NEW YORK — Adapt and survive. That’s what Charlie McAvoy had to do after making his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins last season.
Forty-eight hours after his first practice, the defenseman was thrown into the fire during their opening round playoff series against the Ottawa Senators. He impressed well enough that with the score tied 1-1 late in the third period of Game 1, the 19-year-old was paired with Zdeno Chara during a shift that hemmed the Senators in their zone, leading to Brad Marchand’s game-winning goal.
Now 20 games into his NHL career, the 19-year-old McAvoy is still turning heads and playing himself into the Calder Trophy discussion.
The trust from the Bruins coaching staff and his ability to handle heavy minutes has brought McAvoy to where he is now. His 22:55 of ice time a night leads all rookie skaters. In fact, no other NHL freshman is averaging over 20 minutes. Playing against opponents’ top lines hasn’t caused too many problems either, as his 56 percent Corsi, per Corsica, places him eighth among defensemen who have logged at least 200 minutes.
“He’s able to adapt very quickly and make contributions right away. We saw that last year in the playoffs when he stepped in and was giving us big minutes in big situations,” Chara told PHT on Wednesday. “I would say he’s able to make those quick adjustments and contributions.”
Chara is used to being anchored with a young partner. The last few seasons have seen him working alongside players like Dougie Hamilton and Brandon Carlo, all of whom share similar qualities to McAvoy. They’re tall, right-hand shots who see the ice well and are able to move the puck.
“You’ve got in Z an established shutdown guy who can play against anybody, relishes that role. He’ll bring that to Charlie’s mentality,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Charlie can play against anybody. Charlie likes to make plays up the ice, joins the attack; so you get kind of a two-pronged pair. Charlie’s good at getting back on pucks, helps them break them out.”
For Chara, focus and consistency were important for him he was developing during his first few NHL seasons with the New York Islanders. Once he landed in Ottawa, that’s when his game really took off and he became the monster shutdown defenseman we’ve been able to watch for well over a decade. That advice has been relayed to his new partner.
As with all defense partners, Chara and McAvoy talk regularly in order to stay on the same page. And while it’s only been a short while, the young blue liner has learned even more just by watching what the 40-year-old future Hockey Hall of Famer handles himself on the ice.
“The way he controls the game is just awesome. There’s not many people I think can do it like that,” McAvoy said. “When he gets the puck, it’s kind of like a calm factor to him. He’s so strong defensively, I know when he’s going to win his battles.”
The life of a developing young NHL defenseman comes with its share of ups and downs. That’s why it’s been a boon for McAvoy to be partnered with someone who has nearly 1,400 games in the league. It’s a continuous education.
“I learned how to manage a game better, decisions with the puck,” said McAvoy. “He’s very good about not forcing plays. He’s makes the right plays at the right time.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.