Haggerty: McAvoy soaking up his time in Chara training program

Haggerty: McAvoy soaking up his time in Chara training program

BRIGHTON – The bottom line for the Bruins and 19-year-old defenseman Charlie McAvoy is that they need the rookie to come through in a huge spot making his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And the Bruins are going to put him in the best position to succeed.

McAvoy was a little more excited, a little looser and much less nervous on Tuesday in his second practice with the team at Warrior Ice Arena, and perhaps with good reason as the rookie was paired with 40-year-old Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.

“It’s kind of shocking at first when you’re out there with [Chara] because he’s such an amazing player. He’s the leader of this team and he was really good to me today. We talked a lot out on the ice, and he was telling me a few little things. That stuff can go a long way,” said McAvoy. “It’s no surprise why they put guys with so little experience like me, or Brandon Carlo at the beginning of the year with a player like that. He has such a storied career and he really knows what he’s doing.”

Couple that with McAvoy getting practice reps at the point position on Boston’s top power play unit as well on Tuesday, and it’s clear he’s going to get a chance to show exactly what he can do offensively in Game 1.

For a player that seemed to be at his best on the big stage at events like the World Junior tournament or the Beanpot, McAvoy prides himself on rising to the occasion in big moments like the one he’ll face with the Black and Gold on Wednesday night.

“Oh man, it feels like [those big games] have been kind of following me around this year,” said McAvoy, who will undoubtedly be looked upon to provide some of the puck-moving skill and power play oomph that will be missing with Torey Krug out of the lineup. “It’s the position that any athlete wants to be in. You want to be in those moments where there is so much on the line, those NCAA tournament games or those Gold Medal games.

“It’s the stuff like that you have to embrace. All of those dreams you had growing up are those moments, and it’s just about realizing where you are, taking it all in and not missing a beat of it but also showing up and realizing this is something you’ve wanted for a long time. They’re all different levels of hockey, obviously, but it’s same message throughout.”

Clearly McAvoy comes into the biggest situation of his young pro hockey career with confidence built up over rising to the occasion in the past, but it also looks like he’ll also have the tutelage of Chara to rely on as well. Chara and McAvoy were paired together during Tuesday’s practice with Chara’s usual partner, Brandon Carlo, out for Game 1 with an upper body injury. Bruce Cassidy sees the upside of putting his oldest and youngest D-men together on a top pairing.

“I’m not getting ahead of myself, but I’m not saying he won’t play with [Chara] either,” said Cassidy of McAvoy getting paired with Chara after skating with John-Michael Liles in Monday’s practice. “But we like the young guys with Zee, and he likes to be the big brother. He relishes that role. [McAvoy] will compliment Zee getting back on pucks and helping with the transition game, and I think that’s where Carlo has been good with him.

“I think Zee enjoys tutoring the young guys, and Dougie Hamilton is another right shot guy where I think [Chara] might have contributed to his development. So he’s kind of gotten used to it now, and he’s a real student of the game. I think that translates well when he’s talking to the young guys about the game. When you put a young guy with a partner, I think that [veteran] has to have some communication skills and really want to do it. It’s pretty tough for a young guy if the other guy is just focused on his own job all the time.”

On the ice, Chara will lend his experience and stalwart defensive talents to a talented young player with a grand total of four games of AHL experience, and in theory McAvoy will aid a stay-at-home D-man in Chara with his ability to quickly transition the puck up the ice. The one drawback to this plan is that McAvoy will be expected to survive defensively matching up against the other team’s top offensive players, and that could presumably end up with a rookie moment or two costing the Bruins somewhere along the way.

That’s the theory, anyway, with Cassidy having seen very little of McAvoy in actual game action before the playoff bullets start to fly on Wednesday night.

“I think [McAvoy] is a player we’ve got to see in a game before we can really evaluate,” said Cassidy. “We put him on the power play to evaluate what he sees out there, and he looked pretty good. He’s moving the puck well, but that’s the area in a game against men where things will really play themselves out. I think he’s going to move the puck well, read plays well and see the ice well, I don’t think that stuff changes just because of his age and what level he’s at.

“But it’s playing against men, and time and space situations where we’re just going to have to see how it goes on the fly.”

The “on the fly” thing for McAvoy will get going in earnest for Game 1 with the hope that the right usage, the right partner and the right timing will allow the 19-year-old to quickly show what all the Drew Doughty comparisons have been about the last few years. The Bruins desperately need a player like that to materialize for them entering a playoff series already down two top-4 d-men before the first postseason puck is even dropped. 

Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

File photo

Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while not really digging these forecasts of more snow.

*You know, if he weren’t making millions and millions of dollars I might actually feel bad for ol' Claude Julien up in Montreal busting out the “We’re not a very good team” soliloquy with the Habs. That team flat out stinks this season and these past few weeks it can’t be fun at all being the head coach of that dumpster fire.

*Darren Dreger says there is no rush for the Toronto Maple Leafs to bring back Auston Matthews before he’s ready to go, and that’s absolutely the case so close to the playoffs.

*Here are five Hart Trophy-caliber players that won’t get a sniff of the voting, but deserve some attention nonetheless. There are no Bruins players on the list if you’re wondering, but some pretty good ones in Johnny Gaudreau and Aleksander Barkov.

*The NHL general managers are weighing potential changes to the goalie-interference interpretation ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

*While it still looks a Swedish defenseman is going to be the No. 1 overall pick this June, there are some other players rocketing up the list.

*For something completely different: The definitive ranking of Girl Scout cookies from best-to-worst that we’ve all been waiting for.

*Song of the Week: Haven’t done one of these in a long, long time, but I like this Calvin Harris/Katy Perry/Pharrell Williams tune that I hadn’t heard until the past couple of days.


Donato looks like impact player after 'dream' debut

Donato looks like impact player after 'dream' debut

BOSTON – It certainly looks like the Bruins have themselves another young impact player.

The only way it could have been more of a dream scenario for Ryan Donato in his NHL debut would have been if the Bruins won the game, but otherwise it was as good as could have been hoped with a goal and three points in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at TD Garden.

Donato fired off a one-timer missile from the right face-off dot for his first NHL goal, but also showed both tenacity in front of the net on the power play leading to Riley Nash’s goal, and playmaking in flipping a backhanded saucer pass to David Krejci for the tying goal in the third period. 

The highly skilled Harvard star didn’t end up finishing off the storybook opening with an OT winner, but he did more than enough in his first game to make it a living dream for himself.

“During warm-ups, actually, I was kind of taken away. I mean it kind of felt like a dream and I really didn’t even get that warmed up because I was too focused on everything else, and just kind of the whole situation,” said Donato. “At the end of the day it was an unbelievable experience and it was a blessing tonight.

“I mean, [the NHL] is so much faster than what I’ve ever seen but at the end of the day, it’s something that you can get used to. When you’re playing with great players like that it’s something that will come along fast as well.”

If there were a checklist of qualities that the Bruins wanted to see out of their 21-year-old prospect while jumping from college hockey to the pros, one could check off “high hockey IQ”, “natural goal-scoring shot” and “nose for the net” right off the bat.

Those are the kinds of qualities that could make Donato very effective for the Bruins down the stretch and into the playoffs if the youngster can harness them on a consistent basis. It also caps off a brilliant 2014 NHL draft for the Bruins, helmed by current Edmonton Oilers assistant GM Keith Gretzky, where their first four picks were David Pastrnak, Donato, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork, a draft class that’s helped set the Black and Gold up for years to come.  

What about the combination of those qualities plus being able to do it in front of friends and family as the hometown kid for his father's old team? That takes a pretty special makeup to do as well.

“He’s on the puck, as advertised, in terms of his compete. [He] wanted to shoot the puck," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Early he was trying to make some plays and then realized, just play to your strength. [He] did a real good job. I didn’t notice anything away from the puck. I’m sure there’s a few teaching moments once you go back over the game tape and go from there. But, like I said, I liked him a lot. I’m sure Krech [David Krejci] did, as well. They seemed to have some good chemistry.

“This is one game, but some of the guys that come in...You saw that with [Charlie] McAvoy, just played his game. It would be great if he has similar success. Consistency is a big issue for first-year guys, and we all understand that. If he can string it together then we’ll make that comparison, but very impressed by that to be able to come in here [and make an immediate impact]. Especially your hometown, could be some jitters there, might be easier to do it on the road, almost. I’m not sure – to each his own in that area – but there’s a lot of people to, sort of, impress, and it’s a tough game, so good for him to be able to do it right here in his own backyard.”

There was certainly no hint of tentativeness or nerves sapping any part of his game while jumping into a Boston lineup that desperately needed a guy like Donato while beset with injuries. The B’s are down Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk and now Rick Nash for the time being, and the ability to plug another capable top-six, potentially high-impact option into the lineup just allows the Bruins to keep on running like nobody was missing.

“Ryan [Donato] played a good game. Good for his confidence to get the first one. That is always the hardest, but he’s got to keep playing the way he played [in his first game]. I thought he played well and he made some good plays,” said Krejci. “He easily could have got a couple of more, but that’s a good start for him. For me, just have to go out and try to do your best to help the team.

“He was battling along the walls, and he was making some good plays. Like I said, it was a good game for him. For a first NHL game, you can’t really ask for anything better than he did. So it was a good game and hopefully, he can keep it up.”

The challenge now is twofold for Donato and the Bruins. The first hurdle is for Donato to keep performing and producing with consistency as he gets everything tossed at him in his first NHL go-round. That will be a challenge enough.

There are many that can look like an impact player in the NHL from time to time, but few that can pull it off nightly as the speed and physicality take a toll over the course of a long season.

The second difficulty, honestly, will be finding enough room in the Bruins lineup for all these players of different shapes, sizes and talents once they're all healthy and potentially start rolling once they bust into the postseason. If Donato keeps up something resembling his debut performance on a nightly basis, then the rich just got even richer with a Bruins team already awash in exciting, talented young players up and down their roster.