A second-round pick of the Avalanche back in 2015, it’s taken A.J. Greer over seven years to put himself in the driver’s seat of a potentially full-time NHL role.
But it’s always a role that Greer, who continues to look like a lock to make the Bruins’ Opening Night roster, knew would come so long as he stuck with it.
“Honestly, yeah,” Greer said if he saw this moment coming for himself. “Like, I wouldn’t say right now and at this moment, I couldn’t predict that, but I always knew that it was going to come. That’s why I stayed ready. It’s a tough game when you’re up and down for the last six years and it doesn’t seem like there’s much hope. You know, you have a bad year or you have a couple of bad games and then you think that your NHL dreams are over. But it’s really those who persist that have success.
“And I think it’s mentally really frustrating at times, but again, I always was a hard worker and I always was someone who had to grind my way out to places when I was young and up until now. So I never really gave up. And I knew that I had the ability to do it and I had to be ready once that time came.”
Through two appearances this fall (and set to make his third appearance Monday night in New Jersey), Greer has two goals, six shots on goal, 10 hits, and a fight (in defense of a teammate) to his name. Jim Montgomery has outright said that Greer’s done everything he can to show that he belongs.
And with the Bruins playing the Devils tonight, I had to ask Greer, just why didn’t this happen for him with the Devils? Especially after a point-per-game year with their AHL club in 2021-22.
“I can’t answer that,” Greer told me. “I think personally, I was very happy with my year. Really, really happy. The organization was really happy. My coaches and everyone around me was ecstatic with how I was playing down there. Not only was I putting points up, but I was playing on the penalty kill really well. Defensively, I was very good. Yeah, I can’t answer that question.”
Greer also knows I’m not the first person to ask that question.
“You know, I keep getting the same question over and over about, ‘Oh, why haven’t you made it to the NHL? Oh, why haven’t you made an impact there?’ Well, you look at these players, these first-round picks or whatever, who have played in the league for two, three years, and they haven’t blossomed and then they’ll blossom in their fourth or fifth year,” Greer offered. “It happens all the time. Try to do that when it’s your sixth, seventh year and you get 10 [to] 15 games here and there with four or five minutes of ice time. It’s gonna take a while.”
To Greer’s point, the Devils gave him nine games last year. And during that nine-game run, Greer played over ten minutes just once. Coincidentally, that game, which maxed out at 12:08, also featured Greer’s first and only goal of the season.
“It’s just a matter of being comfortable and having trust,” Greer admitted. “That’s the biggest thing here. You see me playing with so much passion, energy, and being comfortable. And it’s because I feel that trust within the locker room. I feel that trust within the management and the coaches.”
An example of that trust comes with Greer’s new boss admitting that he doesn’t believe in a single-digit night truly maximizing any player’s game.
“I think you gotta play anyone more than eight minutes a night if you want to get the most out of them,” Montgomery said. “Your fourth line, you’d like them to play somewhere between 10 to 12 minutes. And I’m not saying he’s going to play fourth line, but I think every player needs a little bit of rhythm in the game.”
The great wrench that can get thrown into those plans come with penalties. Montgomery admitted that sometimes a player can get lost if they don’t involve themselves in the power play or penalty kill, or if the coaches don’t trust them in one of those roles. The Bruins have already utilized Greer in a killing role this preseason, and they’ll add power-play duties to his game tonight, with Greer expected to skate in a net-front power-play role for the Bruins on Monday.
Consider it just another step towards Greer fulfilling his own personal timeline towards an NHL gig.
“I knew I had that that tenacity and that skill and that that level of play that it’s going to get me here,” said Greer. “I think that everyone has a timeline and certain timelines are different than others. But at the end of the day, you just can’t give up.”