Photo: Washington Times
Entering last season with the departures of defensemen Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner, and Kevin Shattenkirk, a lot more responsibility was assigned to John Carlson. An early-season injury to Matt Niskanen that cost him 14 games out of the lineup put even more on Carlson’s plate.
Carlson, 28, was more than up to the task as he led the league in ice time during Niskanen’s absence, playing over 28 minutes a night. He led NHL defenseman with 68 points and tied St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo for third in goals (15) among defensemen. He was able to maintain his strong level of play in the postseason, where he tallied five goals and 20 points in 24 games and played a huge role in the Washington Capitals’ run to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
Carlson enjoyed a career year but did not quite get the recognition for it. He was not selected for the NHL All-Star Game even though he was absolutely a top-three defenseman in the Metropolitan Division and Carlson was more valuable to his team since Niskanen missed a significant amount of time than the defensemen who were selected. Ex-Capitals’ head coach Barry Trotz was not shy at all to express his disappointment that Carlson got snubbed from All-Star Weekend. Trotz was even more upset in April after Carlson was not named a candidate for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league’s top defenseman.
Carlson was rewarded for his stellar season with an eight-year contract worth $64 million ($8 million AAV), which made him the second-highest paid player on the team (captain Alex Ovechkin – $9.5 million AAV). He was eligible to become the second-most coveted player on the free agent market behind forward John Tavares. The Capitals showed how important Carlson was when they shipped defenseman Brooks Orpik‘s $5.5 million cap hit to the Colorado Avalanche in addition to sending goaltender Philipp Grubauer to Colorado a few days before signing him just because they wanted to create salary cap room to keep him.
This season, Carlson is taking his game to the next level. In addition to averaging 26:27 worth of ice time per game, which is second in the NHL only to defenseman Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings (26:42), Carlson leads NHL defenseman with five goals and is second with 13 points, one behind Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Reilly. Those 13 points are also tied with Ovechkin, center Evgeny Kuznetsov, and center Nicklas Backstrom for the team lead.
Defensively, he has improved with a +6 rating after having an even rating last season in addition to his eight blocked shots and nine hits this season. However, there is room for more improvement as he has turned over the puck 11 times while taking away the puck only four times.
Right now, Carlson is on a three-game goal scoring streak, where he has tallied three goals and seven points. He has had two three-point games during that span. He had a strong performance in the Capitals’ 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night, when he posted a goal and three points. He is also the tenth defenseman in NHL history to find the net five times in his team’s first eight games of the season.
Carlson is playing on pace for more than 50 goals and 130 points but it’s extremely unlikely he even comes close either of those numbers.
Carlson is proving his worth after the Capitals signed him to a big contract over the offseason and is taking the next step to becoming one of the top defensemen in the NHL. He has room to improve defensively but with an increase in scoring at the beginning of the year, his defensive stats will almost certainly improve. Maybe this time, he will get the recognition he deserves. Only time will tell.
By Harrison Brown