyk and McAvoy formed one of the best 5v5 combinations in the league for the majority of the last three seasons.
Lindholm’s troubles from last year’s first round against Florida continued into October. But the Swede has started to return to his pre-foot injury form as of late, logging heavy and reliable minutes in shutdown and special teams situations this past week. Lindholm will likely return to a second pairing role with Carlo.
While he doesn’t have the same offensive upside as Lohrei, Forbort’s impressive work on the penalty kill makes him a keeper on Boston’s third pair. Without Forbort, Boston’s leader in average short-ice time (4:19 per game), the Bruins allowed a pair of power play games against Detroit.
The numbers game could send Lohrei back to Providence. Still, he can continue to develop into a top-pairing role, seeing more minutes on special teams and tight end situations.
Conversely, the Bruins could use Lohrei’s offensive instincts in Boston. He is an asset in the transition game, providing timely exits from the defensive end to create odd-man rushes and extended shifts in the offensive zone. Given the dip in scoring in the first year of the post-Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci era, the Bruins may want Lohrei to stay in Boston to continue his two-way development.
Either way, Lohrei is in a win/win situation. And even with a few hiccups during his first call-up, he is getting closer to a full-time job at the big club.
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