Since the lockout of 2004-05, the first round has never gone beyond pick number five before the first defenceman was selected, with a blue-liner going in the top three seven times in those eleven years. On June 24, the story of the draft will be the forwards, with as many as five players at the top who could jump into an NHL offence in October.
Many draft experts don't have a defenceman within their top six of their final rankings, highlighting the lack of standout defenders in this 2016 class. That doesn't mean there aren't some gems to be added to a team's back end, it just appears they will need some work before they're ready to help out at the NHL level.
One player who fits that description is Boston University defenceman Charlie McAvoy, who is coming off a very productive freshman year with the storied program.
Birthplace: Long Beach, New York
Weight: 208 lbs.
With some question about whether he'd get much playing time on a team that was welcoming back a full complement of veteran blue-liners, McAvoy dressed for 37 games (in league and tournament play), and led all defencemen in points, with 25. Between semesters, the former USNTDP player joined Team USA for its bronze-medal run at the World Junior Championship.
After the incredible first year of NCAA Division I hockey, McAvoy was named to the Hockey East conference's All-Rookie Team.
The majority of McAvoy's 2015-16 point total was assists, and he was second on BU's team — among all skaters, not just defencemen — in helpers. A major reason why he's able to find his teammates so often is his skating style, which allows him to glide around the offensive zone with seemingly little effort.
He's able to easily protect the puck while doing so, being too evasive to be checked by a typical defensive scheme, which lets him keep his head up and focus on offence in the attacking end. He can easily find the available passing lanes, or manoeuvre into a position to open one up himself.
He uses that skating ability to play an effective man-to-man style in his own zone, though he admits that the defensive side of the game is something he "finally had to learn how to play" in collegiate hockey [source] after having been able to get by on his impressive offensive skills up to the start of his university career.
McAvoy does have decent size, supporting 208 pounds on his six-foot frame, to go with that skating, making for an effective combination when it comes to laying the body.
Future Considerations (November, 2015)
McAvoy is a slick puck-moving defender who sees the ice with elite vision and makes passes with soft touch. He is a very strong skater with outstanding pivots and edge work; able to skate with the puck out of pressure and start the rush. He drives deep into the offensive zone and glides around with his head up looking for his best options. He is deadly in transition and a real weapon on the power play. Has a heavy shot and has the potential to be a big NHL point producer.
The Draft Analyst (March, 2016)
... McAvoy is built for the modern game – thick, explosive and assertive. He’s a strong skater with excellent balance and superior mobility both up and across the ice. McAvoy loves to join the rush and can read a play as good as any of his draft-eligible peers ...
Sometimes that size and speed has been a bit too effective, as he has had issues staying behind the line between aggression and recklessness. He's been penalized (taking two of the team's total of three major penalties this season), even suspended on one occasion for hits that were a bit too emphatic. Overall discipline doesn't seem to be the issue, as he has a fairly low penalty-minutes-to-games-played ratio, it's just a matter of reining in the physicality as he attempts to add hitting to what is already a work in progress on defence.
Despite offence being McAvoy's main strength, he does have an awkward posture when releasing the puck, with almost no weight transfer while taking a shot, using only his arms to generate power. From highlight packages it's clear that his shot isn't as powerful as it could be ... and the shots included in the video are the ones that went in. The odd shooting motion could explain why his top-end offensive play and the large amount of offensive-zone time he has received at all levels, including on the power play, has never really translated into a lot of goals in any particular season.
Future Considerations: 15th
Central Scouting service: 6th (North American skaters)
Hockey Prospect: 14th
DraftBuzz Hockey: 19th
Bob McKenzie: 14th
The Draft Analyst: 28th
SB Nation College Hockey's Top 100 college prospects: 13th (1st among first-year draft-eligibles)
The range of McAvoy's rankings is quite wide, probably because the various outlets weigh immediate value and potential talent differently.
For Montreal Canadiens fans, adding McAvoy to the system would mean either a pretty significant trade-down from ninth, or a trade-up using one, or both, of their second-round picks. Either option would be unlikely to be made with McAvoy as the end-game, but if they do end up in a position with him still on the board after the first 15 picks or so, he could be a worthwhile target.
With work to be done on both his offensive and defensive games, McAvoy won't be available to play for an NHL team for a few years. He chose BU largely to work with head coach David Quinn on his defence, and will likely be playing out the remaining three years of his varsity career before turning professional.
The need to incorporate his lower half on shots and in-traffic passes is more of an individual area of focus, and could be best addressed via private help in the off-season.
The good news is that size, speed, offensive instincts, awareness, and vision are not a concern. Defensive positioning, discipline, and shooting motion are all things that can be corrected with coaching and practice, so McAvoy still has a lot of potential yet to be tapped. He won't be available to a team right away, but when he is, that club will have a very talented asset manning its blue line.