Jeremy Lauzon has emerged as a dependable partner for Charlie McAvoy on the Bruins' top defense pairing, but now his breakout season will have to be put on pause for the next month.
The Bruins announced Wednesday morning that Lauzon underwent surgery to repair a fracture in his left hand and will be re-evaluated in approximately four weeks. Lauzon left Sunday's game in Lake Tahoe after his first shift of the game and did not return.
Lauzon, 23, had played in all 16 games this season, playing 18:32 per game and notching three assists while playing more of a stay-at-home role that has allowed McAvoy to jump into the offense more.
He has also been one of the Bruins' top penalty-killers on a unit that ranks second in the NHL, with his 3:08 shorthanded time on ice per game second only to Brandon Carlo.
So, what are the Bruins' options with Lauzon out? Better question to start: Who's actually available on defense?
Jakub Zboril, who has missed the last two games, and Kevan Miller, who missed Sunday's game, both practiced Tuesday and could return this week.
Matt Grzelcyk, who has missed the last four games and eight of the last nine, skated on his own before practice on both Tuesday and Wednesday. That's an encouraging sign, but we wouldn't expect to see him in a game until he practices with the rest of the team. So, conservatively, expect him to miss at least one or two more games.
(UPDATE: Coach Bruce Cassidy provided updates on Zboril, Miller and Grzelcyk after Wednesday's practice. Zboril is expected to return Thursday and Grzelcyk could return in one of the next few games, but Miller will miss a little more time due to lingering soreness in his knee.)
Connor Clifton has generally been the next man up when anyone's been out of the lineup, usually playing his off-side as a right-handed shot on the left. John Moore has also played each of the last three games with all the injuries, with mixed results.
Then there's 2017 first-round pick Urho Vaakanainen, who made his season debut on Sunday. He wound up playing the second-most minutes of any Bruins defenseman, with his 23:28 behind only McAvoy.
Notably, Vaakanainen was the choice to play with McAvoy for most of the rest of the game after Lauzon went down, with 10:10 of McAvoy's 18:13 of five-on-five ice time coming with Vaakanainen. It is worth noting that the Bruins were out-attempted 9-2 with that pairing on the ice, though, so it's not quite like it was a smashing success.
Still, it wouldn't be surprising to see coach Bruce Cassidy decide to give Vaakanainen-McAvoy a longer look. Cassidy has said he thought Vaakanainen had just as good of a training camp as Lauzon and Zboril, but that they only had room for two of them. And there's obviously a reason that was his first choice on Sunday.
It's also possible we could see more of Grzelcyk and McAvoy together once Grzelcyk returns. They have played together in offensive situations or in games the Bruins have been trailing in the past, and most people expected that to be the Bruins' top pairing going into the season before Cassidy decided to put Lauzon with McAvoy instead. It would certainly give that pairing a different look with two great skaters who can go forward, but no true stay-at-home presence.
On the penalty kill, the Bruins still have Carlo and Miller as their heavyweights. McAvoy regularly kills penalties, Moore and Grzelyck have both done it in the past, and Vaakanainen was also used in the rotation on Sunday. Replacing Lauzon won't be easy because he was doing a very good job, but it's not like the Bruins don't have more PK experience they can turn to.