At the midpoint of this season, it sure felt like a long way from where everybody expected Charlie McAvoy to be this season.
The 21-year-old missed a big chunk of the first half of the season with a concussion, and he returned with an inconsistent game, where mistakes in the D-zone and an inattention to detail where derailing his brilliance. Even worse, McAvoy seemed tentative and unable to tap into the physical aspects of his game that certainly play a part in his overall effectiveness as a workhorse defenseman capable of excelling in all situations.
It also put into question whether McAvoy was going to be able to cash in with the big second contract he probably had in mind for himself prior to the start of this season.
Well, a funny thing has happened to the second-year defenseman down the stretch, for a Bruins team that just recently got done with a 19-game point streak. McAvoy has basically taken over the mantle of No. 1 defenseman from 41-year-old Zdeno Chara, and is playing like a D-man that’s going to be at the center of things during Boston’s playoff run.
“The shooting for sure,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked if the team would like to see McAvoy shoot the puck more. “The body, yep, when it’s there, take it. Only [McAvoy] can answer, but he’s missed some time with different injuries. Maybe he’s starting to feel like now he’s into form, right? It’s not that easy in this league to miss five weeks or four weeks, or whatever the case was each time and then all of a sudden get back and revved up to full speed.
“The expectations are high for Charlie. He’s had a good start here. Part of that we try to temper with him without talking him down and not reaching his potential, but he has to understand it’s a tough league and play the game in front of him. I think he’s starting to now play that, and then when the opportunities are there, he looks like to me that he’s taking advantage of the situation. He’s not forcing anything, so that’s a sign that a guy’s in a zone when you have the puck a lot. You’re making plays, yet you’re not forcing stuff and seem to be making a lot of the right decisions. He’s in a groove right now.”
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Just look at the time on ice for the two players, and that tells the story. McAvoy is averaging 23:04 of ice time during the month of March, and is playing almost two minutes more per game than Zdeno Chara’s 21:14 of ice time. In February it was also the same story ,with McAvoy leading all Bruins with 22:23 of ice time per game and Chara once again trailed with 21:28 of ice time in the very same 13 games played last month.
Over that span of February and March, McAvoy also has five goals and 12 points along with a plus-8 rating in 20 games, and is truly putting in the time at both ends of the ice as the all-situation D-man. It’s certainly something that his teammates and the Bruins coaching staff has noticed as time has moved on, and as the D-man has recovered his complete game after hesitation and tentativeness crept in after the concussion issues.
“[McAvoy] plays against anybody, plays on the power play, plays on the penalty kill and moves the puck, so a little more modern-day type of player, does a little bit of everything," Cassidy said. "If you look at the Drew Doughty’s the [Roman] Josi’s, [P.K.] Subban’s, whoever you’re going to put in those categories. We hope that he’s in that category [of a No. 1 D-man] at some point, but this is kind of where we were going earlier, we want to temper that [excitement] so that when Charlie has the usual 20-year-old hiccups we don’t get down on him. But yeah, he could very well .”
Who could have imagined a few months ago that McAvoy would be standing in there and throwing big right-handed punches with Artemi Panarin like he did earlier this in Columbus?
That as much as anything was a sure sign that the young defenseman is healthy, confident and playing like somebody ready to take the baton from Chara as the No. 1 defenseman on this team. That means he’s the guy capable of playing 30 minutes a night every other day in the playoffs, a virtual must for any hockey team that wants to go on a two-month journey to win the Cup.
“The [offensive] production maybe might not be there, but I’ll take playing consistent hockey, being relied on and being trusted by the coaches and the team,” said McAvoy. “I’ll take that any day, and I feel like I’ve been playing a consistent brand of hockey and trying to just continue that.
“That’s my goal every single game: to be relied on, to be solid, to try to play mistake-free hockey -- obviously that’s not possible -- but do my best. That’s the goal of mine. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself; I try and just live in the moment and day by day, but I mean, down the road, to mean to this team what [Zdeno] Chara’s meant to this team is, I mean, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that, but that’s a goal of mine [for the future]. like a game like today against those guys that are, aside from our line which we think is the best, they’ve been statistically one of the best lines in the league.
"So you know [Chara] is going to bring it, and I knew he was. He was going to play one of his best games against them; he loves to shut guys down. He loves that, and I kind of feed off that. I take as much pride in it as him, and we were able to feed off each other today and kind of hold that line at bay when we’re together."
Clearly it bodes well for the Bruins, and for McAvoy, that he’s back to workhorse defenseman form, and playing now like people hoped he’d he would from the very beginning of this season. McAvoy’s elevated level of play was one of the biggest single factors behind the 19-game point streak, and behind Boston’s push to the second overall spot in the Atlantic Division.
It all begs the question as to what’s going to happen to McAvoy this offseason as his entry level contract expires. By all accounts McAvoy and his camp believed they were headed toward an Aaron Ekblad-level contract extension for his second deal that would have paid him something in the neighborhood of the $7.5 million per season Ekblad signed on for in Florida for eight seasons.
If McAvoy had enjoyed a healthy, dominant season this year that built upon last season’s impressive rookie campaign, then he’d even be able to make a compelling argument why he should be moving into Ekblad territory. But the reality is that McAvoy has missed 27 games to injury this season and his end-of-season numbers aren’t going to anywhere close to what he did as a rookie.
A two or three year bridge deal at lower AAV (Average Annual Value) would make the most sense given how things have played out for McAvoy this season.
It will leave the Bruins in quite a predicament, though, if McAvoy finishes up strong this season, has a dominant playoff and leaves the Black and Gold with a good taste in their mouths in a couple of months. Should they show McAvoy the money while banking on him getting healthier, better and more consistent while still staying motivated after getting paid major dough?
It’s one of a number of tough decisions facing Don Sweeney once this Bruins season has concluded, and lot of it might be dictated by what everybody sees out of No. 73 over the next two months while the Bruins try to make a push.
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Source : https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/bruins/mcavoy-playing-his-best-time-season-when-bs-need-him-most1496