If there were any skeptics left wondering if Charlie McAvoy had the stuff to be a top-flight 2-way defenseman in the NHL one day, that train has pretty much left the station after his player of the game and tourney all-star selection in helping lead Team USA to its third gold medal at the World Jr. (Under-20) Championship since 2010.
The 14th overall selection in 2016 scored USA’s first goal of the game, cutting into Canada’s 2-0 lead (the second goal having been scored by fellow future Bruin Jeremy Lauzon). McAvoy was the trailer on the play, taking a pass from BU teammate and Minnesota Wild prospect Jordan Greenway before lasering the shot over Canada goalie Carter Hart’s glove hand.
But it was McAvoy’s assist on a Kieffer Bellows (another of C-Mac’s BU mates) goal to start USA’s 3rd-period comeback after going down 4-2 that really got this analyst’s attention. With the puck along the left wall and oncoming pressure coming at him, McAvoy showed zero panic and put a seeing-eye pass right onto the tape of Bellows’ stick for an instant one-timer that Hart had no chance on.
The Americans got the equalizer moments later from Massachusetts native and crosstown rival (Boston College) forward Colin White, the Senators’ 1st-rounder setting the stage for an epic scoreless overtime followed by shootout. Anaheim prospect Troy Terry secured another USA victory as he did in the semifinal vs. Russia, and McAvoy ended up with a gold medal and the WJC trophy afterwards, logging more than 35 minutes in the process of securing the victory. USA Hockey has a nice highlight video from the gold medal game here:
Lindgren, unfortunately, did not play in the gold medal match- listed as out with an illness. He did take a late-game hit in the game vs. Russia, so it is unknown at this time whether he suffered from flu-like symptoms or perhaps USA held him out due to a UBI. Whatever the reason, not having Lindgren made it tougher for the Americans to close the deal- he was player of the game against Canada in USA’s New Year’s Eve win during the preliminary round. Although Lindgren played well in the tournament and will wear his gold medal proudly, it had to be a bitter disappointment not to be a part of the final contest. Watch for Lindgren to be named captain of the 2018 USA WJC squad and play a more prominent role on the blue line minutes-wise.
Here’s a recap on the B’s prospects at the WJC based on film and talking to other sources who were present for the games, plus some other tidbits on key performances from other Boston prospects around the future beat…
Charlie McAvoy, RD USA- An absolute horse on the American blue line. Let’s face it- McAvoy is firing up the Boston fanbase (at least those who pay attention to the prospect pipeline) and with good reason: he can do it all. We saw it in this tournament, when he started out trying to do a bit too much against the Latvians, but then dialed it back and ended up logging a lot of minutes and playing in all situations for head coach Bob Motzko’s American squad.
Strengths: Although not tall by NHL standards, McAvoy is stout and thick throughout his upper and lower trunk, allowing him to dish out and receive physical contact. He typically gets the better of those exchanges because of his lower center of gravity and the natural strength he possesses. An above average skater, McAvoy has the all-important quick burst and agility that NHL clubs look for; he accelerates quickly and has the fluid footwork essential for rapid directional changes. Strong hockey IQ; can read, process and react quickly. He moves with his head up and can make short, intermediate and long passes with touch and accuracy. He has a big bomb of a drive, but also has an NHL-caliber release, which allows him to score with a variety of selections- wrist, snap and the point slapper. McAvoy is a solid citizen with a personality that rallies people around him. A character guy, he was selected to wear the ‘A’ as one of the alternate captains of the USA squad.
Weaknesses: McAvoy tends to push the envelope offensively, so he lacks the experience to make more judicious decisions at times, getting caught up ice or pinching when the higher percentage play is elsewhere. This kind of thing is coachable, as he has the natural hockey sense and instincts to make the right plays; he just tends to gamble more because he has a high confidence level.
Outlook: McAvoy, 19, is Boston’s best prospect by a significant margin, with top-2 NHL potential as a dual offensive-defensive threat. He can play in the NHL right now. Because he would have to surrender his remaining NCAA eligibility, any such scenario will have to wait until his season at BU concludes. Depending on when that last game is played- whether late March after the Hockey East tourney or at the end of the NCAA Frozen Four competition in April, the B’s will have to make a decision. Some will say he needs to go to Providence of the AHL first, and we won’t argue with that, but it’s not essential to his development. Depending on Boston’s situation it might make more sense to bring him in right away, but either way- it won’t get decided in January. Fans can be secure in the knowledge that it appears the team made the right choice in last June’s draft and the wait for McAvoy to make the NHL won’t be a long one.
Ryan Lindgren, LD USA- Not a great deal was expected from Lindgren this tournament, as he made the team but was expected to play more limited minutes than some of the more experienced defenders/guys ahead of him on the depth chart. Lindgren started gradually, but earned player of the game honors for his shutdown role in USA’s first win over Canada to secure the top seed in group B. Next year, Lindgren will be one of the team’s “bell cow” blue liners, as he certainly gained from being a part of the most successful World Jr. team in USA Hockey history- a perfect 7-0 run and becoming the first country to ever beat Canada twice over the course of the same tournament year.
Strengths: A fine, rangy skater with a quick first few steps, smooth transitions and an ability to get up the ice quickly or back on defense. Smart, poised and refined for being just 18 years old- was one of USA’s best players in last Aprils Under-18 championship, but embraced a lesser role in this one by playing rugged, hard-nosed defense. Character guy and leader who battles and competes as hard as anyone and gets results by playing in control of himself with physicality and intelligence. Has underrated puck skills- won’t be a big point producer in college or the pros, but has the talent to chip in offensively and will likely score some key points because he’s a big game player.
Weaknesses: Only average in height and thickness, Lindgren will have a tougher time imposing his will at the higher levels when going up against the biggest and best power forwards in pro hockey. There’s a feeling around the NHL that Lindgren could be a ‘tweener: he’s not a high-end passer and shooter, so there’s not a lot of offensive ceiling here, even if he develops more of a scoring role at the University of Minnesota as he gains experience. Will need to straddle the line between his natural competitiveness and physical edge and not going over the line and developing the reputation as a head hunter
Outlook: Another solid prospect in the Bruins’ deep pool. We said at the 2016 draft that we loved the pick at 49 to add the younger brother of Montreal prospect Charlie Lindgren to the mix, and he’s done little to disabuse us of that belief. Lindgren’s skating and grit make him the kind of player who can be paired with someone with more of an offensive element and will represent an intriguing option. Unlike McAvoy, Lindgren is a good several years away and will likely benefit from at least one or two years apprenticing in the AHL before he’s ready for a primetime role.
Jeremy Lauzon, LD Canada- We’re sensing a trend with defensemen here…are you? Taken with the 52nd overall pick in 2015, the Val-d’Or, Quebec native and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies captain made Team Canada after being one of the last cuts a year ago. Although he didn’t play as many minutes as other Canada blue liners, Lauzon made the most of his ice time, scoring a couple of memorable goals in the process and using his all-around game to good effect. There’s some long-term upside here.
Strengths: Lauzon gets good marks across the board as a player who does everything well. His big enough but not huge. He’s fluid and mobile, having the quickness to close on puck carriers rapidly or win foot races to loose pucks. He’s a capable passer who sees the ice well and makes the right reads. He’s got a very good shot that he gets off with a snap release and puts on net with accuracy and heaviness. He’s physical and competitive; he’ll step into players and drive them off pucks and embraces doing the grunt work in the trenches- along the walls and out in front of the net. He has an impressive motor and inner fire- he returned to the Memorial Cup last year after a gruesome skate cut to the neck and wasted no time in running several opponents with big but clean hits- that more than any of his fine playing abilities- showed a mental toughness and commitment that greatly impressed the Boston brass and other onlookers.
Weaknesses: Lauzon is good at all of these things, but he’s not all that exceptional a talent- just a solid, solid prospect. Injuries have taken a toll on him over the past 1.5 seasons, but when healthy, he’s a main cog for his QMJHL club and Canada probably could and should have used him more in the WJC.
Outlook: We love the kid, and he has the look of someone who will be a solid NHL contributor for 10-15 years because he’s so well-rounded. Without a crystal ball and predictive skills for the future, it’s hard to say what exactly Lauzon will be as a pro. He has top-3 NHL defender potential, but even if he tops out as more of a 5/6 and special teamer, he’ll add to any club he’s on because of his attitude and leadership. At the same time, there’s always a chance that a prospect- no matter how encouraging the early signs are- won’t establish themselves at the NHL level, so we have to be patient and keep an open mind. Given all the things he brings to the table, don’t bet against him.
Jakub Zboril, LD Czech Republic- We promised an in-depth posting on Zboril and it is coming- we promise. So aside from saying that the 13th overall selection showed some promising signs at the WJC and did some less-than-promising things, we’ll keep you in suspense a little longer.
Daniel Vladar, G Czech Republic- What can we say? This was a disappointing showing for Vladar, who hasn’t had great success at the international level. We haven’t had a chance to see much film on him other than some brief clips and highlights, so we won’t go into depth here other than to say that while promising for his size and athletic ability, Vladar has a lot of work to do. Of course, with Zane McIntyre’s emergence this season, the pressure is not on Vladar to establish himself right away- this is good news for the 2015 third-rounder who has a world of talent, but for some reason, has struggled during international play despite a promising start to his professional career
We’ll break down Zboril in more detail, but that’s a wrap on the B’s prospects at the WJC. Now, let’s take a look at other Boston futures and what they’ve done in recent weeks since the last update…
Zach Senyshyn- The once-maligned (by people who for the most part had never seen him play) 15th overall selection in 2015 has quietly shot to the top of Boston’s prospects scoring, tallying a hat trick and adding another goal in his next game to give him 24 markers in just 31 games, with 35 points overall. He’s such a dangerous scorer and we couldn’t help but feel like Canada sure could have used his speed, power and hands in the WJC, especially against the USA, when that overtime period might have been tailor-made for a guy who likely would have had fresher legs than many of his mates. It’s interesting that instead of getting on board with how well the kid is playing, there are still some who want to point to the WJC snub as proof he wasn’t worthy of being drafted where he was over several other big names. Those folks are entitled to their views, but that is so much linear thinking…for once it would be nice to see an acknowledgement that player development is not a zero-sum game and that multiple teams can and will benefit from the players they draft- there isn’t a finite supply of success and a guy like Senyshyn, who was projected in the second-round, has actually performed much better than several 1st-rounders who were projected higher than he was. If you’re going to sit there and tell us that 69 goals in 97 OHL games since being drafted isn’t worthy of high praise, we’re going to tell you that you have an agenda. Period. Off the soapbox now…
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson- With BU down seven skaters to the WJC gold medal game, the undermanned Terriers took on Union College and JFK stepped up in a big way, netting a hat trick (his first in the NCAA) and more importantly- firing home the equalizer late in regulation and then tallying the overtime winner. Like McAvoy, JFK will be ready for the NHL much sooner than later. He’s smart, talented and while not the flashiest player around, finds ways to get things done through the little things. One NHL scout I know likes to talk about the importance of having a brain and a good stick if you’re a defenseman…JFK has both in spades, which is why he is such an effective defensive forward. He’ll stabilize the third line, but has enough offensive skill to score as well.
Jake DeBrusk- With points in seven consecutive games, DeBrusk is making some major contributions to Providence’s fortunes after being severely snake bitten earlier in the year. He’s just so smart and creative- he was always generating shots in volume and creating quality scoring chances…the pucks weren’t going in for him. You knew that with the law of averages it was just a matter of time before things started breaking his way. Now, those who just look at stat lines will continue to throw out the “yeah, buts” when it comes to this player, who wasn’t a popular pick either. We can’t stop them, especially if they aren’t honest enough to admit that they aren’t watching DeBrusk all that closely. If they were- and some fans are doing just that- they’d recognize that he’s playing pretty well for an AHL rookie. We’ll take it!
And now- here’s the statistical roundup…
Amateur Prospects as of 01/08/17
|Zach Senyshyn, SSM||OHL||31||24||11||35||23|
|Anders Bjork, Notre Dame||HE-NCAA||20||14||19||33||8|
|Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George||WHL||33||19||14||33||45|
|Jakub Zboril, Saint John||QMJHL||22||6||13||19||12|
|Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU||HE- NCAA||18||6||12||18||14|
|Ryan Donato, Harvard
|Ryan Fitzgerald, BC||HE-NCAA||16||5||11||16||22|
|Trent Frederic, Wisconsin||Big10- NCAA||12||5||10||15||12
|Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin
|Charlie McAvoy, BU||HE-NCAA||17||2||11||13||16|
|Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda
|Jack Becker, Sioux Falls
|Wiley Sherman, Harvard
|Cameron Clarke, Ferris St.
|Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota
Pro and European Prospects
|Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr.||U20- Finland||19||9||17||26||2|
|Peter Cehlarik, Providence
|Jake DeBrusk, Providence||AHL||35||9||10||19||11
|Colby Cave, Providence
|Matt Grzelcyk, Providence
|Colton Hargrove, Providence
|Sean Kuraly, Providence
|Anton Blidh, Providence#
|Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF
|Rob O’Gara, Providence
|Austin Czarnik, Providence#
|Justin Hickman, Providence
|Chris Casto, Providence
|Oskar Steen, Farjestad
|Linus Arnesson, Providence*
|Brian Ferlin, Providence*
|Zane McIntyre, Providence#
|Dan Vladar, Providence
|Malcolm Subban, Providence