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McAvoy Set to Make NHL Debut in Game 1

Defenseman will be eighth Bruin to play in playoffs before regular season

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins / - Just two weeks ago, Charlie McAvoy was a 19-year-old college kid, balancing his ascending hockey career with his academic duties. His most important exams were being taken in the classrooms dotting Commonwealth Ave.

Life, however, can change quickly, particularly when you're one of the National Hockey League's top defense prospects.

McAvoy, the 14th overall pick in last June's draft, decided to forego the final two years of his college career at Boston University and was signed by the Bruins to a three-year entry-level contract earlier this week.

He will be in the lineup Wednesday night when Boston takes on Ottawa in Game 1 of the team's first-round playoff series, during which the blueliner's biggest tests will now include defending the likes of Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, and Erik Karlsson.

"It feels like I blinked my eyes and a second ago I was at Boston University," McAvoy said following Wednesday's morning skate. "I've already played a stint in Providence and now I'm in Ottawa for the playoffs. I mean, it's crazy. It's been a whirlwind."

Video: McAvoy speaks after first NHL practice with Bruins

The right-shot blueliner will become just the ninth Bruin in history to play a postseason game before a regular-season contest, joining Bill Anderson, Wayne Harelson Brown, John Byce, Don Cherry, Guyle Fielder, Guy LaRose, Gordon Wilson, and Chris Winnes.

"Just play," Zdeno Chara, who was paired with McAvoy during Tuesday's practice, said of the advice he can pass on to the youngster. "He's obviously a young, talented player. It's been kind of a speed track for him since he joined Providence and obviously signed with the Bruins.

"But, you don't want to overwhelm players like that with too much information or too much talking. They've just got to play and use their talent and use their hockey sense."

Much like Brandon Carlo has for the majority of his rookie season, McAvoy reaped the invaluable benefits of being paired with Chara - even if it was only for one practice.

"Oh man, I mean, the benefits are endless," said McAvoy. "You get paired up with a guy like that [Tuesday] in practice - the amount of lessons that he has, they're endless. He was giving me little pointers here and there.

"When you play with that kind of experience and that kind of career that he's had, the player that he is, there aren't really words for it. It just helps you out a lot."

While McAvoy skated alongside Chara on Tuesday, Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed Wednesday that McAvoy would start the game on the right side next to Kevan Miller, though that could change as the game progresses.

"I'm just trying to stay calm and cool and realize that I'm here for a reason," said McAvoy, whose parents will be in attendance. "You don't get here by accident. I need to just embrace where I am right now and play a simple, effective hockey game. I know the guys on this team, from top to bottom, are all phenomenal players and they'll all help me a lot tonight."

With injuries to Torey Krug (lower-body) and Carlo (upper-body) making them unavailable for at least the start of the Ottawa series, the Bruins turned to McAvoy, comfortable enough with his skills to have him make the jump to the NHL, despite having played just four games with the Providence Bruins.

"We feel he's able to come in and provide the depth and some of the attributes that he has," Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said earlier this week. "And you look at your team and realize you're in the playoffs and you've got to have all hands on deck. We thought that Charlie could come in and add to that group."

McAvoy played four games in the AHL, registering two assists and a plus-3 rating, while playing mostly with Providence captain Tommy Cross. His fluidity when moving the puck was on full display, as was his ability to adapt quickly to a higher level of competition.

"He played well," said Sweeney. "He supported well, playing with Tommy Cross for the most part. Charlie did what he does best in moving pucks and he stayed physical when he's supposed to. He's learning the structure and learning to play without the puck, which is an area that we wanted him to understand at the next level, that it will be much more difficult, so it's been a sharp learning curve."

The increase in speed and tempo from college to the AHL was apparent for McAvoy. And he knows the adjustment will be even greater during a Stanley Cup Playoff game.

"The players get better, the speed gets faster…you're playing with men now, men who want that puck," said McAvoy. "You've got to make every decision faster; you've got to get your feet moving quicker. I noticed it in the AHL and I thought I adapted pretty well.

"Obviously, the NHL is the best hockey in the world. So, it's going to be a quick learning curve, hopefully, for myself and I'll take it a shift at a time and a minute at a time and, throughout the game, try and pull as much as I can from my teammates in game situations and just work my hardest."

Sweeney said McAvoy is a player that "seeks out the bigger moments." And there is no denying that sentiment.

From his stellar effort at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship - he was named Player of the Game for the gold-medal game - to his strong performance during the first round of this year's NCAA Tournament, McAvoy has always seemed to have a flare for the dramatic.

The Bruins hope that trend continues Wednesday night.

"Throughout this process, I think I've done a good job of catching my breath and taking a step back and saying, 'Wow, don't let this moment slip away,'" said McAvoy.

"This is something I've been working for my whole life. You've just got to take a step back. I'm so grateful and thankful for these opportunities."

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