(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
By: Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio
There’s a famous saying amongst NHL teams and scouts around regarding defenseman. A defenseman’s ceiling is not known until they’ve played at least 250 NHL games. Well, Boston’s Brandon Carlo recently eclipsed 278 games, and Carlo’s trajectory is clear to the organization and its fanbase.
The 6’5 Colorado Springs native began his path to the NHL in Canada’s Western Hockey League in 2012. He spent three seasons in the WHL with the Tri-City Americans, progressing his game and points each year. He was also featured on the American U-20 World Junior Championship teams in 2014 and 2015. In 12 games at the World Junior Championships, he brought home a Bronze medal, scored five points, and an impressive plus-10 rating.
He even led the entire tournament pool of U-20 defenseman with two goals, winning the “U20 WJC Most Goals by Defenseman” award in 2015. He is in great company for this award with the likes of Cale Makar, Thomas Chabot, and Zach Werenski. Scouts predicted Carlo either be selected at the end of the first, early second round, and the Bruins were one of many teams interested.
The Bruins were fortunate enough to acquire four extra picks between the first two rounds in 2015. Upon trading Johnny Boychuk, the Bruins found themselves with an additional pick in the second round, and with it, they selected Brandon Carlo. His pre-draft scouting report was foreshadowing to what Bruins fans see night in and night out. “Through maneuvering his way around the ice and making high-percentage, skilled decisions in all three zones, he is able to shut opposition offense down before it begins to take shape.”
He has become a steady, consistent shutdown defenseman that the team has lacked in the past few years. There has been so much emphasis, energy, and draft choices spent on trying to find the league’s next Erik Karlsson. Teams should spend just as much time and energy on securing a player like Dennis Seidenberg.
Dennis Seidenberg came to the Bruins from Florida in a deadline trade in March 2010. He was not known for his offensive prowess, but instead was a penalty kill specialist and a blocking shot animal. Seidenberg amassed 1,417 blocked shots and averaged 20:44 minutes of ice time in 859 career NHL games. This type of defenseman is needed to make a deep, unbeaten playoff run.
Brandon Carlo is following in the footsteps of Seidenberg, and for Bruins fans, that is a significant area of need. The beginning of Carlo’s Bruins career would only require seven games in Providence before showing the Bruins he was ready for the big league. In his first full year with the Bruins, Brandon played in all 82 games averaging 20 minutes on ice and finished with 16 points and a plus 9 rating. He played alongside big man Zdeno Chara, and the two looked to have solidified an excellent working relationship. Carlo was primed for his first NHL playoffs in 2017, but unfortunately, the game of hockey can be cruel. In the last game of the regular season, Carlo suffered a concussion from an Alex Ovechkin brutal hit from behind.
The hit caused Carlo to miss the Bruins’ short playoff run. The Bruins were eliminated heartbreakingly against the Ottawa Senators in the first round. Their offseason began in April, and the Bruins were faced with an exciting offseason task.
The Vegas Golden Knights were the NHL’s newest expansion team in 2017, which created a new twist to the upcoming offseason. The expansion rules required current teams to select 11 roster players for protection, while the rest of their roster was fair game. However, NHL teams were allowed to exclude pro players who completed two or fewer years of the NHL from their list and the Knights. These players for the Bruins included Charlie Mcavoy, Jake DeBrusk, and Brandon Carlo. While this stopped the Knights from nabbing Carlo, it didn’t stop other teams from pursuing him.
The Colorado Avalanche were looking to unload their impending free-agent Matt Duchene in the same offseason. They had a few calls, and one, in particular, piqued General Manager Joe Sakic’s interest. Bruins General Manager, Don Sweeney, called Sakic inquiring the asking price for their second-line center. Sakic expressed his interest in the Bruins budding blue-liner.
Don Sweeney was building a system and philosophy to develop and invest in players he drafted. Thankfully, Sweeney stuck to his word and refused Sakic’s request. Duchene would eventually be traded to the Ottawa Senators in a massive haul of prospects and draft picks. Sakic tried a second time to pry Carlo from the Bruins, this time offering up their captain Gabriel Landeskog.
Sweeney, again, held onto his shutdown defenseman. Carlo entered his sophomore season on the Bruins’ third-pairing with Kevan Miller. Zdeno Chara and Charlie Mcavoy were leading the charge on the blue-line, with Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug right behind them. When McQuaid broke his leg early into the season, Carlo moved up to Krug’s left side. Carlo and Krug struggled to find chemistry right away, and he was heading towards a sophomore slump.
Hockey is just as much a mental sport as it is a physical sport. Defensemen need to read plays before as it develops and react in an instance. They need to pick themselves up after a goal is allowed on their watch. Carlo struggled during the 2018-19 regular season, so much so that he was on the wrong end of the game-day roster in February against Buffalo. The message was sent loud and clear, and Carlo quickly found his groove. In 1,000 minutes played on 5-on-5 ice time, he led the league in the least amount of goals-against with 1.42 per 60 minutes that season. Yes, even during a down year. He was full-steam ahead for the playoffs when once again, the injury bug arrived, and he missed another playoff run.
The third time is the charm, and he finally made his playoff debut in 2019. He averaged 21:31 of ice time throughout the Stanley Cup run and even scored two goals. The most impressive part of Carlo’s playoff run was his ability to shut down the offensive talent. Chara was the guy to shut down the likes of Max Pacioretty, Steven Stamkos, and Henrik and Daniel Sedin in 2011. Unfortunately, Chara isn’t getting any younger and needs to pass the shutdown torch. Carlo stepped up in a big way.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Carlo played his most playoff minutes against Artemi Panarin, Auston Matthews, and Pierre-Luc Dubois. All three are an incredible talent and poised to be household names for years to come. When the three players were on the ice with Carlo in a 5-on-5 situation, the three fired a combined 104 shots on goal. Without Carlo, the shot total increased to 114. He also led the team in penalty killing minutes with 77:22 in the entire 2019 playoffs. The next most PK minute total was Chara at 55:04. Carlo also added a little flair to his penalty-killing abilities.
Unfortunately, adding a Stanley Cup to his resume will have to wait, but he grew into a phenomenal player over three months. Carlo received a team-friendly contract of 2 years, $2.85M this past offseason, and will be a restricted free-agent again when it’s complete. He will be a long-term staple on the blue-line and is an outstanding defensive defenseman, which is rarely talked about. It’s now clear why Sweeney refused to trade the former second-round pick.
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