WILMINGTON -- Growing up in Colorado watching Erik Johnson perform as an oversized D-man capable of moving the puck and creating offense, Brandon Carlo has a vision in his head of what he’d like to be for the Boston Bruins. Carlo showed those growing offensive instincts this week at Bruins Development Camp while already standing out because of his 6-foot-5, 203-pound frame that will only get bigger and stronger as he develops physically.
Carlo also showed a little bit of attitude and surliness in the defensive zone that will serve him well at the next level, and a good assertive style barking out communication and instruction to his goalies and D-partners during drills and scrimmages. It all added up to a 19-year-old B’s defenseman prospect that will be ready sooner rather than later by virtue of his size and strength, and passed through development camp looking like he’ll be competing for an NHL job during training camp in September and October.
“He’s a little bit younger, but he was in Providence at the end of last year and I was really impressed with him in terms of how he closes and defends,” said P-Bruins assistant coach Kevin Dean, who appears to have the inside track on being the next head coach for Providence next season stepping into the vacancy created by Bruce Cassidy’s promotion. “He’s 19 years old, he skates well for a big kid. It’s the rough edges around his game and the puck skills [that need sharpening], but for a young kid he stays out of trouble. That’s important.
“Those are the kids that generally do well transitioning to the next level, the kids that don’t bring trouble onto themselves. There’s enough trouble in a hockey game that you don’t need bring any extra onto yourself. He seems to be a kid that doesn’t make [trouble] for himself, so that combination along with the ability to close plays off, and end plays, should project well for him.”
The Bruins coaching staff clearly likes what they see with the 2015 second round pick, and that was reinforced by a seven game stint with the Providence Bruins at the end of last season along with a solid performance after being dropped into an AHL playoff elimination game against the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.
All signs pointed toward Carlo being a big, strong and sound shutdown D-man at the NHL level that could play top-4 minutes if he’s paired with a puck-moving defenseman capable of supporting him in pushing the puck up the ice.
The P-Bruins lost the game after a shaky performance from goaltender Zane McIntyre, but Carlo looked calm, strong enough despite being one of the youngest guys on the ice and poised under the natural pressure of the game situation. It was enough of a body of work to think that Carlo isn’t far away from the NHL at all, and can fast-forward his readiness date if he’s willing to play the hard, physical game in the D-zone that his size naturally dictates.
“They don’t know really what to expect this first time playing pro [hockey] and being around it, and I think it gives these guys an advantage going into training camp. Carlo looked really comfortable out there on the ice,” said Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo. “I don’t think he’s ever going to be a high-end offensive guy, but he’ll be a good shutdown guy that sees the ice well enough, and can make some plays.”
The one thing that’s almost a guarantee at this point about Carlo, the 37th overall pick in the 2015 draft will be the first of the next wave of Bruins prospects to crack the NHL lineup. Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk all looked to be on track during their respective performances at B’s development camp, and big Robbie O’Gara looked ready as well while skating in the summer pro league at the Foxboro Sports Center last week.
But the Bruins saw Carlo step up the projections for him as a player with his performance on a top pairing for Team USA at last year’s World Junior tournament, and now that his him factoring into their plans as quickly as he shows he’s ready. Some of the qualities on the defensive side of the puck come a little more naturally for the rugged Carlo, so he’s put a great deal of focus on puck retrieval, crisp outlet passes and a mindset that has him consistently pushing the puck forward rather than retreating backward.
“Just getting back on pucks, getting around the puck and moving it up as fast as I can, I feel like the transition aspect is a big part of my game. So I feel like that’s what is going to help me next year no matter where I am,” said Carlo. “I would love to be within the Bruins organization in October whether it’s in Boston or Providence, and I’m going to work as hard as I can to get there.
“Going into training camp everybody has a chance to make a really good impression [for a job], and that’s all I’m trying to do. Using my size in the defensive side of the game is of huge importance to me. I feel like I’m primarily defensive, but I can also step up into plays. So I want to stand out in those ways throughout camp.”
Carlo is in a unique position as a junior hockey player born late in the 1996 year that he could be returned to his Tri-City Americans team for a fourth season in the WHL as an option, but nobody should expect that to happen at this point. The 19-year-old Carlo has shown enough in his showings with the Bruins organization that they envision him as a possible top-4 shutdown defenseman in the near future, and the best way to set him on that path is to start his professional career this coming season provided he shows he belongs in training camp.
There’s simply no reason to think otherwise for a confident guy in Carlo that looked like he had everything under control this week in only his second, and likely his last, go-round at Bruins development camp.