Haggerty: Bruins plan to take it slow with McAvoy, unless . . .

Haggerty: Bruins plan to take it slow with McAvoy, unless . . .

BRIGHTON -- Nobody doubts that 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy is going to be a game-changer down the road for the Boston Bruins.

The Boston University sophomore, expected to be in the NHL next season, is the crown jewel of a draft-and-development movement led by general manager Don Sweeney over the last three years. And if McAvoy hits the ground running with the Providence Bruins over the weekend, he may even make his NHL debut with the Bruins sometime in the next 10 days, even though playing in as much as a single game with Boston this season would burn a year off his entry-level contract.

"[The NHL] is still to be determined. It will be contract first and [the AHL] as a good first step for us," said Sweeney after signing McAvoy to an ATO (Amateur Tryout Agreement). "He's made the decision to leave [college] and we're excited about that process. It leaves some options open [for McAvoy], but first and foremost gets him playing and acclimated to pro hockey."

But there's also the reality that a 19-year-old like McAvoy is going to face challenges in pro hockey. Mastering the defenseman position at the NHL level is an extremely complicated process. It's the reason we see a lot more teenage forwards take the league by storm than teenage D-men, who typically need more development time in the AHL to hone their skills at both ends of the rink.

"[The challenge] would be getting him to figure out what works at this level and what doesn't, just like if he were in Providence," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy about the theoretical possibility of McAvoy playing in Boston soon. "We've used seven defensemen here over the last eight weeks and they've done a good job for us, so we'd have to see where he fit in and go from there . . . I've seen him here and there, but I don't know enough about his individual game at this point to know what he would specifically need to do . . .

"[Defense] is a tougher position in the NHL because mistakes are magnified. If you're a forward you've got another layer of defense to support you, so you can get away with some of that stuff. I think that's why you see generally that most of the rookies that age in the NHL are forwards."

Torey Krug signed with the Bruins out of college five years ago and had a one-game cameo with them before spending the entire next season in Providence. Krug says now that, looking back, he knows he wasn't ready to play in the NHL coming out of school and needed a season to sort things out defensively against bigger, stronger, smarter and faster opponents.

"The speed itself wasn't much of an issue, but if you fall asleep even for a second it's going to turn into a scoring chance for the other team," Krug said of the adjustment from college hockey to the NHL. "These games are not easy to play in, even for veterans in the league . . .

"I thought offensively I was ready [right away], but defensively I had a lot to learn. It's a tough league to play in. Offensively it was fun, but defensively I had my share of hiccups realizing I had to go down to Providence to work on some things."

McAvoy isn't expected to follow Krug's path. He'll get development opportunities at the AHL level at the end of this season just like fellow young D-man Brandon Carlo, who used last spring's AHL experience to vault directly into the NHL this season as a 19-year-old playing top-four minutes right from opening night.

It's also the track taken by Zach Werenski last year with the Columbus Blue Jackets. An AHL playoff run fully prepped him for his breakout season as the league's best rookie defenseman.

"It's a long time ago, but I used that [ATO] myself as a benefit and I've always been an advocate of it, and I think Robbie O'Gara, Danton Heinen and Carlo all [did it]," said Sweeney. "All the players that have been able to come on and play at a very high level against men, generally in a playoff stretch drive or the playoffs themselves, it's a unique [experience].

"When you first turn pro, you're introduced to it at a really high level and you have to adjust to it on the fly. It's about structure and understanding the voices you're hearing. And reading and reacting at the pro level are all very important [skills]. [I think] it's a great on-the-job training exercise and right now Brandon is the best example of it. He's been able to jump into our lineup this year, and that's a testament to him and also the work he did last year."

So the Bruins should take their time with McAvoy, though also allow that he could be a dominant exception to the rule and become a force right out of the chute. It certainly appears Sweeney is going to leave that door ajar,  to make sure the Bruins don't miss out on anything with a young defenseman who's already drawn comparisons to Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty.

Banged up B's 'look forward to the challenge' vs Tampa team they're chasing

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Banged up B's 'look forward to the challenge' vs Tampa team they're chasing

TAMPA BAY – It certainly might not be the shape they envisioned themselves being in when these late season games arrived against the President’s Trophy favorites in Tampa Bay, but the Bruins are bracing for a showdown with the high-powered Lightning either way. 

The Bruins stand just four points behind the Bolts with one game in hand, and mathematically they absolutely have a shot of catching and surpassing the Lightning for the NHL’s top spot with three games remaining against them in the season’s final month. But realistically it’s got to be considered a long shot at this point with Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk all out for Saturday night’s meeting with Tampa, and Bergeron and McAvoy expected to potentially miss all three of their divisional scraps. 

Coming off a 3-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers and at the end of a week-long, four-game road trip, the Bruins know they’re going to need to tighten things up against a Lightning team they can’t match firepower with in their weakened state. 

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of just playing the game in front of us, and not getting too far ahead, too high or too low. We’ve got the best team in the National Hockey League, arguably, at home and rested [in front of us],” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We look forward to the challenge. They’re a high-scoring team, so we talked about that with our goaltenders and our ‘D’ today. We better be ‘on’ because they’ll be coming. Our forwards are going to have to help out in that area and make sure we’re reloading well, and keep getting pucks at the net. 

“We didn’t finish [against Florida] but it wasn’t because of lack of effort or lack of pucks at the net. That part of our game is trending pretty well offensively. I think you’re going to have score to a certain extent against this team because you’re not going to shut them down completely. That’s our game plan for whoever is going to be in the lineup. They’ve got to be ready for it because that’s how it works, and that’s how it’s worked all year long for us. We need the guys in there to do their part and do it well.”

Certainly the Bruins could still do some offensive damage with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak still intact on their top line, and David Krejci and Rick Nash also still developing their chemistry on the second line. Torey Krug also came through feeling healthy at practice on Friday after soaking up 26 plus minutes of ice time in the loss to Florida, so they’ll also have some puck-moving and offensive pop on the back end as well.

But it may come down to the Chara-less defense and Tuukka Rask to step up and go into shutdown mode against the Lightning if they’re looking to really push up on the Lightning, and make this a horse race for the Atlantic Division down the stretch. Not to mention, it would be a psychological swing for both teams if the Bruins could take down a rested, relatively healthy Tampa Bay hockey club with their undermanned, injury-ravaged bunch. 

That in and of itself should be plenty of motivation for a Bruins team that’s got their sights and set on bigger and better things this spring with the Lightning expected to be one of the big obstacles standing in their way.


Morning Skate: Tavares or Seguin?

NBC Sports Boston Photo

Morning Skate: Tavares or Seguin?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while jacked and pumped about that Infinity War trailer. Wow. 


*Credit here for something outside the box and clear hockey satire while looking far into the NHL’s crystal ball where the new expansion team is called the Seattle Slippery Seals, and Brad Marchand is the head of the NHLPA. That is quite a twist at the end of the movie right there. 


*The Hockey Central crew debates whether they would want John Tavares or Tyler Seguin as a player to build their team around. Seguin is having a solid year (with the end of his contract coming into view), but I’m going with Tavares all day long. I think he’s more of a competitor and a reliable player along with an equitable level of talent, and that counts for quite a bit in team-building. 


*It’s good to see the PHWA decide to make public the ballots of all NHL Awards starting at the end of this season. It’s something I voted in favor of and already did annually as I think transparency is something we always ask for from those we cover, so it should never be something we shy away from. 


*The Flyers have hit the skids again after pushing themselves into playoff view. This has been such a streak team over the last couple of years. 


*Pro Hockey Talk says that the Montreal Canadiens need to take a long look into the mirror before they move on from this season. I couldn’t agree more. 


*For something completely different: I feel badly for my kids that Toys R us is liquidating as a company, and the stores will be closing. It’s getting to the point where there will be no more brick and mortar toy stores for kids to visit, and that’s something from my youth experience that they’re going to miss out on. Frankly, it’s kind of sad.