BOSTON (CBS) – Defenseman Brandon Carlo got to play in eight games, including one in the playoffs, for Providence of the American Hockey League last spring. Matt Grzelcyk signed with the Bruins after his senior year at Boston University but didn’t get a chance to play in the AHL.
Despite their different experiences, for all intents and purposes Carlo and Grzelcyk are beginning their professional career this weekend at the Prospect Challenge in Buffalo, where the Bruins rookies will face rookie teams from the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres.
So far this offseason the Bruins’ search for difference-making defensemen has come up empty. They’re set to return seven defensemen who played last season for a team that finished in the bottom third of the NHL in goals against. But Carlo and Grzelcyk are part of a small group of prospects that have a chance to change the equation and force general manager Don Sweeney to make some difficult decisions about some of his veterans.
The tournament in Buffalo will give all the rookies, at all positions, a head start in the competition for a NHL job or at least to be in the mix for an early call-up.
At 19, the 6-foot-5, 203-pound Carlo is more of a stay-at-home defenseman, with a chance he’ll develop more of a two-way game as he gets older. It could be tougher for him to catch the brass’ eye in Buffalo.
“Just playing within myself, not trying to get too fancy at all,” Carlo said about his plan to gain attention. “Overall just taking my time out on the ice, quick shifts, just do everything I can to show I’m the player that I am, which I feel like I’m pretty comfortable knowing.”
The frazzled nature of rookie tournament games could work in Carlo’s favor if he can keep his composure and hold his ground. With everyone running wild, a rock-solid hit in the corner or a great box-out in front could stand out. For Grzelcyk, the offensive defenseman of the two, there could be more of a chance to strut his stuff. But there’s also the risk of trying to do too much and making a major mistake.
If Grzelcyk is the next Torey Krug, he has to first prove he can take care of his own end before showing off Krug-like playmaking. At the same token, he has to chip in offensively.
“Obviously I kind of have to show my offensive abilities,” Grzelcyk said. “But I think it can kind of get out of hand at times when you try to do stuff too much. That also hinders the team. So I think if you just try to kind of play simple and stick to your game, then eventually your skills will take over.”
Carlo and Grzelcyk aren’t the only defensemen trying to push for a job in main camp. Rob O’Gara has also turned pro and Jeremy Lauzon could convince the Bruins to keep him rather than send him back to juniors. If one or more of these guys develop faster than expected, and meet or exceed their potential, it’ll open a world of options for Sweeney in terms of trading established players or dealing the prospects.
After the rookies underwent off-ice training this week, Sweeney revealed that he told the prospects they all have a chance to win a NHL job. In the back of his mind, he has to be crossing his fingers at least one or two meet the challenge because a big part of Sweeney’s plan for the Bruins includes the developments of the highly regarded prospects.
At this time, Carlo and Grzelcyk seem like the best bets to make the Bruins look smart.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.