BOSTON (CBS) — When you get right down to it, the puck-moving defenseman is the NHL equivalent of a quarterback, the CPU at the core of a team’s central nervous system. That is where everything begins, and for the Bruins it is where everything now begins anew.
So maybe that’s how we should all think of Charlie McAvoy, who might be for the Bruins what Jimmy Garoppolo could be for the Patriots.
Can he play? Well, we don’t know that for sure, at least not yet, because the sample is so darned small. And in the case of McAvoy, who made his NHL debut against the Ottawa Senators in the Bruins’ 2-1 victory in Game 1 of the playoffs on Wednesday, the sample is downright microscopic. What McAvoy did was impressive, to be certain, but far more promising was how he looked, something we don’t put enough stock in anymore in an age of supersaturated (and downright smothering) metrics and measurables.
Really, how do you quantify any of that? If you watched the game on Wednesday, you saw how McAvoy moved, how he passed (tape-to-tape), how the puck literally snapped from his stick to another as if he were playing paddleball. McAvoy looked different and his game sounded different, and if the Bruins get that from him going forward – for days, weeks or years – well, he is a game-changer.
Want another tell? If you can, go back and watch Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy’s postgame interview with NESN broadcasters Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley following Wednesday’s win. When asked about McAvoy, Cassidy downright beamed with a sly grin that made him look like the Cheshire Cat. As much as everyone, Cassidy knows what he may have in McAvoy, who could be the kind of player that makes a coach’s job infinitely easier.
Think about it: when is the last time the Bruins have had a player like this, someone with a combination of size and skill good enough to build an entire defense corps around? And make no mistake, the Bruins believe McAvoy can be that guy. He was drafted 14th overall last summer, about six months before his 19th birthday. He is listed at an even 6-feet and 208 pounds, about half of which seems stored in his cheeks. On Wednesday, he played more than 24 minutes in his very first NHL game, and McAvoy did more than just look like he belonged. He looked like one of the better players on the ice.
Now, before you say it, we’ll say it for you: Slow down. It’s one game. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. All of that is obvious and true. But more than anything else, the expression on Cassidy’s face late Wednesday should tell you everything you need to know about what the Bruins may have here, particularly in a fast-paced league that is getting faster by the day, that requires the kind of quick thinker, precision passer and reliable pivot who seamlessly turns defense into offense.
What the Bruins may have, in the end, is their quarterback of the future.
Only this time, Tom Brady is not still playing in front of him.