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Round 1

Charlie McAvoy of Bruins poised for another big step

Defenseman could make jump from college student to Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Charlie McAvoy started out wide-eyed and wondering, nervous and excited, agape at the players with whom he was sharing the ice.

Less than two weeks ago, the defenseman was a Boston University student on the brink of deciding to leave college for professional hockey.

Now he's a member of the Boston Bruins as they went through their practice paces two days ahead of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Ottawa Senators, which starts at Canadian Tire Centre on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2, NESN).

McAvoy, the No. 14 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, signed a three-year entry-level contract Monday.

"Being on the ice with so many guys that I've looked up to my whole life, it's just very special," McAvoy, 19, said. "Don't really have words for it.

"It's a moment that I've been dreaming of since I got drafted to this organization and to be out there with so many great guys and to be in a locker room with so many great professionals, it's something that you've got to take a step back and be very humble about it and realize where you are and how many lessons you can learn from these guys who have that experience."

But in truth, there is no time to be awed. He needs to be ready.

During the final two games of the regular season, two of the Bruins' top defensemen were injured. Torey Krug sustained a lower-body injury against the Senators on Thursday, then Brandon Carlo sustained an upper-body injury against the Washington Capitals on Saturday. Carlo will not play Game 1, according to general manager Don Sweeney. Krug, who has not skated since the injury, likely will not play Wednesday and could be out longer. 

That opened the door for McAvoy, even though the Bruins likely would have preferred that it didn't. By signing him Monday, it used up the first year off that contract, meaning he could become a restricted free agent July 1, 2019.

It wasn't optimal, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And for the Bruins defense at the moment, it surely is desperate times, though neither Sweeney nor coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed that McAvoy would make his NHL debut Wednesday.

"It's obviously an area that you have to be concerned about from a planning perspective," Sweeney said. "You make the best decisions daily for the organization and long term. Sometimes those collide. But we feel that he's able to come in and provide the depth and some of the attributes that he has.

"You look at your team and you realize you're in the playoffs and you've got to have all hands on deck. We felt that Charlie would come in and add to that group."

It has been a quick transition for McAvoy, who has moved from Boston University to Providence of the American Hockey League to the NHL. He had two assists in four AHL games when he got a brief glimpse into the professional game and into what it might take to make the Bruins.

"My feeling down there was a day at a time, so not necessarily holding my breath or waiting for anything to happen," he said. "I was just focusing on where I was, and at the time that was in Providence. … Now I'm here and I'm ready for the next step."

During that time in Providence, McAvoy demonstrated his full skill set, including an ability to move the puck and play a two-way game.

"At the end of the day, Charlie brings a puck-moving element that every [defense] corps needs," Cassidy said. "Some of the other strengths of our defensemen are more about defending than they are [puck moving]. Now we've moved the puck well enough to be in this position, to keep playing here into the playoffs, so I don't want to knock them, but Charlie has to play to his strength. He has to give us that element and be able to defend, play a 200-foot game. That's what we're looking for out of him, the composure part, the good first pass. And then we'll see what the rest brings."

McAvoy skated alongside John-Michael Liles on Monday, but Cassidy left the door open for him to be paired with Zdeno Chara. The Bruins often have put rookies or less experienced players with Chara, who has been able to provide extra support for them on the ice. It has helped ease the transition for many, including Dougie Hamilton, who made his Bruins debut as a 19-year-old.

As Cassidy pointed out, the Bruins still need to see how McAvoy reacts to the added pressure of playing against NHL forwards. But they can only see that once the games start. They are confident and hopeful, but there is no substitute for game action, especially in the playoffs.

"He's got four games under his belt down there [AHL], where he played well," Cassidy said. "How that translates to the National Hockey League, Game 1 of the playoffs, is to be determined.

"Charlie's a guy up to this point who has had no problem in the limelight, big games. So we'll hope that continues."

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