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Using numbers to take a closer look at Brandon Carlo

Is he an offensive defenseman? Defensive? A mystery?

NHL: Boston Bruins at Edmonton Oilers Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

After passing on top prospects like Kyle Connor, Matthew Barzal and others with the 13th, 14th, and 15th overall picks, the 2015 NHL draft is not something many Bruins fans like to hear about.

Between the Bruins’ last first round selection and their next pick at 37, the average pick has played a little over 18 NHL games, which is more than the Bruins’ three first round selections combined.

However, with that 37th overall selection, the Bruins selected Brandon Carlo from the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League.

Going into the draft, Carlo’s size was mentioned in almost every scouting report. Standing at 6’5”, Carlo certainly had the size to transition to the NHL level, but he hadn’t grown into his frame just yet. Seen as a future shutdown defenseman, this certainly raised some concerns among teams, and was possibly the reason he fell to the second round.

But is Carlo really a shutdown defenseman?

During his draft year, Carlo only put up 25 points in 63 games played. That’s not awful for a defenseman, but isn’t anything spectacular.

With that, scouts rushed right into calling him a “defensive defenseman,” even though they recognized his strong skating skills and his ability to jump into plays.

We don’t have Carlo’s “advanced” WHL data, but based on his NHL data, he’s not amazing defensively. Below is a table of some adjusted “defensive” metrics from Corsica.

What we can derive from statistics is limited, especially when it comes to defense. It’s also important to recognize Carlo is very young and will develop as a player over the next few seasons as he progresses into his peak years. However, he hasn’t shown to be a defensive defenseman at all since entering the NHL.

While only scoring 16 points in his first 82 games, the soon-to-be 21-year-old does not appear to be an offensive defenseman either — but is he?

Below are Carlo’s adjusted “offensive” metrics from Corsica.

Although Carlo’s offensive shot production in terms of quantity isn’t too impressive, the shot quality for when he is on the ice has been terrific. When looking at his WAR components via Corsica, he ranked 6th among defensemen last year in WAR Quality For.

That ranks ahead of guys like Kris Letang, Brent Burns, and Erik Karlsson.

Now this doesn’t mean Carlo is elite offensively (or even good). We’ve only seen a little over one season, and there is still a lot we don’t know.

Therefore, don’t draw conclusions; instead, be skeptical that the original scouting report on Carlo is correct. Carlo might have an offensive set of skills that most tall defensemen don’t have. That’s why so many fans are confused as to who Brandon Carlo is and where he stands around the league.

Carlo’s most recognizable weakness is shot suppression. Using micro statistics, we can dive a little deeper in our analysis. In the 23 Bruins games Corey Sznajder tracked last season, Carlo was targeted on 145 opponents’ entries. That was more than any other Bruins defenseman.

Among those 145 targets, Carlo broke up 11 (7.6%), allowed 89 carry-ins (61.4%), and forced 45 dump-ins (31.0%). In turn, opponents were able to take .40 shots per entry. That was about average for Bruins defensemen last season.

However, Zdeno Chara, Carlo’s main partner, did far worse. Chara was targeted 130 times, breaking up 7 entries (5.4%), allowing 92 carry-ins (70.8%), and forcing 31 dump-ins (23.8%). This allowed opponents to take .46 shots per entry.

Although those games may not represent Carlo’s full season, it doesn’t appear that entries-against are the reason for Carlo’s poor shot suppression. As the saying goes, a good offense is a good defense. So bad offense can be a bad defense too, right?

Carlo’s shot production in terms of quantity has been average (if not poor) as well, so could these shots against really be due to poor offensive performance?

Zone exits are up for grabs as to whether they are offensive actions or defensive actions, but the focus here is Carlo’s ability to move the puck out of his zone effectively.

Certainly, one would assume a player who cannot move the puck out of his zone will suffer more shots against. In the 23 games tracked by Sznajder last season, Carlo had 217 defensive zone touches, second to his partner Zdeno Chara.

156 of those touches were exits (71.9%) and 85 of those exits were with possession (39.2%). Chara struggled even more, with 71.4% exit percentage and 30.3% possession exit percentage. Perhaps we should dig deeper using some video examples.

The clip above is from the October 14th game against the Coyotes.

After a well-defended entry, Carlo obtains the puck behind the net and is looking to start a breakout. Arizona has all three forwards in on the forecheck, one on each side and one in front of the net. Carlo seems to be caught off guard when the Coyotes’ F1 engages him.

Martinook forces Carlo to his off-hand. Ryan Spooner seems to have been the best play here. Instead, it looks like Carlo was looking for Beleskey early on and skates too much, taking away the Spooner option and forcing a poor pass attempt which turned into a turnover.

This next one isn’t a turnover, but is another display of poor passing decisions.

Instead of making a simple play, he tries to complete a cross-ice saucer pass to a skater who is not moving with much speed, and will be trapped by the Blue Jackets’ passive forecheck.

He may not have seen that Agostino would be open when he made his decision, but he could have continued to skate forward, or pass back to Krug who is not visible.

This slight hesitation, lack of awareness, and pre-reading is probably just a growing pain. As Carlo continues to get more comfortable with the NHL, he should make better decisions and make his game more efficient.

As you see below, when he makes the right plays, he is a very good defenseman.

As the NHL is changing, Carlo must have these skills in place to be effective. Defensemen are becoming more and more active in the offensive zone and on their teams’ transition plays.

Carlo’s shot metrics may cause some concern, but it seems as though the skills are there for him to be a top-4 defenseman.

Whether or not his offensive shot quality will be repeatable due to his passive style of play, it was the most valuable part of his game last season and looks to still be that way so far this season.

Playing with an active defenseman like Krug could aid Carlo’s development, as well as improve his on-ice product.

For now, it is up to the Bruins’ staff to help Carlo get over these speed bumps and blossom into the defenseman they feel he can be.