Bruins

Why Brandon Carlo should thrive as Bruins’ new shutdown ace in 2021 & beyond

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

He may not be the flashiest skater or most imposing presence while out on a shift, but it's hard to overlook the numbers that highlight Brandon Carlo's value as a defensive anchor.

Rather than use his 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame as a wrecking ball a la Nikita Zadorov, Carlo rarely takes himself out of position when hunkering down in Boston's zone — using his long reach, active stick and sturdy build to stymie scoring chances in Grade-A ice and negate any skater looking to bring the puck in close around Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak.

Quality looks for the opposition often dry up when Carlo hops over the boards, especially when asked to serve as one of the last lines of defense on a penalty kill, but the Colorado Springs native has also developed quite the knack for being a thorn in the side of teams during 5v5 play as well.

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The 2018-19 season was a breakthrough campaign for Carlo when it came to being rewarded for his dug-in, defensive talents. Among the 87 NHL defensemen that logged at least 1,200 5v5 minutes in 2018-19, Carlo ranked first overall in goals against per 60 minutes of play with a rate of 1.48. Other defensive stalwarts such as Colton Parayko, and John Klingberg ranked third and fourth in the same category.

The following campaign only featured a slight dip in those lofty numbers, with his 5v5 GA/60 rate of 1.75 ranking 10th overall among the 197 D-men with 500 minutes of ice time logged.

A lot of those impressive metrics are a testament to Carlo's ability to eliminate quality looks in the defensive zone, no doubt. But some of those numbers are also buoyed by the fact that the defenseman — as much as the bread and butter of his game is tailored for dealing with difficult matchups in Boston's end — received a hefty amount of favorable starts down the other end of the sheet.

The fewer D-zone starts, the fewer chances the opposition has of generating easy looks when you're out on a shift. And when you have a playmaking pro like Torey Krug as your partner, you're going to see far more of your shifts begin and end around the offensive blue line, rather than muscling skaters out of Boston's crease.

Carlo primarily logged shifts next to Zdeno Chara during his rookie campaign in 2016-17, but the following three seasons primarily featured the big-bodied blueliner and Krug serving as the B's incarnation of "The Odd Couple" — with a steady, stay-at-home skater and an undersized, bombastic power-play QB skating together for 1,769 minutes of 5v5 ice time since 2017.

Granted, even if those O-zone starts weren't exactly conducive to Carlo's game, you didn't see many complaints from the young defenseman — especially given the benefits that come with playing alongside a sparkplug like Krug. Carlo isn't going to be challenging for an Art Ross in the coming years (to put it lightly), but that doesn't mean that years spent alongside a player of Krug's talents haven't paid off when it comes to molding a raw offensive game.

"Watching (Krug), especially on the puck-moving side of things, it pushes me to be a better player. Just because he's so good at so many little things,"," Carlo told BostonSportsJournal.com just ahead of the COVID-19 pause. "There's things that he'll try in practice where I'm just like, 'Wow, I want to try that too.' But you just feel comfortable communicating with him. He has leadership in the way where he'll tell me where he wants me to be and he doesn't mind if I tell him vice-versa. I think he's a guy who can communicate and also listen at the same time. And that's very, very key to having a good partnership as a defenseman. So I love playing with him. I love his game in all aspects. I think defensively he's been fantastic as well, which is not the identity of a smaller guy, but it's pretty amazing with what he's been able to become as an NHL player." 

Alas, when the 2021 NHL season finally gets off the ground this winter, Carlo, in some respects, will now find himself starting anew. His longtime D partner in Krug is now off to St. Louis. The unquestioned leader of the B's defensive corps in Chara has still not signed on for a 15th year in a black and gold sweater.

Carlo, who only turns 24 in under two weeks, could suddenly find himself as one of the longest-tenured defensemen on this B's roster — tasked with anchoring a youth movement headlined by the likes of Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk and a slew of green skaters from the AHL ranks.

Entering a new campaign without a set D partner for the first time in years will be an adjustment for the even-keeled Carlo. But with change comes opportunity — and Bruce Cassidy and the B's coaching staff have to be awfully intrigued with what they can get out of Carlo in a more defensive-focused, shutdown role moving forward.