McAvoy's offensive improvement could be X-factor in Norris Trophy race

McAvoy's offensive improvement could be X-factor in Norris Trophy race originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Charlie McAvoy ranks among the best defensemen in the NHL, and the Boston Bruins star has finished top five in Norris Trophy voting voting twice in the last three years.

McAvoy is a fantastic defensive player who consistently logs 20-plus minutes against the opponents' top-six forwards each game and plays a leading role on the league's No. 1 ranked penalty kill.

Where he's been falling behind some of the other top candidates for the Norris Trophy -- such as Adam Fox, Cale Makar and Erik Karlsson -- is scoring production. It's something B's president Cam Neely talked about on Media Day in October when asked about the similarities between McAvoy and Hall of Famer Ray Bourque.

"He can log big minutes like Ray could, defensively is strong, offensively is the area where he's lagging a little bit from where Bourque was," Neely said. "Charlie, I think we'd all like to see him shoot the puck more because he does have a good shot. I think he'd be more dangerous if he shoots the puck more,and that's one thing that Ray loved to do is shoot the puck. Someone who stands in front of the net and takes a beating waiting for that puck to come, it’s kind of nice when it does come. But I see a lot of similarities between those two players, but the offense is not quite where Ray’s was.”

McAvoy has been a solid offensive player in his first six years as a pro, but his career-high for points in a single season is 56. Fairly or not, most voters for the Norris Trophy put a lot of weight on scoring when filling out their ballot. When the top candidates are putting up over 70, 80 or even 90 points, it can be hard for McAvoy to get enough attention to be a finalist (top three).

This season could be the time where McAvoy enjoys a breakthrough offensively and vaults up into that top Norris tier. McAvoy tallied two assists in Monday night's 5-2 win over the Sabres in Buffalo.

The 25-year-old defenseman now has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in 11 games, and he'd probably have more if he didn't miss four games due to suspension. He also has a five-game point streak with a total of eight points (two goals, six assists) during that span.

McAvoy is currently setting career highs in goals, assists, points and scoring chances per 60 minutes.

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McAvoy is currently on pace for 78 points, which would be 22 above his previous career high. If he can hit the 70-point mark, that should be good enough -- assuming he remains an elite defensive player -- to be a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the first time.

Here's a look at the scoring totals for the last six Norris Trophy winners.

  • 2017-18: Victor Hedman, Lightning, 64 points

  • 2018-19: Mark Giordano, Flames, 74 points

  • 2019-20: Roman Josi, Predators, 65 points (71-game season due to COVID-19)

  • 2020-21: Adam Fox, Rangers, 47 points (56-game season due to COVID-19)

  • 2021-22: Cale Makar, Avalanche, 86 points

  • 2022-23: Erik Karlsson, Sharks, 101 points

The Bruins lost a lot of very good forwards in the offseason, including their top-two centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, as well as a talented offensive defenseman in Dmitry Orlov. Overcoming that loss of offensive firepower will be difficult, and the blue line needs to pick up a good amount of the slack.

So far, McAvoy has led that charge by performing above expectations in the attacking zone, and it's helping the Bruins tremendously.

Producing points at a top-tier level was one of the final steps for McAvoy to take in his development, and the progress he's made to this point in that area of his game is very encouraging for the Bruins as they continue to build around a strong core led by him and superstar right wing David Pastrnak.