Every year, hockey fans are treated to one of the most exciting hockey events around, the World Junior Hockey Championships. Just recently, Team Canada wowed the hometown fans with a huge victory over Russia in the finals, a stunning game that became the most-watched specialty television broadcast in Canada with an average of 7.1M Canadians tuning into the championship deciding game.
For the Americans, success was harder to come-by after a quarter-final exit at the hands of the Russians. But despite the loss, fans below the Canadian border had a lot to cheer on, with Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin and Auston Matthews showing exactly why they’re going to be superstars in the near future. With a team stacked in depth for future international competition, it’s easy to be left out of the spotlight when your counterparts have been stealing the headlines all season, but defenseman Brandon Carlo proved you didn’t need to be a big name to have a good tournament.
Before finding his way into the Western Hockey League, Carlo played with the Colorado Thunderbirds midget team in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League. Carlo wasn’t really sought after, finding himself drafted late in the tenth round of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft by the Tri-City Americans. Collecting 6 goals and 17 penalty minutes during the 2011-2012 midget season, it was clear that the young defenseman wasn’t going to put up high numbers offensively, but could be stronger in his own zone.
Carlo, a 6’5 198-pound defenseman, did appear to have impressed the Americans over time, rounding out his defensive game to the point where Tri-City signed him in 2012. Carlo made his WHL regular season debut in 2013-2014 following a short playoff stint with the club the previous season, playing in 71 games and recording 13 points and 66 PIM as a reliable, serviceable defensive blue-liner. His play earned him a spot as a shutdown defenseman on the USA U18 Hlinka Memorial team, a team that finished in third place following a 5-4 victory over Sweden this past summer.
Fast forward to 2014-2015, where everything has gone right for the 17-year-old blue liner. Before the season really got underway, Carlo participated in the third annual All-American Prospects Game put on by USA Hockey, wowing the large group of NHL scouts in attendance. Many people still had Carlo sitting outside the top 30 in early draft rankings, but Carlo impressed Team USA enough to earn a spot on the World Junior team this past holiday season. Despite an early exit, Carlo was a shining star for the Americans, keeping the team in close while not allowing the opposition a chance to do much offensively.
Carlo has the size and athleticism to really stand out this June. A tall, lanky stay at home defender that never appears to be out of position, Carlo is an incredible skater despite being a very big kid. A decent comparable to Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche, Carlo does a good job of forcing players to the outside and crushing them into the boards without giving them the chance to break through. When he’s not sending people into the middle of next year, Carlo uses his big reach to make aggressive poke checks that don’t tend to be unsuccessful. All-in-all, Carlo has the makings of a very fine shutdown defenseman, a breed of players that tend to be overshadowed by their two way defense counterparts.
After putting up a career-high 16 points in just 35 WHL games so far this year, Carlo is set to take on the task of being an alternate captain for Team Cherry at the 2015 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. The prospect game is just another platform for Carlo to continue impressing scouts as his stock continues to creep up. Earlier this month, Carlo was ranked #17 by ISS Hockey for their January rankings, a big jump from not being rated right before the World Juniors. Many people still believe that Carlo is a work in progress and will need some seasoning before making the jump to the NHL, but don’t let that misguide you, he’s going to be a good professional defenseman someday.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter @StevenEllisNHL.