The Boston Bruins are wasting no time getting prospect Charlie McAvoy up to NHL speed. With only a handful of AHL games under his belt, the 19-year-old prospect is set to debut in tonight’s Game 1 against the Ottawa Senators.
Talk about getting thrown in the deep end. Charlie McAvoy, the former BU Terrier and 14th overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, is either going to sink or swim tonight. And the Boston Bruins are betting (hoping?) he knows how to do the backstroke.
The Bruins are optimistic about McAvoy and with good reason. By all accounts, McAvoy is a skilled puck-handler and a smooth skater who will throw his weight (6 foot 1, 211 pounds) around when necessary. No stranger to the limelight, McAvoy won’t be intimidated by the circumstances. He knows the big stage, if not at the NHL level. McAvoy was named a First Team All-American for 2016-17 and led Team USA to a gold medal at the 2016 World Junior Championships.
There is no lack of confidence in McAvoy around the Bruins. “Charlie is a guy, up to this point, who has had no problem in the limelight, in big games. We’ll hope that continues,” interim head coach Bruce Cassidy told the
“Charlie is a guy, up to this point, who has had no problem in the limelight, in big games. We’ll hope that continues,” interim head coach Bruce Cassidy told the Boston Herald after Monday’s practice.
The Bruins front office isn’t shy about expressing their expectations.
"“We feel comfortable having seen him play recently, with the skill set that Charlie (has), that he’d be able to handle it,” general manager Don Sweeney said. “He’s learning the structure and how to play without the puck, which is an area we wanted him to understand that at the next level it’s going to be much more difficult. It’s a sharp learning curve, but we feel very good about his skill set and what he brings to the table. He’s a kid who seeks out the bigger moments.”"
Perhaps McAvoy is that rare talent that can smoothly make the transition from college to the pros. However, just three weeks ago McAvoy was still at BU, where studying for exams was his biggest concerns. Tonight, he has a region’s hopes in his hands and will be asked to slow down the likes of Ottawa’s Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman.
Let’s hope the young defenseman is a quick learner.
Pairing With Z
Confidence is one thing, negligence is another. Although the Bruins brass clearly thinks highly of McAvoy, they aren’t ready to throw him out there without some on-ice assistance. WEEI.com reports that McAvoy will like end up paired with Zdeno Chara, replacing the injured Brandon Carlo (out with an upper-body injury, whatever that means) on the top defensive unit.
“We like the young guys with Z,” Cassidy said after practice on Tuesday. “(McAvoy) will complement Z getting back on pucks, help him with the transition game. I think that’s where Carlo has been good. Those young guys, they’re able to get back on pucks.”
It’s a sound strategy, sticking McAvoy with the uber-experienced Chara. It worked well with Carlo who had a solid rookie season as a 20-year-old (82 games, 20:49 average time on ice, plus-9). At Tuesday’s practice, Chara and McAvoy spent the majority of the time working together. There were many conversations between the new partners and numerous drills featuring the two defensemen working on spacing and location.
Chara and McAvoy’s skill sets complement each other, as well. Chara has trouble with speedier forwards, but with his size and fundamental hockey IQ can lock it down in the Bruins’ end. McAvoy, on the other hand, may lack experience but can make an impact with his skating and stick-handling.
McAvoy To Be Tested
However, plans don’t always pan out. And with the stakes as high as they are tonight, Cassidy is preparing to adjust to what he sees happening on-ice.
“(Charlie) just arrived. He had a good practice. He played well in Providence,” Cassidy told the Boston Herald. “How that translates to the National Hockey League, Game 1 of the playoffs, is to be determined. He hasn’t been tested by NHL forwards, so we’ll see how well he can defend.”
One thing is determined, however. McAvoy will make his debut for the Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But will the 19-year-old college sophomore-turned-NHL-blue-liner be up to the task?
“It’s the next step,” McAvoy told the Boston Herald. “I have a feeling I’ll be put in the best position to succeed. If I get the opportunity to play, I’ll just play simple, do what I have done that has gotten me to this point. Play a simple game, play strong defense and contribute when I can.”
The Bruins are in the playoffs for the first time in three years and their top defensive pairing features a kid with no NHL experience. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Cassidy and Sweeney probably are, too.