By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
As a 19-year-old NHL rookie with eight regular season games of experience, Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy has already had several “pinch me” moments when it comes to skating against men he’s idolized over the years.
“Kind of funny to play against them, you want to go over to a guy and be like ‘Hey give me your autograph,’” McAvoy said after a recent practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “But you’re playing against them.”
The next run-in with someone that could be a role model for McAvoy comes Saturday, when the Bruins host the Los Angeles Kings and defenseman Drew Doughty. Ever since McAvoy emerged on the scene as a prospect that the Bruins took 14th overall in 2016, McAvoy has been compared to Doughty.
The 2015-16 Norris Trophy winner checks in at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, comparable to McAvoy’s 6 feet, 208 pounds. As a 19-year-old rookie in 2008-09, Doughty averaged 23:50 of ice time and had 27 points (six goals, 21 assists) in 81 games. McAvoy already has seven points (one goal, six assists) in eight games while averaging 20:53 of ice time.
There’s still a long way for McAvoy to go to reach Doughty territory. But the former Boston University standout is aiming for it.
“He’s kind of achieved a label that I want to have over my career, which is being a complete defenseman – kill penalties and play the power play and play a lot of minutes every night and be reliable and responsible and contribute every night all over the ice,” McAvoy said. “He’s made that name … and he has that reputation that he can go out and do that.”
Don’t look for any Doughty posters in McAvoy’s childhood home. The New York native had one of Brian Leetch. But he wasn’t just a hometown guy, he liked the Anaheim Ducks logo and that poster featured Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
Still, it’s difficult to watch McAvoy without thinking about Doughty. After the Bruins beat San Jose on Thursday, coach Bruce Cassidy talked about how McAvoy “can put out fires by breaking pucks out of our own end.” That’s what Doughty’s been doing for the Kings since he broke into the NHL and he has two Stanley Cup rings partly as reward for his efforts.
It may be a pie-in-the-sky thought, but Cassidy has allowed himself to imagine McAvoy as the second coming of Doughty.
“I think it’s a fair comparison,” Cassidy said. “They’re just physically built similar, similar styles of play where they can log a lot of minutes, get better as the game goes on. Both good offensive players, not dominant [Erik] Karlsson types, but good offensive players and they can play in a matchup role, so all around.
“So yeah I think it’s very fair. Charlie, getting ahead of ourselves a little bit, I think. But if he could have that type of career it’d be awesome.”
McAvoy seems to handle the pressure of living up to comparisons to players like Doughty as calmly has he handles carrying the puck halfway up the ice against heavy forechecking teams. He’s lived up to the hype 1/10 of the way through his first NHL season and the matchup with the 8-1-1 Kings will be another stiff test.
Maybe McAvoy will make the type of impact that leaves some Kings thinking they should get the Bruins defenseman’s autograph.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.