Perhaps some of the naysaying Bruins fans, unhappy with years of barren B’s draft classes, are starting to see the Black and Gold light.
While the Stanley Cup prospects for next season’s NHL group in Boston aren’t demonstrably better than the last couple of seasons, the performances of several B’s prospects at last week’s National Junior Evaluation showcase in Plymouth, Michigan should have opened plenty the eyes of plenty of Boston hockey fans.
“[These prospects] are now at the forefront of where this organization is headed,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney last month at the end of development camp. “We feel good about that. We’re going to give them the time that’s necessary to become the players that they can become, but they are a big, big part of our future. They know it and we’ve acknowledged it to them. Now they recognize the opportunity in front of them to take advantage of it.”
That’s exactly what happened during the week in Plymouth, Michigan with the best and brightest young hockey talent on the planet testing their abilities against each other. Granted it was a summer tournament at a time when most players aren’t their razor-sharpest, but it’s still instructive as to which way particular players are trending.
First round pick Charlie McAvoy, in particular, made a statement as one of the most dominant players on the ice among his under-20 peers, and gave everybody an idea of what he’ll look like as an NHL D-man a couple of years from now. The BU sophomore-to-be dominated at both ends of the ice with steady, confident puck-moving, and at times simply controlled the puck possession in the offensive zone setting up offense for his US teammates.
It didn’t result in a ton of actual stats on the scoreboard for McAvoy and the Americans when you browsed the stat line, but the 18-year-old passed the eye test in a major, major way. That wasn’t even the real eye-grabber, however.
The solidly-built McAvoy, who says he models his game after the physical, skilled Drew Doughty, was crushing opposing players with bone-rattling hits at the defensive blue line throughout the week. He did it against an unsuspecting Swedish player last week, and McAvoy destroyed 6-foot-4, 215-pound Florida first round pick Lawson Crouse with a clean, punishing hit in the closing minutes of the US’s blowout win over Canada on Saturday night. The giant open-ice check would have been impressive no matter which player he was standing up at the defensive blue line, but to do it to the biggest, toughest player on the Canadian roster was an impressive hockey play from the offensively-gifted McAvoy.
It was another encouraging step for McAvoy after showing those same glimmers of skill and physicality at Bruins Development Camp last month, and more evidence he should be in line for a dominant sophomore season with the Terriers. If the 18-year-old continues at the rate of improvement he’s currently on, it’s no stretch to say this coming season might be his last for the Terriers before joining up with a Bruins team that badly needs some explosive ability on the back end.
As it is, he looks like Boston’s best hope to develop into the Duncan Keith/Kris Letang homegrown No. 1 defenseman that the B’s desperately require if they’re going to push back into true contending status. But it wasn’t just McAvoy showing off his wares for B’s prospects.
Ryan Lindgren was another solid defenseman for Team USA after being a second round pick for the Black and Gold back in June, and first round pick Trent Frederic showed exactly what kind of player he was during a showcase game against Finland. Frederic won just about every face-off and didn’t lose a single defensive face-off while taking some key draws during the game, and played with the kind of intensity and energy the B’s envisioned when they picked him at the end of the first round.
Meanwhile the player some hoped the B’s would take instead of Frederic with the 29th pick, Alex Debrincat, was pretty much invisible for long stretches of the same game. It’s true that Frederic didn’t show much in the way of skill and offensive knowhow while playing a fourth line center role for Team USA during the one game, and that will be the area where the athletic forward will need the most improvement.
In addition to the trio of B’s prospects skating for Team USA, there were three other prospects taking part in the evaluation camps with 2015 draft picks Zach Senyshyn (15th overall) and Jeremy Lauzon (52nd overall) both skating for Team Canada, and speedy, small 2016 sixth round pick Oskar Steen participating for Team Sweden as well. All six players acquitted themselves well over the week, but this prospect showcase might someday be remembered as the first time that McAvoy really began to register in the hearts and minds of Bruins fans all over.
Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs