BRIGHTON, Mass – The bad news is that Charlie McAvoy was a minus-6 with zero points in four games after coming back from a sprained MCL in his left knee, and there was a whole bucket of rust on his game after missing a month’s worth of games.
The good news is that McAvoy got progressively better as things went along, and finished on a strong note in last Sunday’s regular season finale loss to the Panthers while clocking in with a workhorse-like 25:08 of ice time. McAvoy had trouble clearing a puck early in the game that led to a goal against for the B’s, but otherwise showed the flashes of offensive forays, puck-moving efficiency and board-rattling physicality that they’ll need out of the rookie in the playoffs. It was another show of resiliency and obvious in a season that’s certainly been brilliant for a 20-year-old defenseman in the NHL, but also an impressive example of McAvoy overcoming obstacles in front of him whether it was an unexpected midseason heart procedure or the knee injury toward the end of the year.
“Charlie’s handled things very well. It takes everybody time when you come back from injuries, when you miss time, to get your game back to where you’d like it to be and where you feel comfortable,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “He’s gone through some ebbs and flows in that regard, but he’s handled things very well. He’s kind of mature beyond his years on the ice, and [we] want to see him continue to evolve as an impact player.”
Part of that evolution will be building on last spring’s experience in the Stanley Cup playoffs where he averaged 26 minutes per game in the first round series against the Ottawa Senators, and becoming a young pillar that Boston can rely on this postseason.
Bruce Cassidy said part of the key to getting McAvoy back on track was simply focusing on the simple things rather than getting too ambitious just a couple of games back after a lengthy absence from the lineup.
“He was terrific [on Saturday]. I thought he was much more his game. There was a short discussion with Charlie where I think when he came back he wanted to be the same player that he was before he got hurt,” said Bruce Cassidy, last weekend when talking about his rookie D-man. “Listen, this is a good league. I love his confidence and the fact that he wants to make a difference, but there was some rust there. So you say ‘Listen just play your game, play a simple game and get back to basics and you’ll be one of our better D-men.’ That’s kind of what happened.
“I don’t think he forced anything. He just played his game and I thought he and [Zdeno Chara] were really good together, and back to getting closer to where they were [prior to the injuries]. That’s a good sign for us.”
The best development for both McAvoy and the Bruins were those four regular season games in April where McAvoy got to really shake the rust off. Now he should be pretty much up to speed in a challenging first round playoff series where they’ll be up against a young, skilled Maple Leafs group where the B’s rookie’s puck-moving abilities should become a pretty key factor in the best-of-seven proceedings.