Theme: “What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.”
-- C. S. Lewis
John Carlson was the only rookie defenseman to play in all 82 games of the 2010-2011 season. And that was just one of the areas in which he led or was among the leaders in his rookie class of defensemen…
-- Tied for fourth in goals
-- Tied for second in assists
-- Fourth in points
-- Second in plus-minus
-- Tied for first in game-winning goals
-- First in time on ice
-- Eighth in hits
-- First in blocked shots
-- First in takeaways
-- Second in shots on goal
Quite an opening act. And more than that, he accomplished all of this while facing the highest quality of competition at 5-on-5 among rookie defensemen and the third highest quality of competition among all defensemen while at 4-on-5 (at least 50 games played; numbers from behindthenet.ca).
Carlson’s regular season might be boiled down to two parts. The first part was represented by the first 62 games. That is, until Mike Green suffered a concussion at the hands of the New York Rangers on February 25th. Up to and including that game, Carlson played 62 games, going 5-18-23, plus 14. That is a 7-24-30, plus-19 pace and about 22:30 of ice time per game. But after that, Carlson was 2-12-14, plus-7 in 20 games – an 8-49-57, plus-29 pace with a shade over 23 minutes a game.
It wasn’t all lollipops and accordions, though. Carlson managed only one assist in the Capitals’ five-game first round playoff win over the Rangers, going minus-3 in the process. In the second round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he was injured in Game 1, playing only 14 minutes and change. The hip pointer might have hampered his effectivness, despite his scoring a pair of goals and averaging more than 26 and a half minutes in the last three games of the Lightning sweep.
Still, it was a remarkable season for Carlson, one in which he and his partner, Karl Alzner, became the most consistent defensive pair for the Caps and one that was asked to bear the responsibility of facing the best opponents had to offer on most nights.
Fearless’ Take: Consistency was a hallmark of Carlson’s game. He had no month in which he finished in minus territory, and on only Mondays did he end up there (only seven games played on Mondays). He had at least one goal in five of the seven months of the season (including not getting one in a four-game April) and had at least one on every day of the week except Monday. He was 2-6-8, plus-6 in 30 games against the other seven teams in the East to make the playoffs.
Cheerless’ Take: Carlson would probably like to forget his season against the Rangers. Nine games – regular season and playoffs – 0-1-1, minus-8.
The Big Question… Should John Carlson be picking lottery numbers?
What a run Carlson has had over the last 20 months… scores Gold Medal goal in the 2010 World juniors championship, scores the game-tying goal in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs to help the Caps avoid an 0-2 deficit in the first round (ok, they lost anyway), plays for two Calder Cup winners with the Hershey Bears in the AHL, is the cream of the NHL’s 2010-2011 rookie class of defensemen culminating in his being named to the NHL’s All Rookie Team. The thread here isn’t so much that he has accomplished a lot, but that he has been a part of winning teams. Now, the trick will be to add to that kind of progress by helping push the Caps further toward a championship.
In the end…
It is hard to believe John Carlson will not turn 22 until January. And despite the consistent progress he has made in his brief professional career, there is the notion of a player of his age and experience having lapses here and there. But looking at his season last year, one wonders whether he is going to be subject to those kinds of lapses, at least as frequently as such a young player might. To date he has shown quite an ability to accept responsibility. An example – when Mike Green was injured in that February 25th game against the Rangers, Carlson finished the night a minus-3 on a night when the Caps were pasted, 6-0, on home ice. It was the last time that Carlson would finish a game worse than minus-1 for the rest of the year. Of course, there is also that Carlson had only three games all season in which he was worse than a minus-1 (two of them came against the Rangers).
John Carlson is entering the last year of his entry-level contract. He could be in for a handsome payday if his career takes the next step forward. Not a “Drew Doughty” kind of payday, perhaps, but then again, the idea is to take a step. Then another step.
Projection: 82 games, 9-32-41, plus-24
(Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images North America)