An aspect of the Boston Bruins’ game that has been lacking in recent years is the ability of defensemen to move the puck.
The system enacted by former head coach Claude Julien emphasized team defense. Unfortunately, this resulted in a Bruins team that was not offensively sound. While forwards have inconsistently found the back of the net, the Bruins’ troubles seem to start back behind their own goal line.
Fans in Boston are, quite frankly, sick of hearing play-by-play commentator Jack Edwards bellow, “The Bruins go D-to-D in their own zone.” This writer often finds himself yelling at the television, as Bruins defenders consistently look nervous with the puck. With the exception of Torey Krug, defensemen from the Julien era panic like NFL quarterbacks confronted with a blitz whenever they have to take the puck passed the hash marks.
Bruins fans, however, are optimistic about the future of their team. Not only are a number of young forwards coming up the pike, but young defensemen Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy are also NHL ready. While Carlo completed a full season with Boston during the 2016-17 campaign and made a strong defensive showing, the excitement around McAvoy revolves around his offensive capabilities.
The 19-year-old defenseman stole the show during the Bruins’ brief postseason appearance against the Ottawa Senators. For a kid starting in his first NHL games, he adjusted to the ever-ramping pressures of playoff hockey quite nicely. Through his six playoff games with Boston, McAvoy showcased his playmaking abilities with three assists.
McAvoy was selected 14th overall by Boston in the 2016 NHL Draft, after playing for the New Jersey Rockets, Boston University Terriers, and both the United States National U-17 and U-18 teams.
During the 2012-13 season, McAvoy notched 15 goals and 39 points in 42 games for the Rockets – a total of 54 points.
His 34 games with the U. S. National U-17 squad resulted in 10 points during the 2013-14 campaign, while he was able to produce 19 points in just 23 games the following year.
McAvoy totaled an impressive 51 points in two seasons with Boston University. The youngster from Long Beach, New York, spent a lot of time in the box, however, stacking up 107 penalty minutes in that same span. His performance at the NHL level in the discipline category has been acceptable, however, as McAvoy took only one minor penalty during his six games with Boston.
The rookie played just four games with the Providence Bruins, notching two assists, before being called up to the NHL.
Throughout his career, McAvoy’s passing in the offensive zone has been incredible. It doesn’t matter the width of the passing lane – if he sees you, he’ll get you the puck.
Comparing the Offensive Defensemen
McAvoy and Krug are very similar players. Both are American-born, offensively gifted defensemen. While McAvoy has three inches and 22 pounds on Krug, both have undeniable speed and are masters of transition. Krug’s 43 assists in 81 games with the Bruins and McAvoy’s 21 assists in 38 games with Boston University during the 2016-17 season are the result of their confidence when skating with the puck.
Not only is it their ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone that is so impressive, but their tenacity in skating deep into the offensive zone. They are two guys that aren’t afraid to go where defensemen “aren’t supposed to go,” which can open things up for a struggling offense.
Krug netted eight goals for the Bruins last season, while McAvoy netted the same amount throughout his 75 games with the Terriers.
While one route could be to spread the wealth, McAvoy and Krug would be a very dangerous duo on the Bruins blue line if coach Bruce Cassidy puts them together. This is made even more likely as Carlo and Zdeno Chara were paired for most of last year, resulting in Carlo’s strong rookie season.
When it comes to handedness, the two defensemen compliment each other well. Krug is a lefty and is effective on the left side while McAvoy mirrors him as a righty on the right side. NHL teams have emphasized having defensive pairs featuring both left-handed and right-handed players in recent years. Looking up and down the rosters of many organizations, righty-righty and lefty-lefty combinations are rather scarce on the blue line.
Krug and McAvoy could also each captain their own power play unit. Their ability to skate with the puck is unmatched by any other defenseman on the Bruins roster. While Boston’s power play had a success rate of 21.7 percent last season, good enough for seventh overall in the league, McAvoy could bolster the team’s strong showing for years to come.
As many Bruins fans will recognize, the organization’s power play efficiency was lacking in the years leading up to the 2016-17 season. David Pastrnak led the team with 10 power play goals last season, who solidified his role as a top-six forward on the team. Vatrano, another up-and-comer netted four while Krug netted six on the power play.
Fans will have to see what fish the Bruins reel in over the offseason, but looking at their current roster McAvoy and Krug could become the one-two punch on the blue line that Boston has been lacking.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.