Haggerty: McAvoy impresses with potential NHL audition looming

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PROVIDENCE – Charlie McAvoy knows he’s got plenty of things to learn in the first few opening shifts of his pro hockey career, but it was an undeniably strong and promising first weekend for him with the Providence Bruins.

McAvoy is with the P-Bruins on an ATO (Amateur Tryout Offer) while showing exactly what he can do while the Bruins shore things up at the end of the regular season. The first impression was an unmitigated success for the 19-year-old blue-chip prospect. The former first-round pick D-man picked up assists in each of his first two games, flashed his trademark smoothness and poise while breaking the puck out of the D-zone and was as dynamic offensively as one would expect given his NCAA and World Junior resume.

P-Bruins coach Kevin Dean said he saw “no red flags” in McAvoy’s game after coaching him on Saturday and Sunday, and at times watching him exert a dominant influence on AHL games while seemingly effortlessly gliding through his shifts.

“I don’t see anything that’s a huge red flag [for being NHL-ready]. His transition game in the first period was terrific. We were kind of lagging there early, and Charlie made two or three nice plays up the middle that kind of got us some good zone time and kind of got the game going for us,” said Dean. “He was part of getting that energy because we got the sustained pressure from the transition. He’s very smart.

“Even with Brandon Carlo last year you saw a couple of things and said ‘Okay, he’s going to have to get better at this.’ There’s nothing glaring with Charlie. He skates. He competes hard. He’s physical. He uses his body to get position, makes a good first pass and does a good job of getting himself up the ice. There’s a lot of good stuff there. You can see he’s raw, but he’s an exciting player to have in the organization.”

McAvoy had one assist wiped out on a play ultimately ruled off-side, but also snapped off a razor-sharp centering pass from the power-play point for a tap-in goal in a 4-1 victory for Providence over Hartford on Sunday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.  

So, McAvoy finished the weekend with two assists, four shots on net and a plus-2 in his first two pro  games. He also crafted one overwhelmingly positive impression with Don Sweeney after the B’s general manager watched both games in person.

“His poise is probably what stands out the most,” said Sweeney. “His understanding of holding it for that one extra second and not panicking in certain situations [was noticeable] as was his offensive blue line stuff. That stuff is nice and he’s made some nice high-end plays for [goals]. His puck play stuff is really good and now he’s learning in terms of structure without the puck. That’s probably the area that continues to need to be worked on.”

McAvoy felt like the weekend was a good welcome into the pro hockey world and it certainly served as a good coming attraction for his NHL abilities. The former BU standout said he trying not to focus on a possible NHL call-up as a possible end result for his AHL orientation and that’s a good considering the new challenges in front of him. Still, it’s hard not to envision McAvoy signing an entry-level deal as possible help for the Black and Gold this spring after watching the poised decision-making with the puck and getting a hint of the kind of offensive damage he could do quarterbacking one of Boston’s power plays.

“I don’t feel out of place at all. I think I can come in and contribute and make the plays a lot like I did in college,” said McAvoy, after posting five goals and 26 points in 38 games as a sophomore at BU this season. “You’re playing with a lot of skilled guys that are going to be able to find you, and I’ve noticed that in the last two games. It’s fun to play with guys that can get you the puck.

“Guys have better sticks and you might not be able to get away with as much, but you can definitely still play with some creativity. There’s room out there to make plays. Right now I’m focused on where I am, and if something happens [with an NHL call-up] that’s for later on. I’m just trying to get better every day and acclimate myself to the [pro] game. If it does come, whenever it may be, then I’m going to step in and be the best player I can be.”

So, will McAvoy get his NHL call-up over the final three games as it appears his Terriers teammate Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson will after signing an entry-level deal that will burn a year if he plays in one game with Boston? Sweeney said after this weekend’s body of work that it has yet to be determined for McAvoy, and the teenager still has work to do on the defensive side of the puck before he’s ready for NHL-level intensity.

The Bruins clinching a playoff spot early, as they can do with a regulation win on Tuesday night vs. Tampa Bay, could also go a long way toward fast-forwarding the NHL close-ups for both of Boston’s prospects coming out of the BU talent pipeline.

“We haven’t made any final [decisions],” said Sweeney. “It’s predicated a lot by what happens up top and how [McAvoy] continues to move along here. We’ve left that option open and we’re happy that we left it open. It’s based on merit and need to tell you the truth. We looked at it and said whenever injuries or other circumstances come up [for the rest of the season], we can be prepared for it.”

The bottom line with McAvoy, at 19 years old, is that he might be better than Colin Miller right now when it comes to success for the NHL team, and that Forsbacka Karlsson might be a better 5-on-5 option as a third-line center than a player in Ryan Spooner struggling to be effective since suffering a concussion. 

Those are the kinds of options that are good to have in the back pocket for Sweeney and the Bruins if they don’t get what they’re looking for from certain players in the NHL lineup. At this time of year it’s about the best players getting on the ice and producing the best results, and the Bruins are most certainly in that mode right now.

A long run through the AHL playoffs might be the best thing for the long-term development of both McAvoy and Forsbacka Karlsson, but it certainly appears both are going to be counted on in Boston full time next season.

So in that sense the time is now for both young, developing players and the Bruins might as well get the most out of McAvoy, and Forsbacka Karlsson, once the service-time meter starts running up on their contracts. 

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