John Moore fitting in nicely on Bruins blue line so far
SHENZHEN, China — Charlie McAvoy means well, but he has developed a nasty habit of making other people feel old.
A week after telling reporters at a Chicago news conference hyping the Winter Classic that he “grew up watching” an event the league first hosted in 2008, McAvoy praised new teammate John Moore with the same phrase.
As a young Rangers fan on Long Island, McAvoy said, he was impressed with Moore’s fluid skating. Moore, 27, was on a couple of Rangers playoff teams from 2012-14, during the latter part of McAvoy’s teen years before he shipped off to Boston University.
So the precocious, enthusiastic 21-year-old was pleased to find himself paired with Moore during the Bruins’ first practice here. Then again, he would be happy with anyone in this lineup.
“I think our D corps is going to be special, I really do,” McAvoy said. “When you add someone like John Moore, he’s such a dynamic player. His skating ability is something that’s just amazing . . . effortless, and he makes great plays with the puck.
“I’m looking forward to being able to play with him here.”
In a lengthy tuneup a day before Saturday’s exhibition against Calgary (2:30 a.m. ET), second-pair righty Brandon Carlo split reps with rookies Urho Vaakanainen and Jakub Zboril, and last year’s third-pair tandem of Matt Grzelcyk-Kevan Miller was together again.
“It’s just a look,” coach Bruce Cassidy said of his Moore-McAvoy pair. “Z [Zdeno Chara] and McAvoy were a great pair. Z and Carlo were a great pair. We’re going to move people around.
“When we get home, we’ll have a better idea of how far along Torey [Krug] is. I’ve seen Griz and Miller. I imagine each game we’ll try to move it around a little bit. And then settle on something.”
“Dynamic” is a label better applied to McAvoy, but Moore is no slouch. He is large (6 feet 2 inches, 210 pounds) and mobile, a left shot with the ability to play either side. He has power-play and penalty-kill experience, most recently in a three-year run with the Devils. That package is why Boston was comfortable committing long-term (five years, at $2.75 million per) to add Moore on July 1.
“He’s been in the league,” said Cassidy, who also gave Moore a run with the second power play (next to Grzelcyk). “He knows what his job is, day in, day out.”
Moore played man-to-man in New Jersey. Cassidy’s zone scheme demands layers, quick closes on the puck carrier, and proper angles rather than marking one target.
“It’s different,” Moore said. “Especially defensively. It’ll take a little bit of time. I’m trying to ask questions and soak it all up.
“It’s unnatural, but the more you go through it in a game and in practice, I’ll get a better grip on it.”
Though the returning backliners were sad to see Adam McQuaid go, they like the shape the group is taking.
“We’re pretty comfortable now,” said Miller. “We were definitely pretty comfortable before. We have a good group, good mix of guys, good mix of talent, offensively and defensively. I think we match up well.
“We didn’t have too much turnover. Mooresy’s fitting in great so far. He’s a student of the game. He’s a good player. He can certainly skate.”
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Auditioning three rookies for the third-line center spot, Cassidy put skilled newcomer Jack Studnicka between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, and rookie Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson on the No. 2 line with Jake DeBrusk and Ryan Donato. Jordan Szwarz also took turns centering the second trio. Trent Frederic was the third-line pivot, between Peter Cehlarik and David Backes.
“Could change from game to game, period to period,” Cassidy said, noting that Studnicka and JFK were auditioning for skill-line duty, as potential future replacements for Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
“We’ll see if Freddy can do it as well.”
They were also centers on the power play, Studnicka riding the first unit with Marchand, Pastrnak, Donato, and McAvoy, and JFK centering Backes and DeBrusk.
Vaakanainen (PK) and Zboril (PP) had special teams stints, too.
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Typically, there is no weather report for an NHL game. Rink conditions are always clear and cold. However, last year’s Kings-Canucks preseason game in Shanghai was played under a rolling fog, owing in part to the swampy conditions outside.
Lesson learned. For Friday’s practices, the NHL set up a fleet of dehumidifiers on the floor of Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center, in the ample space between the ice surface and lower-bowl seats. The conditions outside were swampy, but no one watching practice was reminded of that.
That had David Proper, who heads the league’s international strategy, breathing easier.
In Year 2 of the NHL’s China Games experiment, Proper said, the league addressed its fog issue, had better communication with the Chinese government (“making sure they understand what we’re trying to do”), and did “a lot more grassroots stuff around the game,” like coaches’ clinics and kids programs.
The latter elements are vital, as the NHL tries to help China become better hockey-educated and focused on the sport.
“It’s not like soccer, where you can drop a ball on the floor and everybody can play,” Proper said. “We’re trying to make it as accessible as we can.”
China’s push to grow its hockey program in advance of the 2022 Winter Games is sympatico with the NHL’s wish to build its brand. The league will play preseason games in six of the next eight years. Within the next six months, Proper said, the league hopes to open an office in China.
At present, this nation’s best hockey coaches are imported, and its most talented young players export themselves to learn the game at a higher level. Infrastructure is lacking. If China falls for hockey, it may take a generation or more to produce a homegrown star, even in a nation of nearly 1.4 billion.
“Everyone agrees if we had that Yao Ming equivalent, that would be incredibly helpful,” Proper said. “You’re not going to create that superstar in two years of doing business here.”
It is a unique project. The league is patient.
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The ice surface in Shenzhen, the Bruins said, was a bit wider than a typical NHL rink. “As a defenseman taking rushes, you think you have a guy, even in the corners, and there’s an extra 2 or 3 feet,” Moore said. “You feel like you’re going to run into the wall and all of a sudden there’s ice there that you’re defending. Everyone’s using the term ‘curveball.’ You can file it under that.” . . . Moore has an acrylic replacement for his missing lower row of teeth, but he doesn’t wear it to the rink. He clarified that they were knocked out not by a slapshot against the Bruins in the playoffs, as originally reported in that 2013 series, but by a Shawn Thornton dump-in. Not the only jibs Thornton KO’d during his career.