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.