Reader Rating: 5.8
Writer Rating: 4.7
Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: on pure backchecking ability, Brandon Carlo is a good defenseman.
While we joke about him having untapped offensive potential, I think we can at the very least agree that whatever Carlo brings to the table doesn’t end up on said table when the B’s are in the offensive zone. His play is honestly, rather dull by NHL standards: He will contribute on the boards and in shot blocking and uh...that’s it. Because of that, he’s a perfect 2nd pair defender, and as a result...he’s mostly escaped notice.
He’s never been the specific point of ire; that goes to players worse than him at defense or smaller than he is. He does what he does for 75+ games, and barring heinous injury that he’s unfortunately been subjected to, and often late in the season, he goes where the team goes. He’s turned in, like clockwork, a perfectly cromulent performance for a middle pairing, stay-at-home defender who has had to adjust his game somewhat in the wake of the multiple times off he’s had to suffer thanks to reckless play on the part of his opponent.
...Right up until now. Why did he get such a middling rating? Surely he’d be an unexceptional 7-7.5 for doing a C+/B- job and being a stay-at-home defense type?
Well...I think part of it, and I need you to follow with me here: Carlo is safe to a fault.
Brandon Carlo generally speaking doesn’t initiate rushes in the same way Matt Grzelcyk does, he can make some impressive passes here or there to create zone exits, but he struggled to do that. He can throw his weight around, but is more preoccupied with fishing the puck out or actively denying a clean entry through positioning. He can shot block, but he had a ton of trouble with net-front defensive awareness. Because those things; cross ice passes, taking the body, moving away from the goaltender to intercept pucks, those are risky plays. Simple and Safe is the way to go.
Unfortunately, sometimes in hockey the “Simple, safe” play is not actually simple, or safe. The simplest, safest form of defense, as insane as it sounds, is to mitigate the amount of time you spend in your own end by whatever means necessary. Safe, sane play can work here, most of the time. A broken up zone entry helps a lot, separating body from puck knowing there’s a backchecker coming to get the puck helps as well. Blocking a shot and then passing it is the platonic ideal of starting transition. But it’s only half the job, and the part where defense becomes transition is where Carlo has faltered quite a bit. The problem comes when forecheckers swarm. Or anticipate him trying to offload the puck to somebody who can do the unsafe pass for him and it turns the puck over. Or what happens when the puck is in the unsafest part of the ice of all; Bouncing around in the crease?
He had a lot of trouble with that.
Carlo’s play has, for as much as we sometimes giggle at the concept of untapped offensive potential, been wrapped up in being safe for so long that unfortunately I think it’s starting to stagnate his game, and frankly to me, that’s arguably worse than not being a 6’5 wrecking ball.
Wrote about zone exits, and offensive transition in Part 2 of the playoff project @EPRinkside— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) July 28, 2022
On why breaking the puck out cleanly is so valuable, and the defensemen that were the best at it this postseasonhttps://t.co/njCzd0WtrF pic.twitter.com/A6bdozIgpn
And of course, even for a year offensively where Carlo matched his all-time goal total, that inability to generate offense, even in transition, was a soul-crushing flaw. I’d argue his entire transition ability boiled down to “Pass it to Matt, he’ll figure it out.” He had, like a bunch of Bruins d-men this year, real trouble keeping pucks in the offensive zone, which only put more stress on everybody when he had to try to do something daring.
That’s not to say he was a complete liability. He’s still a very decent stay-at-home defenseman at the stay-at-home defenseman part of his job. But his default to safety has unfortunately meant the Bruins were effectively relying on Matt Grzelcyk do be creative and do risks for anything resembling a potential reward for two people this season, and that’s just unfair.
So now, Carlo is in a crossroads. He’s 25, and yes, D-men need more time to develop at the NHL level...But he’s been at the NHL level since he was 19, playing mostly long seasons for much of that time.
If his prime is still coming, he needs to be able to prove he’s more than just a large body that can shot block to the Bruins.
Not much else to say that I didn’t already, other than this dude desperately needs to start finding all that untapped offensive potential.