Criticize his age or speed if you must, but really sit with this question first: When’s the last time you saw Zdeno Chara make a game-blowing mistake?
Defensemen paired with the captain get some extra insurance. Take that risk, defend a little tighter, don’t hesitate -- the 6-foot-9 monster who climbs ropes in a Slovakian wrestling gym while you’re sleeping has you covered.
The Chara effect is part of the reason Brandon Carlo had a strong rookie season after almost unexpectedly making the team in 2016-17. He had six goals and 16 points in 82 games that season, but his 6-foot-5 frame, reach, and apparent potential as a puck-moving defenseman stuck out.
When Charlie McAvoy entered the picture and won the spot next to Chara for 2017-18, of course Carlo struggled. Playing alongside Torey Krug and Kevan Miller isn’t exactly a punishment, but none of them are Zdeno Chara. As Shawn Thornton told WEEI last week, there’s simply no one in the league that can do what Chara does.
Carlo’s dip in production last season (six assists in 76 games) came with a side of hesitancy and a few rough stretches in his own zone. It was looking like a learning curve, though, as he picked it up at the end of March and played some of the best hockey of his career.
“I just started to believe in myself a little bit more,” he said of his improvement at Warrior Ice Arena Thursday. “I think confidence is the biggest thing that I’m coming into camp with this year. I’m going to take it; I’m going to run with it.”
That’s what he was doing until a broken left fibula March 31 ended his season. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
“My experience in the NHL so far, it’s been two years of watching the playoffs from the press box. It’s really hard for me,” he admitted, “and overall I just want to put that past me. I’ve worked really hard to get to this point and I’m damn excited about this year.”
We’ve been thoroughly briefed on the confusing highs and lows and injuries that have barred Carlo from the playoffs for his two seasons. We’re left with a mixed bag that we don’t really know how to sort.
Can we hold off on sorting it just a little longer?
It’d be a different story if it were a player in (or past) his prime, but it’s somewhat surprising that Carlo has already been considered a key Bruin. Despite his size and demeanor, he’s only 21 years old -- and most scouts projected he’d make his NHL debut later than he did.
“I still feel obligated to pick up pucks and all that after practice,” Carlo said. “So I wouldn’t say I feel like a complete veteran or anything. But definitely more comfortable on the ice and with all of the older guys.”
It's unlikely we've seen his floor or his ceiling just yet. Come training camp Sept. 10, he'll contend with seven other NHL-caliber defensemen for a spot in the top six. Seems like a good chance to prove something.