In roughly a few week’s time, the Boston Bruins will have another tough decision on their hands, specifically on their back end.
Frankly, they probably expected this course of action upon Mason Lohrei’s promotion. The talented rookie blue-liner provided timely offensive production over his initial three games, tallying an assist in his NHL debut against the Maple Leafs last Thursday and capping off Boston’s recent two-game road trip with his first career goal on Monday night in Dallas.
Lohrei arrived for his first career NHL action to fill in for a shorthanded defensive core. Charlie McAvoy began serving his four-game suspension, while Derek Forbort and Matt Grzelcyk missed time due to injury.
As much as Lohrei showcased his puck-moving instincts and offensive upside, the 20-year-old blue-liner encountered 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 B’s 3-2 win over the Stars, including a cough-up near Boston’s attacking end that eventually led to Wyatt Johnston’s second-period marker.
Perhaps Lohrei tried to overcompensate with three reliable blue-liners out of the lineup. But Jim Montgomery didn’t want to use Lohrei’s benching in Dallas as a punishment. Instead, the second-year Boston bench boss wanted his rookie defenseman to listen and learn.
“What we wanted him to learn is that it’s 2-0. We’re in control of the game, and we’ve done really well in the first four or five minutes of the [second],” Montgomery explained. “It’s about learning to manage the game. You’re on the road playing a good team, and you can’t take those chances at the offensive blue line. You don’t need to. We can wear them out at the back of the net and make them come 200 feet.”
Even after his productive performance at training camp, the Bruins threw Lohrei into action a little earlier than anticipated. But they don’t want the former Ohio State Buckeye to deviate from his playmaking strengths while learning on the fly.
And he’ll gain more insider knowledge in the coming days with McAvoy’s suspension nearing its end and Forbort on the cusp of returning.
“If you have space, you make plays. We don’t want to take anything away from his god-given ability to make plays because he has that god-given ability,” Montgomery added of Lohrei.
“I think that’s just part of the learning curve. We don’t want to take away from a young man’s ability to make plays.”
The Bruins called up Lohrei primarily for his playmaking skillset. He’ll continue fine-tuning his strengths while working on his defensive development, hoping to round out into a reliable two-way defenseman.
Whether Lohrei will continue developing with the big club or at Providence will become a hotly debated topic once the Bruins activate Grzelcyk from long-term injured reserve.
On the one hand, the Bruins can benefit from giving Lohrei an extended run next to Brandon Carlo on Boston’s second pair. The two developed pretty good chemistry with one another through training camp and the last three games.
In the past, Carlo’s stay-at-home prowess complemented the more offensive-minded blue-liners he paired with, including Grzelcyk and Torey Krug. But Lohrei’s 6-foot-4 frame and puck-moving traits provide the Bruins with a different dynamic on their second pair.
Perhaps Montgomery and the coaching staff will want to see Lohrei with McAvoy when the latter returns to Boston’s lineup on Saturday night in Montreal. The Lohrei-McAvoy pairing would provide more balance on Boston’s back end, thus moving Hampus Lindholm back on the second duo with the defensively reliable Carlo.
Lohrei’s status in Boston will become more complicated — perhaps around Thanksgiving — upon Grzelcyk’s return. For one, Grzelcyk’s reliability in 5v5 situations makes him a keeper on 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 a significant edge in shot attempts (59-40) and shots on goal (32-22).
Of course, Lohrei will have more chances to improve his 5v5 stats. Even so, finding a fit for Lohrei won’t come easy once the Bruins have their full complement of left-shot defensemen (Grzelcyk, Lindholm and Forbort).
Grzelcyk and McAvoy formed one of the league’s top 5v5 pairings through the better part of the last three seasons.
Lindholm’s struggles from last year’s first-round series against Florida carried over 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 over the last week. Lindholm will likely return to a second pair role with Carlo.
While not possessing 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 shorthanded time-on-ice (4:19 per game), the Bruins allowed a pair of power play tallies against Detroit.
The numbers game may send Lohrei back to Providence. Yet, he can continue progressing in a top-pairing role, where he’ll encounter more minutes in special teams and crunch-time situations.
Conversely, the Bruins could use Lohrei’s offensive instincts in Boston. He’s an asset in the transition game, providing timely outlet feeds out of the defensive end to create odd-man rushes and extensive shifts in the attacking zone. Given the goal-scoring dropoff in the first year of the post-Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci era, the Bruins may want Lohrei to remain in Boston to continue his two-way development.
Either way, Lohrei is in a win/win situation. And even with some hiccups during his first callup, he’s inching closer toward a full-time role with the big club.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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