The Boston Bruins are hummin’ right now. Even with Hart Trophy candidate Patrice Bergeron on the shelf, the B’s are in a great spot – especially with an infusion of talent at the trade deadline, including big-ticket Rick Nash. But one of the best drivers all year has been rookie Charlie McAvoy, the young ace defenseman who pushes the pace and throws his weight around. Needless to say, his teammates have been impressed.
“When you have a D-man that can move the puck the way he can and see the ice the way he does, it’s very special, especially at his age,” said left winger Brad Marchand. “He has a long way to go and a lot of area to grow, but he’s already shown that he is a dominant player in this league and he’s going to be a big player for a long time.”
After a quick but deadly two-year run with Boston University, McAvoy left the Terriers to turn pro, seeing his first NHL action in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. He looked good right off the hop and this year he has taken things to the next level.
The right-shot puckmover has played on an odd-couple tandem with hulking 6-foot-9 legend Zdeno Chara and the fit has been great. Chara, despite many battle-scarred years in the NHL, is having a solid campaign and still leads Boston with more than 23 minutes of ice time per game at the age of 40 (he turns 41 later this month).
Part of the reason Chara can still log those minutes is thanks to McAvoy, who has always been known for carrying the puck with great success. McAvoy himself ranks second on the squad with 22:29 of ice time per night, while also helping on the power play. His workload leads all NHL rookies and McAvoy has to be included in Calder Trophy conversations.
Is he the favorite? Realistically, no. Matt Barzal of the New York Islanders is running away with the rookie scoring crown, while Vancouver’s Brock Boeser and Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde have also lit up the scoresheets. But McAvoy is the best defenseman in the class (with all due respect to Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev) and I could definitely see him cracking the top-three finalists. It’s worth noting that ballots for NHL awards call for five nominations, so if McAvoy isn’t named a finalist, it’s not necessarily a snub – he very well may finish fourth by an eyelash and you’d only find out later.
Of course, the young defenseman is just trying to do his best and find his way in the NHL, something that is easier said than done even for an elite prospect.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I knew there was going to be ups and downs and I’m trying to stay up. Stay energized, stay healthy, avoid those bumps and bruises and show up positive every day at the rink. I have a lot of guys in this room that I can lean on to help me get through it.”
Another positive is that the youngster hasn’t hit a rookie wall – in fact, he has six points in his past five games. And right now is the fun part, as the Bruins try to catch the Lightning for first place in the Atlantic Division, while also fending off Toronto behind them.
McAvoy had a virtuoso performance in the 2017 world juniors, helping Team USA win gold in Montreal in an instant classic against Canada, so he’s good with pressure.
Now it’s time to see if he can help the Bruins go long during the hardest post-season in the world.