Jeremy Lauzon had played a handful of games in a Boston Bruins uniform before the last time he was called up just before the team’s bye week in January. He played well in those previous appearances but never impressed head coach Bruce Cassidy enough to stick around long.
However, things are different this time. Lauzon was called up in January when general manager Don Sweeney and the Bruins’ brass instituted a bit of a roster shakeup. In the matter of a couple of weeks, forwards Brett Ritchie and David Backes were placed on waivers, as was journeyman defenseman Steven Kampfer.
Likely in an effort to get a better look at some of the organization’s young talent ahead of the late-February trade deadline, defenseman Lauzon and forward Karson Kuhlman was called up from the Bruins’ American Hockey League affiliate in Providence, R.I. At that point, how much the two prospects would play and how long they’d stay in Boston was largely unknown.
One factor that initially played in Lauzon’s favor was that third-pairing defenseman Connor Clifton was still recovering from an injury suffered in late December. With Kampfer playing in Providence after clearing waivers and Clifton on the shelf for several weeks, it was Lauzon’s big opportunity to really show the team what he could do. And show them he has.
The 22-year-old has emerged in just more than a month as a shut-down defenseman who suited up alongside defensive partner Matt Grzelcyk just about every game during that time. In fact, with Lauzon on board, Clifton has not yet appeared in a game since his return from injury. Likewise, John Moore, who has played his fair share of games on Grzelcyk’s right side, has not cracked the lineup in some time.
When Clifton was assigned to Providence for a brief conditioning stint, the general consensus among fans and Bruins media was that Lauzon would likely be the odd man out when Clifton was back to full health. Those predictions were based largely on the fact that Clifton has much more NHL game experience, as well as the fact that Lauzon could be returned to the AHL without needing to clear waivers first.
However, Lauzon was playing so well, he stayed in Boston and has remained in the lineup. Although the elevation of his game may not be the best news for Clifton or Moore, it certainly presents a problem that Cassidy and Sweeney are surely glad to have.
Lauzon was further rewarded for his stellar play in February when he signed a two-year contract extension with the Bruins. He was scheduled to be a restricted free agent after this season.
Since being recalled, Lauzon has used his size and puck-handling ability to make an impact on every shift. He also perfectly complements the smaller, more elusive possession hound the team has in Grzelcyk. In fact, since Lauzon has been his partner, Grzelcyk appears to have had much more freedom to play his personal game without needing to be picking himself up from brutal checks at every turn.
Lauzon is likely never going to be an offensive-minded defenseman of the likes of Torey Krug, but he does seem to have a talent for being in the right place at the right time and has a hard shot that will surely yield results from time to time. In 17 games played this season, almost all of those since being called up from Providence two months ago, he has one goal and one assist. He also boasts a plus-five rating so far this season.
Another aspect of Lauzon’s game that cannot be overlooked, and that Bruins fans love, is his willingness to get involved in the scrum and even use his fists to defend his teammates if need be. It is not uncommon to see him slide between an angry opponent and a fellow Bruin in an effort to diffuse a tenuous situation.
In the same vein, Lauzon has shown a good degree of toughness and mental fortitude in his latest stint in the Spoked-B. Earlier this month, he was clearly hurting after blocking a shot with his leg, but returned to the game and played the next night. Just a few games later, Lauzon left the game after an errant shot grazed his chin. Again, he came back in the game, stitched up but otherwise ready to go.
With regular second-pairing defenseman Brandon Carlo suffering what is being classified as an upper-body injury as a result of an elbow planted by Evgeni Dadonov of the Florida Panthers on Thursday night, the Bruins defensive corps may see some changes in the coming days. Morning rushes for Saturday night’s game between the top two teams in the Atlantic Division, the Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, showed Lauzon keeping his familiar third-pairing position in Carlo’s absence.
Moore will fill in for Carlo alongside Torey Krug. Although Moore may not be the ideal or permanent solution if Carlo is out for more than one game, Saturday’s lineup further shows that the team’s coaching staff sees the value in keeping Lauzon and Grzelcyk together.
With Lauzon playing so well, it would be hard to imagine that he would not be a shoo-in to appear in his first playoff games come April. That would be quite a welcome accomplishment for the 2015 second-round draft pick who had seen action in just 16 NHL games before this season. The opportunity would be well-deserved.