By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
In Saturday night’s shootout loss to the Washington Capitals Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy – who has been given the moniker of the next franchise Boston blueliner by many based on his upside – had by far his best game for the Black and Gold this season.
Speaking about his now well-paid puck prodigy following the disappointing squander of a win with less than a minute left in regulation, B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy was candid – as always – in his comments regarding his soon to be 22-year-old D-man’s play.
“He was terrific tonight. Level of competition tends to bring out the best in Charlie, we certainly saw that tonight. We needed it against a heavier group. I think he took the challenge head-on. It’s a tougher game for the [Connor] Cliftons and the [Matt] Grzelcyks of the world. Played a lot of minutes, and Charlie was real good in that way, both ends of the ice. So yes, I thought he was excellent,” said the Bruins bench boss.
He added, “With Charlie, it’s just, he’s got to stay in the moment, that’s when he plays his best hockey. So we’re not in there feeding him, it’s not information overload for that particular type of player. Its protect the middle of the ice, be assertive with the puck when you see ice, make good decisions when to go, and I thought tonight a lot of it fell into place.
“He was up the ice at the right time, defending at the right time, not being vulnerable to a serious counterattack from a team that can finish. He wasn’t putting himself in bad spots. I thought that was the best part. As much as he was involved in the game, there wasn’t much risk. That’s a sign of a guy that’s growing.”
These words of praise come less than 36 hours after Cassidy was quoted as summing up McAvoy’s start to this current campaign in a rather lukewarm remark on Friday following his team’s practice.
“I think he’s played well, just not to his ceiling.”
Any way you look at it, that’s a classic case of damning with faint praise.
“I think he’s got a tough assignment every night playing against the best players. As a young guy, I think his natural, best ability right now at his age is his puck-moving and ability to join the rush and make some plays. He doesn’t finish, but he’s had some looks. So I think that will balance out, I really do, the more he shoots,” Cassidy said after his squad’s late-week skate at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton on Friday.
So far this season, the third-year defenseman’s offensive production has been paltry having yet to find the back of the net while contributing six assists in 20 contests. Nevertheless, he ranks fourth on the team in plus/minus with a plus-8, trailing only playing partner Zdeno Chara (+13), Brad Marchand (+11) and David Krejci (+10).
When asked if McAvoy’s level of motivation rises based on his opposition on any given night, the man his players call Butch was characteristically blunt.
“You know that’s a good question because he gets top lines every night,” the third-year head coach behind the Bruins bench answered.
“We’ll go back 24 hours, he’s got [John] Tavares or he’s got [Auston] Matthews, it’s one or the other all night, those are good lines. But tonight, maybe with a heavier opponent — I can’t really say why because he is tasked with defending against excellent forwards in this league every night. I can’t say they’re all older because it is a young league, but definitely high-end players.
“But for tonight, he just, he had it.”
For McAvoy to reach the level nearly everyone in the game thinks he is capable of it will take more performances like the one he turned in against Washington at TD Garden on Saturday night, and less middling efforts that he has been prone to produce so far this season.