BOSTON– Charlie McAvoy made his season debut for the Boston Bruins against the Calgary Flames at the TD Garden on Thursday.
The defender, who was on the starting line-up, had undergone arthroscopic shoulder stabilization surgery on June 3 with an expected recovery time of six months, more than three weeks ahead of schedule.
Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said McAvoy would have no restrictions against the Flames.
“We’re very fortunate with the ‘D’ Corps that we have that we don’t need him to play 24 minutes,” Montgomery said Thursday, “but I expect him to play 20 tonight.”
McAvoy went with me Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins’ best defensive pair in Wednesday’s practice, though Montgomery said he could be switched depending on the opponent and the scenario.
“There’s going to be some mixing and matching,” Montgomery said. “He will start the game with [Matt] Grzelcyk, although. We like the Lindholm(Connor) Clifton Pairing. Here, too, we are very lucky that we can bet (Brandon)Carlo in a situation where he can mate (Jakub) Torn off and have three really good pairings.”
Montgomery said McAvoy adds significant strengths to the lineup.
“How he affects the game in all three zones,” Montgomery said. “It doesn’t look like he’s going to take a second off, whether that’s pressuring pucks, ending games, hitting someone, or taking the puck from the breakout through the neutral zone, shooting it out and driving it into the net for a chance available online.”
Bruin’s center Charlie Coyle supported his coach’s assessment of McAvoy.
“We all know what he means to our team to have him in the lineup, what it means to us and what kind of player he is,” Coyle said. “I’m sure he’s very excited. We are all happy to have him back. You want your entire team playing out there. We have a lot of guys who can tackle and play, but it’s always nice when you have a healthy squad and you get everyone going. We are very happy to have Charlie back.
McAvoy said the injury occurred in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference first round against the Carolina Hurricanes, which the Bruins lost in seven games.
“It will come back and deal with where I am after this injury,” said the 24-year-old on Wednesday. “I really don’t think it’s going to hamper a lot of things, but it’s going to be an adjustment.”
McAvoy is the third Bruins player to return from off-season surgery weeks to a month ahead of schedule. Grzelcyk returned on October 20 from a right shoulder stabilization operation on June 3 that was expected to keep him out for five months and more Brad Marchand returned from hip arthroscopy and labrum repairs on each hip on October 27, which was expected to keep him out for six months.
“I’m incredibly grateful and I tip my hat to our medical staff, Scott Waugh, and our athletic training staff here, for the work they’ve done,” Montgomery said, “not just with him, but with Marchand, who’s already back, and Grzelcyk. “
“So many players ahead of schedule. [Goalie Jeremy] Varyis ahead of schedule. That’s a credit to them and the great job they do to get our players back and on the ice and ready to play and play well.”
Montgomery clarified that Swayman (lower body) is “a few days” ahead of schedule but is not back on the ice just yet. Swayman was week to week after suffering an injury against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 1.
When asked about his speedy return, McAvoy said: “I think it’s a testament to everyone, really, inside, the doctors, the coaches and everyone who’s obviously working hard to come back early. … It’s a feeling like it’s listening to your body, it’s achieving things that you need to be able to play again.”
McAvoy had an NHL season-high 56 points (10 goals, 46 assists) in 78 games last season with a career-best plus-31 rating and five assists in six playoff games. He was drafted #14 in the 2016 NHL Draft and has 178 points (34 goals, 144 assists) in 313 games and 37 points (five goals, 32 assists) in 71 playoff games.
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