The Bruins held an optional practice Wednesday at Warrior Ice Arena but there was big news nonetheless: Charlie McAvoy was in the building.
The young defenseman who dazzled for two years at Boston University has decided to leave school and sign an amateur tryout agreement, reporting to the AHL Providence Bruins.
BU’s season ended last weekend in an NCAA West Regional final loss to Minnesota-Duluth, and McAvoy, 19, of Long Beach, N.Y., is ready to move on. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney expects him to practice with Providence Thursday and Friday and perhaps play this weekend.
“He felt he was ready, and so did we,’’ Sweeney said.
McAvoy, who was drafted by the Bruins with the 14th overall pick last June, is likely to sign a three-year entry contract, but Sweeney said discussions with McAvoy’s advisers are ongoing.
“First and foremost is to get him playing and get him acclimated,’’ Sweeney said.
An NHL club executive, not related to the Bruins, said late Wednesday he and other team execs around the league believe McAvoy will sign with the Bruins imminently and suit up for at least one game with the varsity prior to the end of the regular season.
Upon doing so, noted the club exec, McAvoy will burn off the first year of the standard three-year entry level contract, and thereby reach restricted free agency as of July 1, 2019 instead of July 1, 2020.
“He’s leaving BU after two years,” noted the club exec, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He’s not giving up his eligibility for an amateur tryout. He’s a top prospect. They’ll burn the year to get him.”
McAvoy was spotted in the halls outside the locker room at Warrior, but he is not expected to be with the big club immediately. The Bruins will see what happens in Providence before making another move.
“It’s the first step,” said Sweeney. “He’s made a decision and we’re excited about that process. It leaves some options open.’’
"This is a good first step for us, for everybody."— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 29, 2017
Watch as Don Sweeney announces that Charlie McAvoy will join @AHLBruins on an ATO: pic.twitter.com/OcGPH9MM0Z
The Bruins have no doubt McAvoy will be playing for the varsity soon enough. The question is whether they use up a year of his three-year entry contract with even a single NHL game, or whether they let him learn the professional game in Providence.
“He has the attributes to play in the NHL right now,’’ said Sweeney. “This is an opportunity for him to play in some professional games at another level for him and sort of evaluate him from there.”
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy agreed.
“We all believe he’s going to have a successful NHL career,’’ Cassidy said. “We’re just not sure how and when it’s going to take off.”
McAvoy has played in the spotlight at BU. His proximity to the Bruins only fueled the speculation about his promise as a Black-and-Gold savior (the intensity of that speculation varying with the ups and downs of the Bruins’ season).
A Hockey East first-team all-star, he had 5 goals and 21 assists in 38 games this season. The lights shined brightly on him at the mid-winter World Junior Championship when he was named player of the game after leading the US to the gold medal.
Sweeney doesn’t expect McAvoy to struggle with the transition to the professional ranks, and he believes time spent in Providence will prove valuable. It’s a path Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo traveled last season with success, coming to Providence after his last junior season in the WHL. He played seven games with the Baby B’s.
“I feel like that was a big benefit for me to able to come up here to Providence,’’ Carlo said. “To play a couple of games was really awesome for me to realize what the pro lifestyle is like, and the speed and the strength of the guys.’’
“Going there I gained a little bit of confidence knowing I could play against these guys and the men in this league.’’
Sweeney himself took that path to the NHL, going from Harvard to the AHL Maine Mariners before landing with the Bruins.
“I’ve always been an advocate of it,’’ he said.
“It’s great on-the-job training,’’ he said. “Brandon is the best example.’’
McAvoy, 6 feet 1 inch and 211 pounds and a right shot, brings both puckhandling skills and size to his game At BU, he played in all situations and grew into a leadership role.
“Charlie’s got an outgoing personality,’’ said Sweeney. “He embraces the expectations.”
“He’ll acclimate himself. He loves to play, he’s got a passion for it, and he works hard at his game.’’
Sweeney also said that McAvoy’s BU teammate Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, 20, a sophomore forward taken by the Bruins with the 45th pick in 2015, has not made a decision about leaving school to join the professional ranks.
There is yet another tantalizing prospect who soon might be ready to join the Bruins: Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork, who pushed and pulled his team (three assists) past UMass Lowell, 3-2, in overtime in the regional final.
But Bjork, drafted by the Bruins in 2014 (fifth round), is still playing, as the Irish are in the Frozen Four.
. . .
After a four-game losing streak, the Bruins have won their last two, and Cassidy said the turnaround begins with defense.
“We hunkered down better defensively,’’ said the coach. “You saw that with our shot block totals, our penalty kill, just our all-around defensive play.
“As far as the mind-set goes, we said we’ve got to stop the bleeding now, this is how we’re going to do it.’’
The emphasis was on limiting chances. For some, that meant blocking shots.
“Every team gets a lift [from blocked shots],’’ Cassidy said. “It’s a price you’re paying — those pucks hurt. It’s a part of the game that’s a sacrifice and it spreads throughout the team and hopefully becomes contagious.’’
Adam McQuaid had five of Boston’s 24 blocked shots in Tuesday’s victory over Nashville.
“It’s easy when everyone’s on board and you see everyone doing those things,’’ McQuaid said. “You can really gain momentum.’’
Kevin Dupont of the Globe staff contributed to this report.