Nick Wass/Associated Press
When the offseason started, the Capitals knew they would be losing some valuable members of their formidable group of defensemen, but in a span of two weeks, the Capitals lost Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner, and Kevin Shattenkirk to the Expansion Draft (Schmidt) and free agency, respectively. With those players now gone, the Caps are looking within the organization to find their replacements. Now the longest-tenured blueliner on the team, John Carlson is one of the few remaining rearguards from the team’s back-to-back President’s Trophy-winning teams. If the Caps are to remain competitive, they’ll need the former first round pick to step up.
After over 400 consecutive games played, Carlson was hit with the injury bug hard during the 2015-16 season, missing 26 games to injury and finishing with a respectable 39 points (eight goals, 31 assists) in 56 games played. This past season, Carlson missed 10 games due to injury, recording 37 points (nine goals, 28 assists) in 72 games played. While those numbers are close to his career average of 33.125 points a season, after impressing with 55 points in 2014-15 (a year that saw him finish tenth in Norris Trophy – best defenseman – voting), expectations for Carlson will be much higher in 2017-18.
While Carlson cannot be blamed for injuries, the Capitals need him to become the strong, two-way defenseman he was prior to his injuries. With Alzner and Schmidt (both strong defensively) gone, it will be on Carlson (as mentioned above, now the longest-tenured Capitals defenseman), along with the other blueliners, to shut down opponents when it matters the most. Carlson has averaged over 20 minutes of ice time the past three seasons and with the likely additions of two young defensemen, Carlson will likely be called upon by Head Coach Barry Trotz to carry much of the workload next season.
More than anything, the Caps need Carlson to return to the play that enabled him to record 55 points. While his career average indicates that season could potentially be a fluke, Carlson has shown he has the potential to reach those numbers again. During his 55-point campaign, Carlson averaged 2.35 shots a game and finished with a shooting percentage of 6.1% and 394 total shot attempts. In 2015-16, he averaged just 2.21 shots per game, but finished with a shooting percentage of 6.5%. Last season, he finished with 2.50 shots a game and a shooting percentage of 5.0% and 361 total shot attempts. With Carlson likely to return to manning one of the two power play units, he will get plenty of opportunities to get the puck to the net. He has always been one of the better passers on the Caps’ blueline and, playing with players such as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstorm, and T.J. Oshie on the man-advantage and at even strength, Carlson should see high assists totals again.
At 28-years old, Carlson is still in the prime of his career and, despite his recent run-in with the injury bug, has proven himself before as a reliable, durable blueliner who is capable of shutting opponents down in his own zone. The Capitals will need Carlson to return to his old form defensively, but also offensively. If he can accomplish that, it will go a long way towards cushioning the losses on the blueline.
By Michael Fleetwood