The Boston Bruins have already made one big move with an eye to saving their season, that being the decision to axe coach Claude Julien earlier this week.
If the B’s drop another bomb – say a sizable trade deadline acquisition aimed at improving the team’s playoff hopes – you can bet Black and Gold fans will be ready to wince upon hearing the details, hoping the name Brandon Carlo comes nowhere near the transaction.
“By my eye, he is their best defenceman drafted, brought in and put into place since [Ray] Bourque,” said Boston Globe columnist Kevin Paul Dupont on Sportsnet’s Tape to Tape podcast.
While Dupont clarified that he was in no way putting the rookie in the same class as the Bruins Hall of Famer, he believes Carlo has top-pair rock written all over him. That, of course, is precisely why the 20-year-old’s name is always rumoured to be part of the asking price when it comes to established, talented players who could soon be on the move – like, say, Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche.
If including Carlo in any potential move is a non-starter for Bourque’s old defence partner and Boston’s current GM, Don Sweeney, you can understand why. Regardless, among the many things Carlo has already picked up as an NHL freshman is how to tune out the noise.
“I’ve just got to control what I can control,” said the 37th overall pick from the 2015 draft. “The trade rumours, I haven’t really focused on. I’m just trying to relish the opportunity to play in the NHL.”
That chance came when, after three seasons with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans and two runs at the World Junior Championship with Team USA, Carlo made the Bruins out of training camp last fall at age 19. And he wasn’t hired to be support staff. The 6-foot-5, Colorado Springs native has played a starring role this season, lining up as the right-shot partner to captain Zdeno Chara on the team’s No. 1 tandem. Only Chara and offence-minded Torey Krug average more ice time per game than the 21:20 Carlo has logged through 57 contests.
Essentially, Carlo’s first NHL season has looked a lot like previous ones in lower levels, where he was constantly counted on to line up against the other side’s best players. And while he says a shut-down game will always be his calling card, Carlo – who has 13 points this year – is very open to expanding his repertoire.
“I feel like I’m definitely transitioning and trying to get up more in the play and learning a lot this year,” he said. “The management has been great with me, they’ve expressed that it’s OK to make mistakes out there, so that gives you a little extra confidence to go play your game.”
Knowing your bosses have your back obviously makes things a little easier for a youngster, as does taking your shifts beside a 20-year veteran with a Norris Trophy on his shelf. Talking to Chara about his early days with the New York Islanders has helped allay some of Carlo’s own anxieties about the inevitable ups and downs that come with being a newbie of any kind – but particularly a green defenceman – in the big show.
“He explained to me his first couple years, it was kind of tough as well,” Carlo said. “You look at the defenceman he is now and all he’s accomplished, it’s impressive. I feel like we’ve developed quite a bit of chemistry and we communicate well on the ice and off.”
The Isles’ decision to package a 24-year-old Chara in 2001 as part of the trade to get Alexei Yashin from the Ottawa Senators serves as just one of a few cautionary tales from the hockey world about the perils of dealing still-developing blue-liners. And given ‘Big Z’ will hit the big 4-0 in about a month, the Bruins might have all the incentive required to make sure Carlo stays in the organizational mix for many, many years to come.