A New Hope

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Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images

by Patrick Donnelly

Charlie McAvoy is now officially a member of the Boston Bruins organization as he and the Bruins agreed to an amateur tryout contract (ATO). So, he will now report to Providence of the AHL where he will earn valuable experience at the professional level, yet not burn a year off his entry-level contract (ELC).

McAvoy will join the P-Bruins for practice on Thursday. It is unlikely that he makes his professional debut Friday night in Albany as that will probably serve as another practice day for him, but McAvoy is expected to debut over the weekend whether it be Saturday night in Springfield or at Sunday’s game in Providence. GM Don Sweeney held a press conference at Warrior Ice Arena in Boston where the Bruins held practice on Wednesday morning, and Charlie McAvoy was indeed in the building.

“He felt he was ready and so did we,” Sweeney noted. “First and foremost is to get him playing and get him acclimated,” he continued, “He’ll get practice time tomorrow, probably practice Friday, and likely be ready for the weekend of games.” Sweeney explained to the media that he and McAvoy’s camp are still discussing the possibility of signing an entry-level deal to allow McAvoy to play for the big club. As reported by the Boston Globe, an NHL team executive unrelated to the Bruins stated that he as well as other executives around the league feel that McAvoy will indeed sign a contract and play at least one game. As a result, the Bruins would effectively burn the first year of McAvoy’s three year entry contract, allowing him to enter restricted free agency as of July 1, 2019, as opposed to 2020.

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Carlos Osorio / Associated Press

If McAvoy, 19, played juniors in the CHL (OHL, WHL, QMJHL) rather than playing in the NCAA, the Bruins could sign him to an ELC without having to burn that first year of his deal as the rule for players coming out of the CHL is that they won’t use up a year of their contract if they are under 20 years old. Since McAvoy is coming from the NCAA the rule is in effect as if he is at least 20 years old, so that first year of his contract would be gone even though he is still 19 years old. The same would apply for Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson either way if he decides to sign as he is already 20 years of age. The best route to take would be to let McAvoy play out the season and the playoffs in the AHL instead of wasting a year just to play him for a few games. Sweeney and the rest of the team’s development staff will be able to see how McAvoy fairs in his first taste of pro hockey before making a decision on a contract. While McAvoy would upgrade the defense the minute he steps in the ice, he would only make an impact for a handful of games and maybe a round in the playoffs; it will probably be better for his development if he eases into a new level of play rather than being thrown straight into the fire.

This is the same move the Bruins made with Brandon Carlo after he finished his season in juniors in the WHL last season. Carlo signed an ATO and was able to suit up with Providence, learn the speed, physicality, and lifestyle of the professional ranks, experience he said has proved immensely effective in his transition to the professional level. Sweeney and interim head coach Bruce Cassidy stated they feel McAvoy will have a smooth transition from the college ranks. Both Cassidy and Sweeney were in agreement as they feel McAvoy has all the tools to play in the NHL right now and will have a successful career. It’s just a matter of when the Boston University standout makes his NHL debut.

Sweeney, a big believer in the route Carlo took, said the Bruins’ rookie is the best example of success through this process. Sweeney himself signed an ATO with the Bruins’ AHL affiliate after his career at Harvard, a path that ultimately led him to a solid career at the NHL level. Torey Krug is another success story of this route to the NHL from the NCAA through the AHL. Krug signed an ELC as an undrafted college free agent after three years at Michigan State. The Bruins played him in an NHL game, burning the first year of his deal, and sent him to Providence to earn professional seasoning. The Bruins have a number of players like Danton Heinen, Rob O’Gara, Zane McIntyre, Matt Grzelcyk, and Sean Kuraly in Providence this year who graduated from the NCAA and are playing in their first professional seasons.

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McAvoy (right) and Grzelcyk (left) Image: Craig F. Walker / Boston Globe

As for McAvoy’s former counterpart at BU, JFK has yet to make a decision as to whether or not he will also forgo the rest of his college eligibility. The decision is still being left up to the student, his family, his agent, and his advisors. However, Dave Quinn, the head coach for BU, explained that he feels he will only be losing Clayton Keller (Arizona) and McAvoy to the NHL. So, he expects to not lose other NHL-bound prospects like John McLeod (Tampa Bay), Brandon Hickey (Calgary), Jordan Greenway (Minnesota), and, yes, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson. After initial indications pointed towards JFK turning pro, it looks as if he will play out his junior year. This could prove a very smart move for the budding center as he will continue to gain an education, earn top minutes, and further his development. While it would be great to see the young Swede in the black and gold whether he is down in Providence or with Boston, he would most likely not see the optimal ice time that he otherwise would at BU.

Speaking of former BU counterparts, Grzelcyk, the former BU captain who McAvoy was paired with for his freshman year, is currently playing in Providence in his first professional season after graduating. The potential is there to pair McAvoy and the Charlestown native together to provide McAvoy with a certain comfort level and familiarity as he makes his transition. Fellow B’s prospect Anders Bjork, a star forward for Notre Dame, could very well follow the path of McAvoy as Notre Dame will play in the Frozen Four in two weeks in Chicago, so regardless of the outcome, the Fighting Irish’s season will come to an end that weekend and he would be eligible to sign an ATO or ELC with the organization.

The 14th overall pick in last year’s draft, McAvoy was exceptional during his college career, logging heavy minutes and being the most relied on defenseman on the blueline for BU, and he was able to chip in offensively with 8 goals and 43 assists in 75 games over two years. During the regional games of this year’s NCAA Tournament, McAvoy played outstanding defense was incredibly clutch for the Terriers, scoring the game-winning goal in double overtime of the regional semifinals. At the most recent World Junior Championships, McAvoy was a force to be reckoned with in all areas of the ice, contributing to the offense and locking down the defense. The Long Beach, New York native helped lead Team USA to a gold medal over host Canada, earning player of the game honors.

McAvoy’s former bench boss at BU had high praise for his former cornerstone defender, saying “Charlie is more prepared for the NHL from a physical perspective [than Clayton Keller].” Quinn explained. “I think he’s going to be able to step in and be an everyday NHLer from the get-go.” Keller, the 7th overall pick of the 2016 draft, was signed by the Arizona Coyotes almost immediately following BU’s Saturday night loss to Minnesota-Duluth and subsequently made his NHL debut on Monday. At 6’1” 211 lbs, McAvoy certainly has the size and physical maturity to succeed in the NHL, at this point it is a matter of perfecting his game and learning at the professional level for him to play with Boston.

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