It’s no secret that the defense has been a focal point for the team’s management since Dougie Hamilton was traded in June of 2015. Facing an aging Chara and a changing blue line, what was once a strength became a weakness. Most fans said “Hey, if the Bruins traded Dougie that quickly and for that return, we can just go get another top four defenseman via trade and make up for it.” No such luck – ever since the Dougie trade there hasn’t been a big name defenseman moved at all save for maybe Dmitri Kulikov and Mark Psysk and those two aren’t exactly barn burners.
With the draft picks the team had acquired in trades such as the Milan Lucic, Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton trade, defense was clearly a priority. The Bruins selected Jakub Zboril in the 1st round of 2015, as well as Brandon Carlo in the 2nd round of that same draft. 2016 wasn’t much different with the Bruins selecting Charlie McAvoy and Ryan Lindgren. All of these defensemen have high ceilings, but Carlo had the size already. Carlo has been a bit of a silver lining in what is widely considered a travesty of a trade when the Bruins sent Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders. The 2nd rounder was the first of two picks acquired by Boston in return for Boychuk, and Sweeney used it wisely to select Carlo who may very well end up being a better defenseman than Manchuk in the long run.
Carlo, a Colorado Springs native, spent four seasons in the Western Hockey League with the Tri-City Americans. He was never a big name offensive guy, but he put up respectable numbers in his final season with five goals and 22 assists in 52 games played, while wearing the “A” on his jersey. Carlo earned a call by Team USA for the World Junior Championship for the second time and played a pivotal role on the US top pairing. He scored two goals and tallied two assists in the seven games and was an impressive +9 against some of the top talent of his age. At the conclusion of his WHL season, Carlo was given a call by Don Sweeney to play with the Providence Bruins during their stretch run based upon his stellar play in 2015-2016. He spent 7 games with the Baby B’s and did not look out of place whatsoever and earned one assist.
WITH HIS STRONG WHL AND AHL PLAY SHOWING HE HAD A NHL FUTURE, CARLO WENT INTO CAMP READY TO IMPRESS.
And impress he did. The 6’5″ Brandon Carlo was placed on a pairing with Zdeno Chara in training camp. Chara is one of the few players that Carlo has played with that he’s had to “look up to” in every sense of the phrase. Chara took the young blue liner under his wing. In fact, Chara was quoted as saying that he saw a lot of himself in Brandon Carlo as a young defenseman out of the WHL looking to make the jump to the big leagues. What Chara didn’t realize was what little coaching and mentoring he had to do with Carlo.
BIG, BUT WHAT ABOUT FOOT SPEED AND DECISION MAKING WITH THE PUCK?
He and Chara worked so well together that the Bruins brass decided to give Carlo a spot on the opening night roster. He earned his roster spot and he hasn’t looked out-of-place whatsoever since he’s been with the Bruins full-time. Carlo’s ability has Chara looking stronger than he has in past seasons as well. Some fans believe that Chara’s resurgence has been because he can focus on his game first and foremost and not try to cover up for his partner every time as Carlo is rarely caught with bad positioning.
Carlo has been a pleasant surprise, but what many didn’t see coming was his efficiency with the puck and foot speed. For a 6’5″ 19-year-old defender, Brandon Carlo has a deceptive stride. When he finds himself in a compromising situation, he has the hockey sense to find seams for short or crisp long passes to find the forward in stride. He also can accelerate to wheel the puck of the corner and carry it until a passing lane has opened up. These two traits combined with his brutish size and affinity for blocking shots have given the Bruins defense a new identity. They’re no longer the laughing-stock of the league (at least until Julien decided to pair Kevan Miller with Adam McQuaid again) and they’re now and up and coming defensive team.
The Bruins have a reputation of being a difficult place for a young player to learn, and that reputation seems to have been given credibility due to the Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton trades. The recent spurning of the Bruins by Alex Khoklachev puts a bit more emphasis on that narrative as well. Carlo has been a stud in this year’s impressive rookie class. Currently Carlo leads all NHL rookies in +/- with a rating of +10, narrowly missing leading the league in TOI by one second to Columbus phenom Zach Werenski, both are massive numbers for rookie defensemen.
TUUKKA RASK HAS SEEN A RESURGENCE IN HIS PLAY AS WELL WITH BRANDON CARLO IN THE LINEUP
I’m not saying Carlo is 100% why Tuukka has improved, but Carlo has made some stellar denials of high-quality scoring chances this season. For example, let’s look back at the game at Amalie Arena in Tampa when Tuukka was dead to rights and Brandon Carlo was in the right position. The blueliner dropped to a knee and exposed his whole face to a shot. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa’s sniper for this year, wristed a one-timer right into Carlo’s chin. Carlo barely flinched and got up to make the play. That was absolutely stellar, and something Bruins fans have missed since the 2013 season. Tuukka has looked more confident, and minus a couple last-minute goals by the opposition, he’d be leading the league in shutouts. As a beer-league goalie who is in no way shape or form remotely as skilled as Tuukka, I always attribute any shutouts I get to the defense in front of me. I know Tuukka would feel the same way.
BRANDON CARLO IS THE STANDARD-BEARER OF THE NEXT GENERATION OF BRUINS HOMEGROWN BLUELINERS
Brandon Carlo is an exciting chapter in Don Sweeney’s tenure as GM of the Boston Bruins. In addition to Brandon Carlo, the Bruins can look forward to the development of Sweeney selections Charlie McAvoy, Ryan Lindgren, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon, all within the top two rounds of the last two NHL Entry drafts. If we can get better hits on draft day than what Bruins fans are used to through Peter Chiarelli, this Bruins fan will be happy and I am sure many of you readers will be, too.