The deep defensive core of the Boston Bruins has helped to propel last year’s Stanley Cup runners-up back into serious Cup contention as the trade deadline approaches. The Bruins, who currently sit at the top of the NHL standings, have given up an NHL-best 145 goals against, largely as a result of their effective blue line corps.
As we make our way toward the end-stretch of the regular season, I’ve decided to compile a ranking of the three most impressive Bruins defensemen this season.
Third: Torey Krug
When Torey Krug first established himself in the NHL back in the 2012-13 postseason (4 goals, 2 assists in 15 games), he made a name for himself as an offensive weapon from the blue line. Since then, he’s established himself as one of the NHL’s premier offensive defensemen.
This season, Krug has continued to find success offensively. His 39 points lead Bruins defensemen (and is fifth overall on the team), and is good enough for 12th among the league’s D-men.
As a power-play quarterback, Krug helps to lead Boston’s man-advantage unit that has notched more goals than any other powerplay in the league. Krug himself is credited with a pair of goals and 21 assists while a man up.
While Krug’s defensive game will always leave a little something to be desired, he’s gotten more responsible over the years in his own end. The occasional misses on defense are well worth the offensive talent he brings to the table.
Second: Charlie McAvoy
When McAvoy notched his first goal of the season in overtime against the Blackhawks earlier this month, some were under the impression that No. 73 finally had something to show from a poor season. That couldn’t be more wrong.
In fact, despite his unexpectedly low goal total this season, you could make an argument that Charlie McAvoy is deserving of the top spot on this ranking. I wouldn’t argue it too harshly. But for reasons we’ll get into later, I’m saving the top spot for another player.
While it’s true that the goals haven’t flowed at as high a rate as expected for McAvoy this season, it would be rash to say that the 22-year-old has played poorly.
For starters, McAvoy’s 23:07 of ice time per game leads Bruins skaters… and by a lot. McAvoy’s defensive partner, Zdeno Chara, it next closest with 20:59 of ice time per game. Clearly, Boston’s coaching staff trusts McAvoy as their go-to defenseman in many situations.
All things considered, McAvoy has earned it. Over the past few seasons, he’s established himself as a trustworthy two-way D-man. In the defensive zone, he positions himself well in and makes excellent use of his 6-foot frame to throw hits, box out players, protect the puck, and create turnovers.
Moving up ice, McAvoy is very capable of making strong plays in the transition game. It’s far from a rarity to see McAvoy push the puck up ice and create offensive-zone possessions for his teammates. From there, he’s a strong puck-mover who can set up his teammates and create scoring opportunities.
Related: 7 Things About Zdeno Chara
Don’t let the goal total fool you: McAvoy has been effective this season, even if he isn’t scoring much. He’s recorded 21 assists this season – 20 of which have come at even strength. He’s already matched his assist total from last season and is now within striking distance of his career-high 25 assists from his rookie season in 2017-18.
The misleading goal total also shows signs of pure bad luck for McAvoy. The former Boston University Terrier has just a 2.3 percent shooting percentage this season, as compared to an 8.9 percent last season, and 9.1 percent during his rookie year. The extra ice time this season has led to a larger number of shots from McAvoy, but they just haven’t been finding twine at the same rate. That will change.
Still, McAvoy has demonstrated plenty of worth for the Bruins this season. To put it simply, there’s a reason a guy with just two goals this season is getting so much ice time. He’s earned the No. 2 spot on our ranking.
First: Brandon Carlo
Bruins television play-by-play commentator Jack Edwards called Brandon Carlo one of the half-dozen best shutdown defensemen in the league right now during Saturday’s 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings. While Edwards is oftentimes known for his over-the-top style, I actually think he was right on point in his praise of Carlo.
It’s a difficult thing to prove with statistics – the shutdown defenseman role doesn’t lend itself to easily distinguishable measurements – but the eye test will show Carlo’s development into a premier defensive defenseman over his first four seasons.
Related: David Pastrnak’s Breakout Season
One stat that you can look to is the Bruins penalty kill, which Carlo oftentimes anchors. Boston’s 84.0 percent penalty kill success rate is good enough for third in the NHL. Make no mistake, Brandon Carlo is a large part of that.
Despite being just 23 years old, Carlo has a veteran-like poise in the defensive end. He can constantly be trusted to make smart, safe plays in his own zone, and, like McAvoy, is excellent at using his 6-foot 5-inch, 212-pound frame to handle opposing forwards.
Not to go unnoticed behind his defensive prowess is the uptick in Carlo’s offensive production this season. He now spends most of his ice time alongside Krug on Boston’s second defensive pairing, and it appears as though some of Krug’s offensive production has trickled over to Carlo.
The Colorado Springs native has already set a career-high in points this season (17 points, good enough for third among Bruins defensemen), and is just two goals shy of his career-high (six) that he notched as a 20-year-old rookie in 2016-17.
All the while, he’s a player that the Bruins coaching staff feels comfortable slotting in alongside Krug, who, as aforementioned, plays an offensively-oriented game that can lend itself to defensive vulnerabilities at times. Luckily, Carlo is there to fill any defensive gaps that might be present in Krug’s game. The two have been an excellent duo for the Bruins this season.
Great shut-down defensemen rarely get the credit that they deserve, but Carlo is worthy of loads of praise for the way he’s played all season. He’s already overtaken Zdeno Chara as the best shutdown defensemen on the Bruins, and at such a young age, all signs point toward a very bright future for the 2015 second-round pick.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!