BRIGHTON, Mass – After a strong rookie season playing in a top defenseman role for the Bruins, Brandon Carlo knew it was going to be a healthy challenge to surpass that in his sophomore season.
Carlo, 21, is certainly experiencing that learning curve in his second go-round through the league while getting used to a different defense partner in Torey Krug and tasked with the high-leverage shutdown duties he so effectively embraced as a 20-year-old rookie with virtually zero AHL experience. Certainly, there has been plenty of good as Carlo is a plus-4 in 27 games and is averaging a solid 18:59 of ice time per game while providing his strong defensive zone presence.
Clearly, there is more responsibility resting squarely on his 6-foot-5, 203-pound shoulders partnered with more of a free-wheeling offensive D-man in Krug, and that’s something he takes very seriously among his duties.
“It’s definitely a different situation, but I’m enjoying it. I feel like Torey and I are continuing to develop chemistry and we’re doing pretty well on the defensive aspect of things. There are a couple of mistakes here and there, but I feel like that’s going to happen to everybody,” said Carlo. “Playing with Torey gives us a chance to make a few more plays offensively when I’m moving my feet and getting up ice quickly and carrying the puck a little bit.
“Ultimately, I’m going to stick with the defensive parts of my game and let [Krug] take over the offense. I pride myself on the defensive aspect of things. I think we all know that. If he can join the rush and make something happen then that’s great, and I feel comfortable handling things on the back end. Last year, it was me and [Zdeno Chara] back together at all times, so it’s something I’ve gotten more comfortable with as we’ve gone along.”
But there are also plenty of areas where Carlo can improve with the raw skating, size, strength and shooting skills to be even more of a factor offensively than he’s been with four assists in the first 27 games. Clearly. Carlo is never going to be a Charlie McAvoy-style offensive defenseman and his absence from the power play is always going to keep his overall offensive production in check.
Still, Carlo could be more of an offensive factor if/when he can tap into a little more confidence with the puck on his stick. There are still moments like in the victory over the Arizona Coyotes last week when Carlo had a rough turnover to Christian Dvorak deep in his own end that immediately turned into a goal for the Yotes.
The turnover wasn’t the problem, as that sometimes happens to all defensemen both young and old. Perhaps Carlo could have been a little stronger on the puck or opted for a simpler play off the glass, but hockey is a fast game where stuff happens.
The problem for Carlo arrived afterward when it looked like he didn’t want the puck on his stick and it resulted in several icings in a second period where the Bruins struggled to move the puck out of their own end.
“I didn’t mind the turnover because he was trying to make a safe play off the wall and it just didn’t get there," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "It wasn’t an egregious turnover trying to beat somebody in front of your own net or a lazy pass. I think after that he struggled to find his game, and then in the third [period], he got it back. That’s an area that Brandon has to grasp as a young kid, especially at a position where those mistakes are magnified. If he makes that play as a forward there is another layer to cover up.
“That’s where Charlie [McAvoy] has an advantage over a lot of other young guys because he’s able to park that stuff. We went through some of that last year with [Carlo] and he was able to get it back. That’s why we have trust in him. The thing about Brandon is that he cares and he’ll always work his ass off to get his game back in working order. Sometimes he cares too much, and you can’t fault a kid for that.”
Carlo eventually snapped out of it and the Bruins ended up dropping six goals on the Coyotes in a happily-ever-after sort of ending, but Carlo knows that developing the reset button in his short-term memory is still a work in progress.
“I definitely agree [it’s an area to improve] and more experience in the league is going to help me with that,” said Carlo. “I tell myself to [have a short memory] but it’s easier said than done. I definitely learned from [the Arizona game] and I don’t want to grip my stick too tightly after I make a mistake. The coaching staff was great with me after that. Ultimately it was my own mental mindset that made me a little scattered after that, but overall I’m working on it and getting it under control.”
True to form, Carlo bounced back with a strong 20:11 of ice time against the Islanders on Saturday night when the Bruins put together one of their strong defensive efforts of the season. It’s all part of the learning process for one of Boston’s crop of young defensemen who are still learning and getting better all the time.