With the start of the 2020 NHL playoffs on the horizon and seemingly well within sight, it’s an exciting time for hockey fans everywhere.
When the NHL finally returns to action, the Boston Bruins will be playing for seeding as opposed to playing in an elimination scenario. Because of this, the pressure clearly isn’t as high for them, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals as it is for any of the eight play-in teams who could find themselves out of the playoffs after just five games.
This gives the Bruins some more leeway when it comes to lineup decisions in the intra-conference, round-robin tournament. Head coach Bruce Cassidy will obviously be coaching to win all of these games with the intention of retaining the first seed in the Eastern Conference, but he also has to work on finding the best lineup in that time as well.
As is always the case, the lineup that starts in Game 1 of the playoffs, or in this scenario, the round-robin, will almost certainly look different than the lineup that takes the ice in the final game of the playoffs should the Bruins make it there.
Whether it’s players being moved up or down the lineup, players being dressed/scratched for specific games or even injuries rearing their ugly head, there are no certainties in professional sports.
Despite this, though, Cassidy will have to use his time wisely to figure out who gets to start in the round-robin tournament and determine which of these players may have a longer leash than others when it comes to withstanding a bad game.
One player who may not have really been in consideration for a starting job in the preseason but who has absolutely earned the right to play meaningful minutes in the playoffs is Jeremy Lauzon.
Jeremy Lauzon Has Played an Effective Role
One of the Bruins three second-round picks from the infamous 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Lauzon has consistently been one of the best defenders in Providence of the AHL for a few years despite some injury troubles.
His ability to play in all three zones and on both sides has made him invaluable for the Bruins, especially when they’ve needed him to step up at times over the last two years due to injuries on their back-end.
In 19 games this season, Lauzon would average 15:25 of ice time per night while laying out 32 hits and making 23 blocks to go along with his one goal and two points.
One thing Cassidy has been keen on doing with Lauzon is starting the majority of his shifts in the offensive zone with the split being roughly 55% in the offensive zone and 44.7% in the defensive zone. Monitoring his usage and getting the most out of the 23-year-old is the smart course of action as he gets his first taste of NHL playoff hockey.
If there’s one area that Lauzon does have to clean up his game, it’s certainly in the penalty department. Despite playing 21st most minutes of any Bruins this past season and the third-fewest among defenders, Lauzon finished the season with 29 penalty minutes on nine total penalties, seven of which were minors. Those 29 penalty minutes ranked 10th on the Bruins.
While these penalties may not necessarily be a huge issue as Lauzon is still young and relatively inexperienced, it’s something that has to be mentioned as a factor moving forward. Costly penalties in the playoffs can be devastating.
Lauzon is the Best Option for the Bruins
At the end of the day, the Bruins have a plethora of options on the back-end who can step in and make an impact when the lights shine the brightest. Lauzon should be afforded an opportunity to showcase his place in the lineup from the very start in a postseason atmosphere without the pressure that typically surrounds playoff hockey.
If experience is important for postseason play then they’ll need to given Lauzon a chance to earn that experience at some point.
It’s the perfect storm for the Bruins to reward the left-shot blueliner who proved his worth in the regular season without having to stress about losing a game in a best-of-seven series due to glaring mistakes from the rookie.
Even then, it almost isn’t fair to Lauzon to frame this as a get-out-of-jail-free pass as he truly has earned the opportunity. He hasn’t given Cassidy or his teammates any reason to doubt him yet and when it comes down to it, nobody else deserves the spot more than Lauzon right now.
Beyond Lauzon, the Bruins will have players like Connor Clifton, John Moore, Steven Kampfer, Urho Vaakanainen and likely Jakub Zboril who could easily slot into the team’s lineup and contribute if need be.
Still, the Bruins shouldn’t overthink this decision.