Some could argue John Carlson has been the Capitals’ best defenseman for a few years now, and has quietly become one of the best blueliners rarely discussed outside the confines of the Nations Capital. However, with a career-high 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) this past season, Carlson has a chance to build upon those numbers and propel himself into the national spotlight.
Even when Mike Green was healthy, Carlson was slowly but surely becoming the team’s best defender. Carlson’s primary production started in the 2010-11 season when he posted a then-career year with seven goals and 30 assists for 37 points. Carlson saw increased power play time from then-coach Bruce Boudreau, resulting in increased production. In his second full season, Carlson regressed slightly, putting up 32 points. However, Carlson’s goal-total increased by two; a sign he was becoming more comfortable with shooting the puck.
In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Carlson put up 22 points (six goals, 16 assists), which in a full season, would have put him on pace for 37 points (10 goals, 27 assists). It was in the disappointing 2013-14 playoff-less campaign that Carlson’s role was increased even more by former head coach Adam Oates: his highest average time on-ice under Boudreau was 22:39; under Oates it increased to 24:31. Under Barry Trotz, Carlson’s ice time dropped slightly at 23:04.
It’s also important to point out that Carlson had more power play goals than Green, who had served as the primary quarterback for the majority of his Washington career, in both seasons combined. Green played in 70 games in ’13-14 and 72 in ’14-15 and while neither were full seasons, Green scored three and one times in the respective seasons for four over 142 games compared to Carlson’s five and three for eight tallies in 164 games. Even if Green had played all 82-games in both years, he would have still wound up with a total of just five goals.
While it seems as though Carlson has been around forever, he is still just 25. Carlson finished tenth in the Norris Trophy voting in 2014-15, some could argue a disrespectful ranking considering he had more points than one of the finalists, Drew Doughty. While Doughty is extremely talented, he finished with just 46 points compared to Carlson’s 55. Furthermore, Doughty saw more ice time than Carlson: 2,378 minutes vs. 1,892 minutes. One could argue Carlson deserved a Top three finish. Adding insult to injury, Carlson was listed as the league’s 24th best defensemen in a recent Yahoo Sports article. No respect.
While many will name reigning winner Erik Karlsson, 2014 winner Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban, and Drew Doughty as the favorites to capture the award this season, Carlson should not be counted out. The Caps will likely start the season with two right-handed blueliners in Carlson and Matt Niskanen. Dmitry Orlov or Nate Schmidt will play the right side on the third pairing.
So, is Carlson capable of at least a Top 3 finish? Absolutely. His potential to build upon his career-high season is very high and the Caps’ arguably best defender should not be excluded from the Norris Trophy discussions. If he were to win, he would be the first Capital to take home the trophy since Rod Langway won the award for two consecutive seasons in 1983 and 1984. Carlson’s rise to elite status has only just begun.
By Michael Fleetwood