( Photo Credit: Jerome Miron / USA TODAY Sports )

By: Jacob Abenante | Follow me on Twitter @Jacobabenante

There are many question marks currently concerning what the 2021 version of the Boston Bruins will be. Still, one thing that is for sure is Charlie McAvoy will be the team’s number one defenseman. Over the past three-seasons, McAvoy has each year made jumps to get to this point. Starting as Zdeno Chara’s student and now looking like his successor, significant progress has been made. But will Charlie McAvoy be ready for what is asked of him next?

To me, this answer is clearly yes. I see this next season being the real coming-out party for McAvoy as one of the top defensemen in the entire league. McAvoy will now have every opportunity to fill in the voids on the Bruins backend and prove to the hockey world that he is a dynamic two-way defenseman. Over the past few seasons, the NHL has been blessed with a renaissance of young defensemen (Makar, Hughes, and Werenski, to name a few) who can both move the puck and defend like elite veterans in their first few seasons. McAvoy is seen as a small step behind this group, but the gains he will make this season on both ends of the ice will change this. 

Offensive Zone

Coming into Charlie McAvoy’s draft year, he was projected as a smart, strong, and smooth-skating defenseman who could move the puck and drive play into the offensive zone. When McAvoy jumped right into the playoffs after finishing his sophomore season at BU, he clearly possessed everything his draft profile touted. McAvoy finished his first playoffs with six games played and three assists. In all three seasons since, McAvoy has shown flashes of his offensive upside but has not truly put this side of his game together as well as I feel he can.

The 2021 season will be different; even if Chara is to resign, I don’t see him getting the top line pairing beside McAvoy. This will open the ice up for McAvoy; as much as I hate to say it, Chara held back McAvoy when it came to the offensive side of the game. McAvoy was often holding back rushing the puck to make up for Chara’s lack of mobility and ability to get back and defend if the rush was to break down. In the 2021 season, McAvoy is now most likely going to play beside Matt Grzelcyk, who he was often paired with in college at BU. In my opinion, this pairing will drive play and create a variety of problems for opposing teams.

Both defensemen are smooth skating two-way players who can drive the offensive game, and most importantly, get back and cover defensively if the play breaks down from one of their rushes. This one change alone is going to help McAvoy offensively in spades. The second change in 2021 for McAvoy is more opportunity-based. With Torey Krug gone, McAvoy should be given the first crack at the Bruins top powerplay unit. A unit which last year was ranked number one in the league and scored at a rate of 25.2% per espn.com.

Suppose McAvoy can become the powerplay quarterback on this unit. In that case, he will undoubtedly see a jump in his scoring chances and points. The talent the Bruins can roll out on their powerplay is trouncing opposing teams; this should not change with McAvoy taking over as its facilitator. I project with the opportunity that will be given to McAvoy, and if the NHL plays a full 82 game season, we will see him easily break the 40-point mark and possibly end somewhere in the 50s. 

Defensive Zone

The Defensive zone has been an area where McAvoy has truly excelled in his time in Boston, getting better each year. Last season he averaged 23 Minutes a night per hockey-reference.com and was on the ice for almost every critical defensive zone draw. McAvoy made many highlight real hits and smart plays that quickly transitioned his team to the attack over his first three seasons. I expect more of the same from McAvoy in the 2021 season, even if he does not have long-time defensive cog Zdeno Chara by his side.

McAvoy will be looked upon to lead this defensive core, and I feel he is ready to do so; McAvoy has been a plus player his whole career, finishing last season a plus 24, proving again he can be relied on in all situations. I project McAvoy in the 2021 season to prove he is worth every dollar he is being paid and show how capable he is of being a modern-day number one two-way shutdown defensemen. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see his Norris vote totals start to rise as Charlie McAvoy is in line to be the next great Boston Bruins defenseman.