(Photo Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel/USA TODAY Sports)

By: Tom Calautti | Follow me on Twitter @TCalauttis and Linktree

As we wait patiently for the all-star break to end and Bruins hockey to return, I thought it might be a good idea to give the team their grades for the first half of the 2023-24 NHL season. Here’s how I evaluated Boston’s defensemen and goalies:

Brandon Carlo

Season Stats: 44 games, three goals, ten assists, 13 points

Grade: A+

It isn’t hyperbole to say that at times this season, Brandon Carlo has been the Boston Bruins’ best defenseman. He’s fifth in the league in plus/minus (+23), which is especially impressive considering he spends most nights against the opponent’s top forwards. He’s also chipped in more offensively and is on pace to break his previous career high (19). Brandon Carlo has been an elite shutdown defenseman this season, and the Bruins are lucky to have him.

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Derek Forbort

Season Stats: 24 games, zero goals, four assists, four points

Grade: C+

It’s tough to grade Forbort this season, given the 25 games he spent on the injury list. I would characterize his game through the first half of the season as up and down. He hasn’t looked right since returning from his groin injury, but early in the season, he was his usual shot-blocking self. When Forbort is totally healthy, he’s a capable bottom-pairing defenseman who can eat minutes on the penalty kill. However, the rise of Parker Wotherspoon may threaten his spot on the third pair in the future.

Matt Grzelcyk

Season Stats: 35 games, two goals, five assists, seven points

Grade: C

It’s been an uncharacteristically bad season for Matt Grzelcyk. He’s eighth on the team in giveaways (14) and hasn’t been nearly as productive on the offensive side of the ice (26 points in 75 games last season). Grzelcyk also battled injury earlier in the season, but even when he’s been healthy, he just hasn’t been right. It feels like Charlie McAvoy is carrying the pair more than ever, and the uptick in turnovers represents an alarming trend in his game. As a pending UFA and Mason Lohrei expected to take on a more significant role next season, Grzelcyk could be shown the door if his performance doesn’t improve.

Hampus Lindholm

Season Stats: 49 games, one goal, 18 assists, 19 points

Grade: B

Although Lindholm has taken somewhat of a step back from last season, that doesn’t take away from how solid he’s been this season. His points are down, but Lindholm is in the top five on the team in goals for percentage, scoring chances for percentage, and high-danger chances for percentage, which is especially impressive considering he and Brandon Carlo draw the toughest matchups every night. He’s logged 882 minutes this season (162 more than the next-closest Bruins), has six assists in his last ten games, and is an absolute workhorse for this team. He’s taken too many penalties this season, but other than that, Bruins fans should be thankful they have a defenseman as consistent as Lindholm.

Mason Lohrei

Season Stats: 27 games, three goals, three assists, six points

Grade: C+

It’s clear that Mason Lohrei was thrust into action before he was ready. He was thrust into action following the injury to Matt Grzelcyk and the suspension of Charlie McAvoy earlier in the year and struggled to defend against opposing forecheckers. He’s tied for fifth on the team in giveaways (15) and sometimes looked out of place when trying to protect his zone. But the news wasn’t all bad, as Lohrei exhibited excellent vision, awareness, and skating ability while up in Boston. His ability to avoid checkers and get shots through from the offensive blueline and his transition game is already NHL-caliber. At the same time, his size, strength, and maneuverability make him a difficult skater to defend against. He has five points in his last five games in Providence, so although his first showing didn’t go as anticipated, fans probably won’t have to wait long to see him again.

Charlie McAvoy

Season Stats: 41 games, seven goals, 26 assists, 33 points

Grade: A-

Charlie McAvoy keeps getting better and better with every season. Whether it be bone-crushing hits in open ice, clutch goals in important spots, or rock-solid defensive play at opportune moments, he’s on pace to put together another Norris-caliber year. He’s still not putting up the points of Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes, but he makes up for it with his leadership, physicality, and leadership. His plus/minus took a dip when he skated with Mason Lohrei after Thanksgiving, but since the holidays, he’s elevated his game and proved just how effective a two-way defenseman he can be. I’d like to see him improve his shot selection on the powerplay, but other than that, he’s been everything a team can want in a top defenseman.

Kevin Shattenkirk

Season Stats: 41 games, five goals, eight assists, 13 points

Grade: B-

I would say Kevin Shattenkirk has been as advertised this season. The veteran and Stanley Cup Champion has anchored the team’s bottom defensive pair and done everything required of his role. I’ve been underwhelmed by his production, given that he starts almost 60 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, but he’s been a steady puck mover who limits his mistakes and plays an intelligent game. I will say that Shattenkirk runs a great powerplay and has been more impressive than Charlie McAvoy when deployed in that role. All in all, I’m happy with his performance.

Parker Wotherspoon

Season Stats: 20 games, zero goals, three assists, three points

Grade: A-

Wotherspoon has been an absolute revelation for Boston and a stellar find for Don Sweeney and Co. The 25-year-old former Islander has brought a grit and physicality that the Bruins defensive corps sorely missed. He excelled on the penalty kill in Derek Forbort’s absence and filled in admirably alongside Hampus Lindholm while Brandon Carlo was injured. He plays an old-school game, punishing opponents in and around his net and making safe, responsible plays when he has the puck. Wotherspoon has earned the spot as Boston’s seventh defenseman and has the chance to replace Forbort on the team’s everyday roster.

Jeremy Swayman

Season Stats: 27 games, 16-3-7, 2.30 GAA, .924 Save %

Grade: A+

Swayman has been nothing short of brilliant this season. He’s top ten in the league in goals against and save percentage, and he’s top five in goals saved above expected (13.8) and goals saved above expected per 60 (.537). To this point in the season, the Alaska native has outplayed Linus Ullmark and established himself as a candidate for the Vezina Trophy. The most impressive part of his game has been his ability to hold down for the fort while the team has been under siege at points this year, turning away high-danger chances and keeping Boston in games. If he continues to play this way, he should start game one of the postseason.

Linus Ullmark

Season Stats: 24 games, 15-6-2, 2.78 GAA, .915 Save %

Grade: B+

Linus Ullmark’s numbers have dropped since last year, but that doesn’t mean he’s been bad by any stretch of the imagination. Ullmark is currently tenth in goals saved above expected per 60 (.447) and seventh in goals saved above expected (10.6). Despite Swayman playing three more games than Ullmark, the Swedish netminder has faced only 20 fewer shots. This tells me that, at some points this year, the team hasn’t been as sharp in front of him versus his tandem partner. Hopefully, Ullmark gets fully healthy over the break, and we will see him improve his numbers as the team heads down the stretch.