From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2015-16 Bruins. Today's player: Matt Irwin.
While 27-year-old Matt Irwin didn’t arrive in Boston with much fanfare via free agency, the 27-year-old could become a heavily relied upon contributor along the B’s blueline after establishing himself in San Jose over three years. Irwin and Colin Miller are both players that had been heavily scouted in the AHL by Bruins front office man John Ferguson Jr., and targeted as talented players on the upswing of their NHL careers. At the very least Irwin should provide necessary depth for the Bruins, but the B’s could be asking for trouble if they hope that he’ll eventually evolve into a top-four role with the club.
What Happened Last Year: In his second full NHL season, Irwin scored a career-high eight goals and posted 19 points in 53 games, along with a plus-3 rating, while showing some very good offensive skills. He posted those numbers despite little power-play time and averaging only 17:01 of ice time as a bottom-pairing defenseman. The stats in the 2014-15 season seemed to be a bit of a step ahead offensively after putting up two goals and 20 points in 62 games along with a plus-5 rating two years ago. But his ice time did drop from 18:49 to 17:01, which indicates a slightly smaller role last season with the Sharks where they presumably saw cracks in his game.
Questions To Be Answered This Season: Irwin was signed to a one-year, $800,000 contract, so a repeat of last season would be well worth the investment. Irwin has proven he’s an adequate bottom pair defenseman with some plus offensive skills in his three years in San Jose, and has posted impressive numbers in the AHL over his career. The one question is if Irwin can still develop further into a top-four D-man for the Bruins, and give them some of the offensive production that walked away with Dougie Hamilton. This is a tall order for anybody and it’s seemingly impossible for a player such as Irwin to be capable of that unless there’s some latent ability that never materialized with the Sharks. One other question about the former UMass D-man: will he be happy if he turns out to be a seventh D-man/AHL player should some of the younger defensemen live up to their advanced billing in training camp? That’s putting the cart ahead of the horse a bit, but could be an issue for the B’s given that they’ve got eight or nine defensemen capable of playing at the NHL while seeming one or two top four D-men short of an ideal setup.
In Their Words: “Matt Irwin coming on helps provide depth for our grouping. ... But we've got some younger players at some point in time have to be given an opportunity if you believe in them.
"For me, that's an exciting part of the game. Yes, it is a little bit of the unknown. I'm not going to sit here and blow smoke in any direction, and say that it's not. Would a coach like four guys who were in the All-Star game the year before? Yeah, I'm sure he's going to pencil that in, check that box right off. But sometimes it doesn't happen that way. When you have five players returning that have played for your hockey team and had a lot of success, then I think you have a foundation there.” –Don Sweeney
Overall Outlook: The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder has 16 goals and 51 points in 153 NHL games in three seasons, which projects to be a pretty good offensive defenseman over a full 82-game NHL season. Clearly, there are reasons why he never regularly cracked the top four in San Jose, and why he’s never managed to play more than 62 games in an NHL season. It’s a low-risk signing for the Bruins given the money and the term, but it could pay off in a big way if they can harness that offense into a player capable of logging 20 plus minutes at the NHL level. If Irwin simply plays at the status quo level, then it’s still a pretty prudent signing for depth purposes with a player that was solid in San Jose. Still, the presence of Irwin serves as a reminder that the Bruins didn’t do enough to fortify their blueline this summer with the loss of Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton over the past calendar year.