By: Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio
The Boston Bruins are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now. They have secured a point in 11 of their 12 total games this year and sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. Charlie McAvoy has been an integral part of the Bruins’ success this season and currently holds a streak of his own.
Billy Jaffe is right; McAvoy’s streak puts him with one of the best Bruins defensemen of all time. McAvoy’s stature has always put him in contention as a top-10 defenseman in the NHL, and this streak only adds to his resume. The 23-year old was drafted 14th overall in 2016 out of Boston University. The Long Beach, New York native, began his Bruins career in 2017, posting 32 points in 63 games. In his first year with the Bruins, he averaged 22 minutes on ice, which speaks to how much confidence the Bruins had in him right out of the gate. He even finished 5th in the Calder Trophy race, which is awarded to the best rookie of the year.
With all the movement on the Bruins’ blue-line, McAvoy has been one of the few constants. He is the Bruins’ number one defenseman for years to come, and he has not disappointed fans or the organization with his play. His career-high in points came in his rookie and junior years in the NHL. He’s on pace to post 52 points in this 56 game season, which would crush his previous best.
McAvoy’s season started slow, posting 0 points and eight penalty minutes in four games. Fortunately, the slow start was nothing but McAvoy shaking the rust off, and he began his assist streak against Philadelphia on January 23, 2021, in a 6-1 win. He followed up the Flyers game with 3 assists in a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh. However, his most impressive play of this streak may have come last night against the New York Rangers in overtime.
On any 2 on 1 break, the defenseman is taught to disrupt and cover the passing lane and allow the goalie to take the shot. This scenario poses the lowest risk because a pass to the second offensive player is the worst-case scenario. McAvoy did have help with Patrice Bergeron speeding towards the puck, but McAvoy made a move that has gone unnoticed and led to a successful play.
Notice in the video, right before Mika Zibanejad passes the puck, McAvoy swings his stick in Mika’s general direction. Mika had brought his stick back like he would shoot as McAvoy waved his stick towards him. Mika may have thought he could catch Charlie’s stick not being in the passing lane and decided to take the risk to pass. Not only did Charlie recovery quickly, but he also was able to get wood on the puck, disrupt the pass, and take the primary assist on Brad Marchand’s eventual goal.
These types of plays are Charlie’s strongest qualities. The NHL is changing to a more offensive-minded game, and offensive-defensemen are the most sought after commodity. McAvoy certainly has the trajectory and skill to put up huge offensive numbers, but he also has a tremendous defensive ability where some of his competition lacks. Goals and impeccable passing will always make a highlight reel. However, Charlie’s plays that create these opportunities often go unnoticed.
Jack Hughes is a former first overall draft selection, and McAvoy goes toe to toe with him on both ends of the ice. Hughes pickpockets McAvoy in the offensive zone, and McAvoy charges almost 200 feet back to Tuukka Rask to ensure Hughes is denied a scoring opportunity. These play types is where McAvoy shines and gives Bruins fans confidence that they have a great player on their team.
McAvoy’s tools and trajectory speak to the type of player he is now and who he can become in the future. Ironically, he shares a point streak with former Bruin great Ray Bourque because McAvoy’s game is quite similar to what Bourque’s was. Even more ironic, Joe McDonald at the Athletic wrote a piece in 2019 comparing Bourque and McAvoy’s imprints on their teams. It seems Joe saw what is now unfolding before us.
Bourque’s resume is long and impressive. He was selected 8th overall in 1979 and played for only two teams: the Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche. Bourque was the face of the Bruins’ franchise. He scored almost a point per game in his famed 22-year career with 1,579 points in 1,612 games. Bourque holds the most points by any NHL defensemen in history. Paul Coffey trails Bourque with 48 points. The highest active NHL defenseman is Brent Burns, with 701 points, in 26th place.
Ray won the Calder Trophy (best rookie of the year), King Clancy once (the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice), and was a five-time Norris Trophy winner (best defensemen of the year). Time on ice wasn’t a calculation until the 1998 season, but even over the remaining five years of his career, he averaged 27 minutes on ice. He was also inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.
Bourque was unable to win a Cup in Boston. The closest he came in his 21 years was in 1987-88 when the Edmonton Oilers swept the Bruins. The Oilers had two of the best players in NHL history: Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
In 1999, the Bruins headed towards an early off-season and knew Bourque had missed out on another opportunity for the Stanley Cup. The NHL is a business, but that same business can make a heartwarming move for its beloved players. Boston struck a deal with Colorado to send their captain to Colorado for his chance to win the Cup. Most Bruins fans remember the day Joe Sakic handed the Cup to Bourque for his moment.
Bourque was the Bruins longest-tenured captain, which began in 1985, sharing the captaincy with Rick Middleton. Upon Rick’s retirement in 1988, Bourque became the Bruins’ sole captain and retained the position until the 1999 trade.
Zdeno Chara came closest to that feat with 14 seasons as the Bruins’ captain, only to hand the torch to Patrice Bergeron this year. Bergeron has (hopefully) several years left in the NHL, but it’s not outlandish to think McAvoy is his successor as the Bruins’ leader. If McAvoy is awarded captaincy, it would be yet another accolade he shares with Bourque.
The point streak that Bourque now shares with Charlie came in the 1992-93 season when he recorded 13 assists in 10 games. His number hangs high in the rafters as a reminder to the fans, organization, and especially the players of the legacy he left behind.
There’s an old saying amongst hockey executives and scouts that teams don’t know what they have in defensemen until they’ve played 250 games. McAvoy has just played his 196th game, and the NHL already knows where McAvoy projects for years to come. If this saying holds, there could be even more untapped potential, and McAvoy could be hoisting the Cup in Government Center as Bourque did 20 years ago. Though hopefully, Charlie is celebrating a Bruins Stanley Cup victory.