In a single quick low season, the Boston Bruins misplaced Zdeno Chara, their 14-year captain and shutdown defenseman, and Torey Krug, the quarterback of their perennially potent energy play.
Retooling the again line of a group with aspirations of successful the Stanley Cup with out going outdoors the group required a better degree of play from holdover defenders, none extra so than Charlie McAvoy.
Although he was barely 23 years previous when this season began, McAvoy had already performed 238 common season and playoff video games, all with Chara on the roster as his protection companion and mentor. However Chara signed a one-year contract with Washington 4 days earlier than camp opened and two months after Krug, who led all N.H.L. defensemen in power-play factors final yr, signed a seven-year contract with St. Louis.
Whereas dealing with added obligations and elevated expectations, McAvoy has delivered. He’s third on the group in factors and tied for first in assists, and is on monitor to ascertain profession highs in each classes.
Coming into Sunday’s sport towards the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bruins (10-3-2) sit atop the East Division, their lone regulation losses to the Islanders on the finish of street journeys and to the Devils on Thursday. The sport towards Philadelphia is without doubt one of the league’s two out of doors video games at Lake Tahoe. The primary, between Colorado and Vegas, began Saturday afternoon however the ultimate two durations had been postponed to midnight Japanese due to “poor ice circumstances ensuing from excessive solar,” the league said.
Pierre McGuire, an analyst for NBC Sports activities, has adopted McAvoy since his days at Boston College. McAvoy made a rapid bounce from the N.C.A.A. Tournament to the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2017.
“In case you didn’t assume he was going to be good, you didn’t know what you had been watching,” McGuire stated in a telephone interview, referring to McAvoy’s school profession.
McAvoy already has figured prominently in key moments this yr. In Washington on Jan. 30, his aggressive pinch along the boards off a face-off play and subsequent goal-mouth cross to Brad Marchand introduced Boston inside a aim, then he tied the sport with 58 seconds left to assist the Bruins salvage a degree in a sport by which that they had trailed 3-0.
In extra time towards the Rangers on Feb. 10, he broke up a midair cross with the shaft of his stick as two Rangers converged on the web, and in just about the identical movement banked a cross behind the Rangers’ protection to Marchand, who skated in alone for the game-winner.
“Good gamers make good performs,” Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask stated in a video name after that sport.
As instrumental as Chara was in McAvoy’s growth, his departure could have accelerated it. Ever since McAvoy has been within the league, “he’s been an elite puck mover,” Bruins Coach Bruce Cassidy stated in a video name. When the Bruins gathered for coaching camp, Cassidy inspired McAvoy to shoot extra and thru 15 video games McAvoy has landed 29 on web, one of the best tempo of his profession.
“I’ve at all times been a pass-first man, however I’m attempting to alter that to shoot when the play is there,” McAvoy stated in a video name. With Chara and Krug gone and Matt Grzelcyk having missed 9 of the final 11 video games due to accidents, McAvoy’s significance to the Bruins has solely grown.
“Everytime you’re requested to have extra accountability and given extra alternative, you need to take it and run with it,” he stated.
McAvoy’s impression isn’t restricted to offense. With the Bruins main a first-round sequence 2-1 towards Carolina final yr however trailing by a aim within the third interval of Recreation 4, McAvoy lined up Jordan Staal as he was wheeling out of his zone and knocked Staal, 4 inches taller and 12 kilos heavier, off his toes and out of the sport with a clear hit.
“Boy, did that change the tenor of the sport,” Cassidy stated.
Boston tied the rating 14 seconds later, received Recreation Four and ended the first-round sequence in 5 video games. McGuire cited it for example of McAvoy’s potential to know which of his expertise are most wanted at any specific second in a sport.
“He can affect a sport in a variety of methods,” McGuire stated. “Together with his dimension, his power, his ability degree and his aggressiveness.”
McAvoy is amongst a handful of rising defensemen within the league: the 2020 rookie of the yr Cale Makar, 22, of Colorado; Dallas’s Miro Heiskanen, 21; Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes, 21; and the Rangers’ Adam Fox, 23.
However not like these defensemen, McAvoy is now the veteran on his pairing. His companion this yr is Jeremy Lauzon, who can be 23 years previous however entered this yr having performed simply 41 N.H.L. video games.
“Charlie discovered from among the best,” Cassidy stated. “Now the coed turns into the instructor, so to talk.”
Pointing to McAvoy’s already heavy workload — he’s averaging greater than 24 minutes of ice time, up from 23:10 final season — Cassidy acknowledged he’d demanded a variety of McAvoy.
“However we would like don’t need him to attempt to carry the entire defensive corps,” he stated. “Simply play your sport and help your companion. That’s the ask proper now.”
And as McAvoy has demonstrated by his profession, no matter is requested, he solutions.
“He’s simply scratching the floor of how good he might be,” McGuire stated.