The Bruins will rely on Zdeno Chara to be an on-ice mentor for Charlie McAvoy in the first round. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)
It’s hard to have a bigger brother than the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara.
A giant on the ice in skates and in the B’s locker room with his lead-by-example actions, the 40-year-old Chara has had his share of siblings over his 11-year run in Boston. He’s helped accelerate the development of prospects into legitimate top-four talents — from Dennis Wideman to Johnny Boychuk to Dougie Hamilton and now Brandon Carlo — and has helped inexperienced first-timers ‘escape’ getting feasted on via unfavorable matchups. Fringe players like Steven Kampfer, Zach Trotman, and teenagers like Hamilton (again), and even Carlo (in the first few weeks of the season) come to mind there in that latter group.
Chara has a new sibling that fits both criterias now, as Charlie McAvoy appears set to make his NHL debut to Chara’s right when the puck drops on the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs tomorrow night in Ottawa.
“We like the young guys with Z,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said following Tuesday’s practice.
“Z likes to be the big brother. He relishes that role.”
A 19-year-old defender with zero games of NHL experience, and just four games of AHL experience (all coming within the last few weeks as McAvoy joined the P-Bruins on an amateur tryout agreement mere days after Boston University’s season ended), there’s no doubt that the Bruins feel he needs veteran support going from the NCAA to the AHL to the NHL in three weeks. And McAvoy, who skated with the 36-year-old John-Michael Liles in his first practice with the Bruins on Monday, got that when he was paired with Chara for the duration of Tuesday’s on-ice session, which seemed rudimentary in nature but also focused heavily on D-to-D communication and some transition drills, at Warrior Ice Arena.
“I think if we’re speaking with Charlie [playing with Chara], he’ll complement Z getting back on pucks, help him with the transition game,” noted Cassidy. “I think that’s where Carlo has been good. Those young guys, they’re able to get back on pucks.”
It’s also a familiar combo, at least in terms of what the B’s have done with Chara really since Hamilton left and even before that when Boychuk was moved to the Islanders, and one that Cassidy knows will be accepted by his best defenseman.
“I think Z enjoys tutoring the young guys,” Cassidy said of Chara’s hand in helping developing the organization’s younger talents. “When you put a young guy with a partner, I think that partner has to have some sort of communication skills and want to do it. It’s pretty tough for a young kid to go in and the [partner] is in his own world and focused on only his own job. It makes it a little more difficult. I think that’s the biggest reason and sometimes it gets thrown together out of necessity.”
It was out of necessity in October, with Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid injured late in the preseason, that the Bruins paired the teenage Carlo (who spent almost all of training camp with Liles) up to Chara’s right for a two-headed monster that lasted the year. Again, while surprising, it was not the first time that Chara helped morph a wide-eyed teenager into a poised No. 2 on the right.
“I’m gonna guess Dougie Hamilton — I can’t expand on that much — but he was another right-shot that Z definitely had contributed to his development. He’s kinda gotten used to it now, and he enjoys it,” Cassidy continued. “[Chara]’s a student of the game even talking to him one-on-one about different things, so I think that translates when he deals with young guys.”
Tuesday’s skate featured plenty of one-on-one conversations between Chara and McAvoy, too, as almost every drill either began or concluded with No. 33 and No. 73 talking or demonstrating where the other one will, won’t, or should be in game action.
“Sometimes things just fall into place,” Cassidy said, “But we’re appreciative of Z doing that.
“It makes our job a lot easier.”
Something McAvoy, if capable, will find out soon enough.