Charlie McAvoy is catching a lot of grief. Clayton Keller is ragging on his golf game, while fellow New Yorker Jeremy Bracco is giving him the gears about wearing a Boston Red Sox hat. All three were taking part in the NHLPA’s Rookie Showcase, an event where many of hockey’s top prospects get the photos done for their first Upper Deck hockey cards. It’s supposed to be fun.
OK, all three did look like they were having fun and like many of the kids at the event, McAvoy is preparing for a huge milestone: his first NHL training camp and hopefully, a top-six spot on Boston’s defense corps.
McAvoy played six playoff games for the Bruins last year after finishing up his NCAA career with Boston University. The ex-Terriers star made a great impression with three points from the blueline, while averaging a bonkers 26 minutes of ice time in the first round against Ottawa. Now he’s aiming for full-time duty and getting that sneak peek last year helps.
“It’s good to be familiar with the personnel in the Bruins system,” McAvoy said. “It was nice to dip my toe in there and I’m excited to go for the whole year now.”
McAvoy was amazing for the Terriers last season, though his most noteworthy performance came in a Team USA jersey when he helped the Americans win gold in Montreal at the world juniors. That instant classic versus Canada had many great showings and McAvoy was a standout for the U.S. side. Clayton Keller was on that team, too, and as a Boston University alum himself, he knows what McAvoy can do.
“He’s a great player,” Keller said. “He’s a great defenseman and an offensive guy. Everybody saw him in the playoffs and he’s going to have a really special year.”
The Bruins need McAvoy to be good. Sure, that’s a lot of pressure to put on defenseman who will only turn 20 in December, but Boston is in a weird place right now where the franchise has roster holes, but can’t be seen as rebuilding since there are so many key veterans still playing at a high level.
McAvoy knows that nothing is given at the NHL level, but at the same time he feels confident in his own abilities. And what he brings to the table is very in vogue right now. A puck-moving blueliner with great offensive instincts, McAvoy can play a lot of minutes and be dangerous while doing so. His unpredictability with the puck is a big asset and he said the Bruins are on board with his creative outbursts.
“They definitely don’t minimize that,” he said. “They allow me to play my game. As long as I play a two-way responsible game, if I’m getting the puck out of the zone and moving it good, and we’re spending a lot of time in the other team’s zone, then everybody is happy.”
Though he hails from Long Island, McAvoy spent most of the summer in Boston, training at the university with other pros like Jack Eichel and Torey Krug, under the tutelage of Terriers strength and conditioning coach Kyle Czech. Some of the older players impressed upon McAvoy that he would benefit by sticking around town longer and Czech was happy with the youngster’s progress.
“I was living in Boston so it made more sense to stay,” McAvoy said. “I was able to go back and see my family for a couple weeks, which was good. But working out at BU is kinda home base for me. Our trainer is great and I put in the work this summer to get better.”
McAvoy did a lot of strength and agility training off-ice, while also skating with some of the Bruins. Going back to last season’s playoff run, one very important Bruin for the youngster was the captain, Zdeno Chara. They played together, but the Boston icon also made sure to take the kid under his massive wing.
“Zdeno was that guy for me,” McAvoy said. “He sat next to me at practice, on the road…everywhere I was, he was right next to me. Getting to play with him ... man, I can’t even find the words. I’ve watched that guy play my entire life. He’s an unbelievable person, everyone on the team thinks the world of him, he’s our leader and as a player he’s been so successful. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer and to play next to a guy like that, I can probably credit my success to him.”
Communication was key – Chara’s a talker. And he also trusted McAvoy to make reads and to call out plays when the youngster saw something out on the ice. At 40, it seems like Chara doesn’t have too many more NHL seasons left, but McAvoy’s an optimist.
“He’s gonna be the next Jagr,” he said. “He’s in tremendous shape and for a guy like me, it’s motivation, seeing what I need to do to be at his level. Maybe he’ll play forever.”
When it comes to McAvoy, Bruins fans are hoping he can start an elite career of his own – and as soon as possible.