There are many different paths players can skate down to get to the NHL, and for Charlie McAvoy, playing college hockey at Boston University has undoubtedly been his calling.
Going into the 2016 NHL Draft, he was the top-ranked college player (sixth overall among North American forwards) by Central Scouting and after his name was called at the First Niagara Center in the first round by his adopted hometown team, that Boston Bruins, he rejoiced. But his enthusiasm for being a Terriers player couldn’t help but shine through.
“It’s crazy,” McAvoy said of the success he and his fellow incoming Terriers players had at Friday’s NHL Draft. Freshmen-to-be Clayton Keller, Dante Fabbro and Kieffer Bellows were all first-round selections on Friday. “We had a lunch today, all of us, and we were talking about it and thinking about it. It’s surreal the class we are coming in with. It’s going to be special.
McAvoy, a 6-foot, 208-pound offensive defenseman, just completed his first year as the youngest player in college hockey (he turned 18 on Dec. 21), tallying 25 points and being named to the Hockey East all-rookie team.
He credited BU for helping him develop into the player he needs to be to reach and maintain a pro career one day.
“I’ve developed from all aspects,” he said. “From a strength and conditioning standpoint, our strength coach Sean [Skahan] did a great job with us this year, and I was able to put on some good muscle. From a hockey standpoint, all of our coaches — coach [David] Quinn, coach [Scott] Young, coach [Albie] O’Connell — all those guys really did a lot for me as a player. They helped me grow mentally and physically on the ice, and they taught me really important things that I needed to know in order to grow and be successful.”
The Long Beach, N.Y., native is a firm believer that the college hockey route is a good option for any up-and-coming player but everyone has a different development curve.
“Some guys need those four years and some guys grow faster than others like [former Terriers forward] Jack Eichel or [former Boston College defenseman] Noah Hanifin who needed just one,” McAvoy said. “I think that college hockey gives you the chance to grow physically on the ice, and off the ice especially — you’re working toward a degree which is something very special. If you get that degree, no one will ever be able to take that away from you. I think the competition itself is beneficial because you’re playing against older guys who are going to get you ready to play at that next level due to their maturity and strength.”
McAvoy emphasized that the pride on the line in college hockey is like no other.
“Every single Friday and Saturday, no matter who you’re playing, it’s going to be a battle because everyone has a ton of pride for the school they’re playing for,” he said. “It made every game this year really special.”
His favorite memory thus far was hands down the Beanpot tournament.
“I didn’t really know too much about it since I’m not from Boston,” he said, “but a lot of teammates told me just how awesome that tournament is and what an honor it is to play in it. Last year didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but that’s probably the most exciting thing for me looking forward to next year — I want to redeem myself in that tournament.”
McAvoy may be currently living the college dream, but his “a ha” moment realizing that he actually could play pro one day came when he made the National Team Development Program a few years ago.
“When I had the opportunity to play for the national team, I think that’s when things started clicking for me,” McAvoy said. “I had seen how many great players went through there — the alumni, the NHLers — and you think, ‘Wow, I’ve finally separated myself now because I’m in this group of people.'”
His role models? McAvoy wants to follow in the footsteps of players like NTDP and BU alum Kevin Shattenkirk, a defenseman for the St. Louis Blues.
“Shattenkirk is definitely someone I look up to,” he said. “He’s a guy who went to BU, played on the national team, succeeded under coach Quinn and now he’s excelling in the pros, seemingly getting better each year. I’m kind of following in his path and hopefully the next step will be playing against him or maybe even with him in the NHL.”
As one of the top draft picks, the question remains: When will McAvoy leave school to go pro?
“It would be a tough decision, but when that opportunity presents itself and I feel as though I’m ready and the team that drafts me feels I’m ready, it will be something to think about,” he said bluntly. “It won’t be easy, but at the end of the day I want to be a professional hockey player, and if I can make that dream come true, I’m going for it.”
McAvoy exudes enthusiasm and excitement, especially when talking about training with his fellow Terriers players this summer, but the self-proclaimed team “class clown” is serious about continuing to develop offensively.
“The offensive part of my game is something that separates me from a lot of people,” he said. “If I can continue to grow and continue to contribute as much as I can on that side of the puck, it’s just the better of a chance the team is going to have at winning more games.”
With so much ahead of him at such a young age, McAvoy is just taking it all in, one day at a time.
“I am so proud to be a Terrier,” he said. “I love where I’m at, I love the people I play with, the coaches I play for and everything about BU — it’s just really special. It’s been an extraordinary year and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”
He admitted between his BU ties and now being property of the Boston Bruins, his allegiances to New York sports may be waning.
“I could never be a Pats fan, though,” McAvoy quipped, referencing the region’s football team.
Still, being able to live out a passion is a dream many people wish to attain, and to fully enjoy the moment while doing so is what life is all about. McAvoy may bleed scarlet and white right now, but one day black and gold will run through his veins, too.
Contributing from Buffalo, N.Y.: Jim Connelly