BOSTON — Asking a 19-year-old rookie defenseman to play his first NHL action against a quality opponent in the Stanley Cup playoffs is far from ideal, but Charlie McAvoy has stepped into this situation and thrived for the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins’ first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft made his debut in Game 1 of Boston’s first-round playoff series against the Ottawa Senators, and he hasn’t looked much like a first-year player through the first four games.
“He’s a heck of a talent,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy said of McAvoy. “He wants the puck. He wants to be out there in big moments. Boston Bruins fans are seeing something right now that they’re truly going to appreciate for years. Just his composure and ability to play in three zones.
“He battles, even on the goal, he battles right to the end against a big-bodied guy. We can’t ask for much more from him. He’s come in and moved the puck. Even when we got behind there, he’s pushing the pace and trying to make things happen. Those are special talents in situations like this when they want to be a difference maker. And you can’t teach that. We can teach him some system-wise things that he’ll pick up in a hurry. But the natural talents and abilities I think they get better every time we see him.”
McAvoy was again solid for the B’s in their 1-0 Game 4 loss to Ottawa, leaving Boston down 3-1 in the series. The former Boston University blueliner logged a team-high 25:03 of ice time, including action on both the power play (1:51) and penalty kill (0:23).
He moved the puck well, skated the Bruins out of trouble in the defensive zone and nearly opened the scoring in the second period when his shot from the point found the back of the net but ultimately was disallowed after a coach’s challenge for offsides.
McAvoy has played with Zdeno Chara on the Bruins’ top pairing for most of the series. Playing with Chara means going against the other team’s top forwards, but this challenge hasn’t prevented McAvoy from playing at a high level.
This pairing is driving puck possession at an impressive rate, evidenced by their 60.0 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 through four games. In other words, the Bruins are tallying six of every 10 shot attempts when this duo is on the ice. In Game 4, McAvoy (plus-5) and Chara (plus-8) were the only B’s defensemen with a positive shot attempt differential during 5-on-5 play.
In fact, the Bruins are plus-12 in shot attempts, plus-9 in scoring chances and plus-7 in high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 when McAvoy has been on the ice this series, per Natural Stat Trick.
The Bruins’ blue line has been decimated by injuries in the playoffs. Losing four regulars is a mammoth challenge for any team to overcome at this time of the season. But it’s very encouraging for the Bruins’ future that McAvoy has looked so good, so early.
Sure, there will be growing pains next season. It happens with every rookie. But this series, even though it’s a small sample size, has shown McAvoy was worthy of the pre-draft hype and that he has the talent and composure to be a No. 1 defenseman at the NHL level for a long time.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images