BOSTON — You aren’t likely to see him on the power play, during 3-on-3 overtime, or in a shootout. When the Bruins really need offense from defensemen, they’ll turn to Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy.
If the season to date is an indication of what’s to come, though, you might see Brandon Carlo’s name on the score sheet more often.
Carlo, 23, isn’t necessarily lighting it up offensively, but it’s fair to say he’s trending up. With three goals, eight assists and 11 points entering Saturday’s game against the Predators at TD Garden (7:05, NESN), he has already surpassed last season’s 72-game points total (2-8--10), and there’s plenty of time to threaten his most productive season — six goals, 10 assists and 16 points in 2016-17, when he was a rookie.
The improvement in production is no accident: The B’s have always felt that Carlo, while not a puck-mover like Krug (5-19--24, with 14 power play points) or McAvoy (0-12--12), has the hands and feet that should allow him to contribute.
“We’ve always tried to encourage that with Brandon,” said head coach Bruce Cassidy, a former defenseman who oversaw Carlo’s first eight pro games (seven regular season, one playoff) at AHL Providence at the end of 2015-16, and continued working with him when both moved up to Boston for the ’16-17 season.
“I know when I started here as an assistant, I certainly wanted him to (grow his offensive game). I saw some of it in Providence. When he played World Juniors (Team USA, 2015 and 2016), he made good plays. There was something there.”
Then again, scoring points won’t be Carlo’s focus. Whether he’s the defensive conscience of an even-strength partnership with Krug, teamed with captain Zdeno Chara in critical defensive situations, or killing penalties, Carlo’s primary responsibility is preventing opponents from scoring.
Once successful at denying or stripping opponents of the puck, though, Carlo isn’t opposed to the idea of following it up the ice to the offensive zone.
“When you’re playing with (Chara), especially, you’re playing against the top line, so you want to primarily focus on the defensive aspect of the game,” Carlo said. “But I am learning to just play the game I’d like to play, regardless of who I’m matched up against.”
Carlo won’t lead rushes unless such an opportunity is obvious. He skates well enough, though, to join rushes or follow them closely, and his mind no longer switches automatically to defense when pucks are up for grabs in the offensive zone.
His decision to wait at the point as a puck under pressure came towards him on Tuesday night, for example, resulted in him getting off a shot that hit Kings defenseman Matt Roy and caromed past Jonathan Quick for Carlo’s third goal of the season.
“In the past, (Carlo) might have been a little more guarded — get out and be more conservative,” Cassidy said. “He’s got to make that decision, and we’ve encouraged him to get there and be on time, because he’s got good feet, a good stick, long body (Carlo is 6 feet, 5 inches).
“Yeah, he got fortunate, but he did put it on net. And if you put the puck on net, sometimes you get those breaks over the course of 82 games.”
Carlo says “there’s always puck luck involved,” and admits he hasn’t had to do much to score some of this year’s points.
“There’s been a couple assists where I’ve given a pass to (B’s scoring leaders Brad Marchand or David Pastrnak) way back in the defensive zone, and they go down and do the rest of the work. Those are nice, obviously.”
One thing’s certain: It’s never a bad thing when Carlo produces. The Bruins are 9-0-1 this season when he has scored at least one point.
“Really? I didn’t know,” he said. “Interesting.”
Not interesting enough for Carlo to put points above overall performance, though.
“I’m just trying to keep it simple in that aspect,” he said. “There’s obviously stuff that gets involved with scoring, including luck. I’m just trying to do my part.”