Brandon Carlo isn’t going to forget his first NHL game in Winnipeg, and it won’t be for their raucous home crowd or the city’s notoriously nasty winters.
Instead it will forever be the setting for the 19-year-old rookie defenseman’s first NHL goal that served as the important insurance score in Boston’s 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on Monday night. Carlo pounced on a loose puck at the high slot after Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck poked the puck away from a charging Brad Marchand, and the 6-foot-5 defenseman blasted a shot that rattled off the post before settling in the back of the net.
So now Carlo has both his first career point and his first goal out of the way just three games into his NHL career, and was just happy that his first score served an important purpose in a win for his hockey team.
“I kinda blanked out there, I guess you could say,” said Carlo to reporters in Winnipeg. “I was really excited to get that opportunity there in the slot and put it in the back of the net. That definitely kind of sealed the game and I was really excited to get the ‘W’ out of this.”
More impressive than scoring his first NHL goal is the overall job that Carlo is doing this season with just eight games of NHL experience on his resume. The 2015 second round pick now leads all NHL rookies with a plus-7 rating on the season after a plus-3 in the Monday night win, and he skated a career-high 24:50 of ice time while serving as a shutdown defenseman with Zdeno Chara against the Jets best offensive players. It’s only three games, obviously, but it’s clear that both Carlo belongs in the NHL despite his inexperience and that he already represents an upgrade over some of the options Boston rolled out on their back end last year.
“The key word is first goal. As an NHLer, the quicker you get that off your back the better it is. You won’t be feeling the pressure anymore of looking for that first one,” Julien said to reporters in Winnipeg. “It was a really important goal, and it was nice to see him do that. He’s played against top lines since the start of the season, and for a young player to do that he’s shown a lot of poise.”
The rare poise from such a young defenseman is exactly why Carlo is going to stick with the B’s even after their veteran blueliners return from injury, and mobility, puck-moving abilities and offensive upside make him a better option than others on the organizational depth chart. It’s only three games into his NHL career, of course, and there are still hurdles to climb and tests to pass before Carlo is the kind of player that will be blindly counted on to serve as a trusted top-pairing, shutdown guy.
But at this early date it’s already clear that Carlo is a keeper for the Black and Gold, and they have no business taking him out of the lineup for any reasons for the foreseeable future.