Bruins’ Brandon Carlo Primed for Important Role

Training camp is just around the corner. As players have returned to Boston from their offseason retreats, the buzz around the team has picked up. There is obvious excitement about the return of David Krejci by fans and his probable linemates, Taylor Hall, and David Pastrnak. Although still injured and out until at least November, hearing Brad Marchand has started his return to the ice along with Matt Grzelcyk is a promising sign that the Boston Bruins will be returning to full health soon. Alongside these storylines, Brandon Carlo has also returned, looking to move past an underwhelming 2021-22 season.

Much like his play at times on the ice, Carlo’s arrival was met with little fanfare. As a steady “stay-at-home” defenseman, he is at his best when you don’t realize he is there, or at least that has been the report on him. The Bruins and new coach Jim Montgomery have outlined how he will fit into the new systems in Boston and feel confident in unlocking parts of the player Bruce Cassidy could never reach. After Jake Debrusk, he received the most criticism from the former coach, criticism that may have carried over to his on-ice performance (from ‘Brandon Carlo, Jim Montgomery and the impact of a new voice on the Bruins: ‘Something we really needed’’, The Athletic, 9/15/22). Now with a new voice behind the bench and the freedom to become more than just a defensive defenseman, he could be primed to emerge as a force on the blue line in 2022-23.

Jim Montgomery’s Style

Besides the players returning to the ice, this week has also given Montgomery the opportunity to implement his system and style of play (from ‘New Bruins coach Jim Montgomery reveals his system’s inner workings,’ The Athletic, 9/12/22). While he has noted he wants to keep some stylistic similarities to the Cassidy regime, zone defense, for example, Montgomery also wants to break some habits Cassidy created.

Related: 3 Bruins Who Could Make or Break the Start of the Season

One example Montgomery and Carlo both cited, is a play where the left defender has the puck along the boards. Last year, Carlo or the right defender would have stayed back, protecting the net. Montgomery instead would send his right defensemen to the center cut of ice, acting as an outlet option for a pass, but an outlet that is progressing the puck up the ice rather than backtracking and losing ground.

Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery
Former Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

After this breakout, Montgomery also wants to alter how the Bruins select shots in the offensive zone. Rather than shooting just for the sake of it, he wants the team’s shots to have a purpose. That is, shoot where there is a realistic chance of scoring, or causing a rebound, tip, or any other form of chaos in front of the net. On top of this, he wants Carlo and all his defensemen to feel empowered to move around the ice. No longer will Carlo be a pillar on the right half of the blue line shuffling back and forth. He wants him to jump into the play and be aggressive. This could mean cutting into the middle of the ice as an option crashing the net, pinching to help retain offensive zone possession, or walking the blue line to move the opposition’s defense around and open up a lane for a more dangerous chance.

Keep moving, keep generating, and play free. That will be the name of the game.

Carlo’s New Role

Keep moving, generating, and playing free? That sounds great for a player like Matt Grzelcyk whose game bends towards offense, but Carlo? The defensive defenseman? Why do we want him handling the puck and taking shots?

Matt Grzelcyk Boston Bruins
Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

Well, because he has a big shot for one. Also, his shots can turn into assists when forwards get to the front of the net for tips or rebounds. Finally, we as fans do not fully know what kind of a player Carlo can be. From the time he came up, he has been used as a defensive defenseman whose first instinct was to back into his own end at the urging of his coach. By being encouraged to join the play and use his skills, it is fair to assess what kind of offense he can bring. I don’t think anybody is assuming Carlo is going to be mistaken for Adam Fox, but a 30-40 point season does not seem far-fetched.

Carlo will also be given more responsibility this season than any other in his career. Prior to this, he was a second-pairing defenseman with important penalty-killing responsibilities. This season he will retain that importance but should also be elevated to the right side of the first pair until Charlie McAvoy returns to health.

Alongside this promotion, Carlo will have a new partner who profiles differently than his usual left-side colleague. In past years he would be the defensive foil to an offensive catalyst, originally in the form of Torey Krug, then in the shape of Grzelcyk. Both players play their roles well and have offensive numbers to support that, but neither is a shutdown defender, meaning he had to anticipate and cover for their aggression. Barring injuries, he figures to open the season with Hampus Lindholm on the top pair. Lindholm brings a more complete game than Krug or Grzelcyk meaning defensive responsibility will not fall solely to Carlo. By providing a well-rounded partner for him, the Bruins can expect to see more offensive actions from the defender as he knows he is no longer the only player who will fall back and defend when a play breaks down.

What to Expect This Season

Carlo has caught the ire of plenty of Bruins fans over the years. When you play a role focused on keeping the puck out of your own net with little offensive contributions, once they start going in, you open yourself up to a critique. On the other hand, if you do your job well, some people glance over the success you’re having. While he won’t be replicating McAvoy’s stats or keeping pace offensively with Grzelcyk, he should be expected to contribute a more well-rounded game this season, something that will be incredibly valuable on a team strapped to comply with the salary cap.

Related: 3 Bruins Hoping to Repeat Last Season’s Success

With a new coach, a new system encouraging more offensive chances, and starting on the top pairing, I expect Carlo to put up a career year. With a strong start, he could help the Bruins weather the early injuries and remain competitive until the reinforcements arrive. Once the gang is back together, he may slide down, but early success should give him the confidence needed to fortify Boston’s second pair and strengthen the team overall. This will be a big season for him and I for one am excited to see what he can do to reach his full potential.

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