Brandon Carlo is 19 years old. The right-shot defenseman has eight games of pro experience, including one AHL playoff appearance. Carlo, one of the Bruins’ three second-round picks in 2015, is a moldable piece of clay, years away from his firing in an NHL kiln.
It’s too early for the teenage Carlo to determine his professional identity.
“I feel like I’ve always been a strong defensive player,” Carlo said. “That’s always been my role on teams. Overall, I feel I have a good stick and battle well down low. I feel like it’s a good thing to be. I feel like it’s needed on teams and necessary for guys like me to shut down the D-zone and move the puck up — get it to the forwards who can do the real magic.”
Carlo is 6 feet 5 inches and 205 pounds. His plan is to report for training camp between 210 and 215 pounds. This would make Carlo a close replica of Adam McQuaid (6-4, 212), who is very much a defensive defenseman. The Bruins signed McQuaid to a four-year, $11 million extension because he executes what his musclebound abilities allow him to do — box out, work the walls, and turn the front of the net into hostile territory.
Defensive defenseman, however, has become a loaded term. In some applications, it’s a euphemism for a strong but stationary defenseman who is on the wrong side of puck possession: Dan Girardi, Zbynek Michalek, and Deryk Engelland being three examples.
In that sense, Carlo’s skills shouldn’t limit him to being a traditional stay-at-homer. He wields a long and active stick. He skates so well that he can join the attack but hustle back to defend if the rush falls short. Had Carlo played for the Bruins in 2015-16, he would have rivaled Colin Miller as the blue line’s best skater.
“Such good feet for a young kid and a big kid,” said Providence coach Bruce Cassidy. “Laterally and straight-line.”
The Bruins do not believe Carlo will become Erik Karlsson. Carlo scored a career-high 27 points (four goals, 23 assists) in 52 games this past season for Tri-City. He will not be a dangler, power-play heat bringer, or up-the-ice roamer in the NHL.
But Carlo can exceed the traditional expectations of a stay-at-home defenseman because of his skating. It’s all well and good to guard the front of the net. It is the most dangerous part of the ice and should be treated as such. Carlo did this well in junior because he was bigger than most of his fellow teenagers. During the World Junior Championship, the native of Colorado Springs held the fort for Team USA when partner Zach Werenski went looking for offense.
But modern defense takes place at the defensive blue line. This is the new house that must be protected. By denying opponents entry into the zone at the blue line, teams can suppress high-quality shots — the kind that fly from net-front real estate. If teams erect barriers of protection further up the ice, they reduce the percentage of high-quality chances. If they win pucks at the blue line, they have shorter counterattacking distances to cover before threatening the other net.
Carlo doesn’t play with bite like McQuaid. But his down-low engagement level should improve with maturity and experience.
“Guys are stronger here,” Cassidy said. “I think his in-tight battles is where it shows. I think he’s got a terrific stick. He can close on anybody because of his speed. But when you get in tight to the body, that’s where he’s going to realize these guys are better. They’re going to bump you, counter-hit you to create some space. The [Jaromir] Jagr type of offensive player, that’s where he’ll be challenged, those types of guys.”
Smart and mobile right-shot defensemen such as Karlsson, Brent Burns, Anton Stralman, Alex Pietrangelo, and Aaron Ekblad are progressive blue liners because they engage in puck and positioning battles up the ice better than they do in the down-low pockets. Carlo has the ability to defend in this way, too. He already can skate as well as all of them save for Karlsson.
During his AHL playoff debut on April 23 against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Carlo did not hesitate to push the other way. He kept tight gaps. He dipped into the slot to encourage a scoring chance. He skated freely, smoothly, and confidently. Like other young defensemen with excellent wheels, Carlo roamed perhaps a bit too much.
Naturally, there were blips. When he went back for pucks, forecheckers closed on Carlo because he didn’t make the turn quickly enough. He rimmed the puck instead of eating it or looking for closer support. On one shift, 6-2, 208-pound forward Carter Rowney blasted Carlo off the puck.
“He had a couple plays that came back at us quickly because I don’t think he made a hard play,” Cassidy said. “Not a bad play, just not hard enough to get it past the first forechecker. That’s a part of his game — a little more urgency in those areas. But he defends well. He skates well. He’s rarely out of position. And he’s a good battler. I think he’s going to be a great player. It’s just fine-tuning his game with the puck and being a man. And he’s not. He’s 19. He’ll learn that quickly when he gets around men. He got a good taste of it here. Because they’re men we’re playing. They might not be NHL men, but there’s a lot of men out there.”
Carlo has good assets. It would be a shame for them to go latent simply because of his size.
Red Wings need to get younger
Three rings and stewardship over a franchise that has qualified for the playoffs 25 straight times has earned Ken Holland the faith of his bosses. As such, the Detroit general manager has the capital to declare that chasing a Stanley Cup in 2016-17 is folly for the aging Red Wings. Not many other GMs would have the confidence to speak such disappointing but realistic words.
“If I come in here and tell you our goal is to win the Stanley Cup next year, you guys are going to think I’m foolish because we’ve won one playoff round in five years,” Holland told Detroit reporters on Monday. “I’m not going to come in here and tell you we’re going to win the Stanley Cup. But that’s the goal of all 30 teams in the National Hockey League. That’s our goal as we head into the offseason. That’s the ultimate goal. But there’s other goals along the way — things that need to happen for us to try to achieve being a Stanley Cup contender or a Stanley Cup-contending team.”
The Wings already were up against it. Alpha males Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg entered 2015-16 as 37- and 35-year-olds whose best days are behind them. They have $5 million-plus annually at two more seasons invested in Jimmy Howard, who has lost his job to Petr Mrazek. Their closest thing to a shutdown defenseman is 35-year-old Niklas Kronwall.
But with Datsyuk all but committed to spending 2016-17 in Russia, the Wings will find it tougher to extend their streak next season, to say nothing of chasing the Cup. Not only will the Wings lose one of their best players, they will have to carry Datsyuk’s $7.5 million cap hit toward their number, just like the Bruins had to do with Tim Thomas in 2012-13.
It’s dead money Holland can’t afford to have. He’ll have a tough time dealing Howard without retaining some of his salary. He’s invested $6 million annually for two years in Mike Green, an inflationary number for a complementary defenseman. Mrazek will be due a raise.
This doesn’t leave Holland much cap space to swing a deal, which would be his best route of accelerating his rebuild. Otherwise, Holland is facing the traditional route of replenishing his roster: drafting and developing.
It’s what the Wings did when they hit on Dylan Larkin with the No. 15 pick in 2014. They have other homegrown players who should assume bigger roles next year, such as Andreas Athanasiou (fourth round, 2012), Anthony Mantha (first round, 2013), and Tomas Jurco (second round, 2011).
But the trouble facing the Wings is how they haven’t uncovered the star power in the draft that they once did with Datsyuk (sixth round) and Zetterberg (seventh). They believe they have a top-line wing in Larkin and a No. 1 in Mrazek. But Holland isn’t sure about anyone else.
“You need stars,” Holland said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to draft and develop. Nobody’s giving you their stars. If you don’t have stars, you need lots of good players.”
Wheeling nailing net development
Some organizations do not consider the ECHL good for developing future NHL goalies. The Bruins, for example, do not intend to send 18-year-old Daniel Vladar, their 2015 third-round pick, to their ECHL affiliate in 2016-17. They consider other leagues more appropriate for young goalies with high ceilings.
The Wheeling Nailers, however, have proven they can produce NHL goalies.
Ex-Bruin Clark Donatelli, who ran the Wheeling bench for parts of five seasons before his AHL recall to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, saw two future NHL goalies progress through the Nailers’ crease: Scott Darling and Mike Condon, both disciples of Woburn goaltending coach Brian Daccord. Of the two, Darling was the bigger long shot.
By 2012, Darling had been booted from the University of Maine and bounced through the Southern Professional Hockey League. He had quit drinking and was committed to reviving his game. So that offseason, upon the counsel of agent Matt Keator, Donatelli watched Darling play in the Foxborough summer league, which regularly hosts NHL talent. Donatelli liked Darling’s size and ability.
“I told him he was on a short leash, obviously,” Donatelli said. “He was fine and ready to go. I could tell he was good. He’s a really good goalie. He’s big, he moves gracefully in the nets, confident. Great kid. Guys loved him. He had a great time in Wheeling. Had a lot of friends there. No issues at all. Superb kid. I can’t say enough about him. Inspiring story, it really is.”
In 2012-13, Darling went 13-12-4 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in Wheeling. Darling’s body of work factored into Nashville’s decision to sign Darling to a two-way deal between the AHL and ECHL. He has since become the No. 2 goalie in Chicago.
After Darling’s departure, Condon appeared in 39 games for Donatelli in 2013-14, going 23-12-4 with a 2.18 GAA and .931 save percentage. Condon played in 55 games for Montreal in 2015-16 because of Carey Price’s knee injury.
“The Coast does produce a lot of goaltenders,” Donatelli said. “It’s almost like a natural progression for goalies. They’re playing. There’s some catastrophic breakdowns at that level at times. So they have to make big saves. It’s hard to play there. But that’s been the story of the Coast. A lot of goaltenders have spent time in the Coast, whether it’s a ham sandwich or a whole year to develop.”
Good problem to have
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman will face his standard summer trickery of being cap compliant while building a championship roster. Bowman did it last year when jettisoning Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, and Johnny Oduya, and restocking with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov. The Blackhawks will have a hard decision on Andrew Shaw, who will be restricted. Because of Chicago’s perpetual cap situation, Shaw may be of more value in a trade than getting the raise he deserves in Chicago. The Blackhawks have nearly $50 million invested in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Corey Crawford. But teams like Chicago are in cap crunches because they have a lot of good players. “If you were to go talk to most other teams,” Bowman told Chicago reporters, “they would love to have the players we have who’ve accomplished what they have.”
So-so first season for McIntyre
An up-and-down first pro season ended in a valley for Zane McIntyre, a Hobey Baker finalist in 2014-15 while playing for North Dakota. The 23-year-old went 14-8-7 with a 2.68 GAA and .898 save percentage as Malcolm Subban’s backup in Providence. In his last game, his first playoff appearance, McIntyre lasted two periods in a 5-4 double-OT, season-ending loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on April 23. McIntyre made some good reaction saves in the first period. But he allowed two long-distance goals and was replaced by Jeremy Smith after 40 minutes. McIntyre is a smart and coachable goalie. Those traits should serve him well this summer as he prepares for his second pro season. But he’ll need to take big steps with Providence in 2016-17 if he ever wants an NHL shot.
Too Quick a choice made by GMs
Not sure which is more disappointing, that the GMs voted Jonathan Quick as a Vezina finalist because they didn’t take the process seriously, or if they really consider the former UMass Minuteman one of the league’s three best goalies (Braden Holtby and Ben Bishop were the others) of 2015-16. Among goalies who played 3,000 or more minutes, Quick had the seventh-highest five-on-five save percentage (.926), according to war-on-ice.com, trailing Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, Holtby, Crawford, Bishop, and Devan Dubnyk. Perhaps the GMs considered Quick’s workload (73 appearances) over Crawford’s (65). But by most measurements, Crawford, not Quick, should be joining Holtby and Bishop in Las Vegas.
Blues score big with Parayko
Former Providence Bruins coach Bill Armstrong deserves credit for the Blues’ hit on Colton Parayko in the third round of 2012. As St. Louis’s director of amateur scouting, it was ultimately Armstrong’s call to pick the hulking Parayko, who played for the AJHL’s Fort McMurray Oil Barons during his draft year. Three seasons of maturing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks were enough for Parayko to become a full-time NHLer this season. The 6-6, 226-pound Parayko already can do everything well: play shutdown defense, retrieve pucks, go up the ice, and hammer shots. Parayko has one more season on his entry-level contract.
It is no surprise that Cory Schneider lit up the screen as an NBC studio analyst during the first round of the playoffs. The Marblehead native isn’t just thoughtful and insightful. He communicates his observations as keenly as any athlete. Television would be an easy progression for the Devils goalie upon retirement. But I predict he has bigger and better things in his future . . . Of course Islanders coach Jack Capuano returned to Game 1 of his team’s second-round series against the Lightning after taking a deflected Alex Killorn dump-in off his face. Typical Cranston . . . Alex Pietrangelo has been the best defenseman of the playoffs. He is logging big minutes and playing 200-foot hockey. The leaguewide critique of Pietrangelo is that he plays soft. But the 26-year-old is proving he doesn’t have to hammer everything in sight to be an efficient defenseman . . . I trust the play inside Little Caesars Arena, the name of the Wings’ future rink, will be better than the product of its namesake sponsor.
No longer stranded
The Islanders got a major burden off their backs by getting out of the first round. The franchise hadn’t advanced in the playoffs in 21 years before bouncing the Panthers last week. The difference this time, compared with previous playoff failures, was the Islanders had the goaltending to compete in the series. Last postseason showed that a turning point was coming.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.