Tuesday, September 7, 2010

30 Caps in 30 Days: John Carlson

(During the thirty days of September, I'll be trying to preview the seasons of thirty players currently under contract with the Washington Capitals and who have a good chance of spending some time in red, white, and blue this season. Advanced stats are given from behindthenet.ca ranked against other players at the same position, in the same organization, at 5-on-5, unless otherwise noted. Age is on opening night. Today, John Carlson)

John Carlson: age 20, 6'2", 218 pounds, shoots right.

Contract: $846k, RFA in 2012

2009-2010 linemates: 54% Shaone Morrisonn, 12% John Erskine, 12% Tom Poti
2010 playoff linemates: 60% Tom Poti

2009-2010 raw stats:
NHL: 22 GP, 1-5-6, +11, 21 shots, 8 PIM
Playoffs: 7 GP, 1-3-4, +6, 14 shots, 0 PIM
AHL: 48 GP, 4-35-39, +37,  100 shots, 26 PIM
Playoffs: 13 GP, 2-5-7, +7, 34 shots, 8 PIM

2009-2010 advanced stats: 2nd in Corsi QoC, 9th (last) in Corsi Rel QoC, 6th in Corsi QoT, and 6th in Corsi Rel QoT. Zonestart 48.6% offensive zone (tied for second-to-last), Zonefinish 51.2% offensive zone.
2010 playoffs advanced stats: 6th in Corsi QoC and Corsi Rel QoC, 7th (second-to-last) in Corsi QoT, and 7th in Corsi Rel QoT.

(Photo courtesy Caps Snaps)

WOWY (yellow is how much better the player is with Carlson, green how much better Carlson is with the player):

John Carlson at the moment looks like a Caps legend in the making. George McPhee on the 2008 NHL Entry Draft floor traded former first-round pick Steve Eminger plus the Caps' two early second-round picks for the Flyers' first round pick late in the first round. Initially, I saw no sense in the trade--two early-to-mid second-rounders, plus a young NHL-level defenseman, for a late first-round pick?--but now it all makes sense.

Since that fateful day in June 2008, life probably has been a whirlwind for Carlson. It started with 19-year old Carlson, the year after having been drafted, having a strong season in the Ontario Hockey League, playing with Dale Hunter's London Knights. Then, Carlson suddenly just missed making the Capitals out of training camp in September 2009. Carlson went on to play with AHL Hershey for a few months before heading to Quebec for the 2010 World Junior Championships, where he did this:

Carlson went back to Hershey and was named to the AHL PlanetUSA all-star team. Down the stretch, the Capitals called him up to NHL. Many posts later, Carlson did this:

And 23 days later, Carlson got his second NHL goal:

After the Capitals were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Carlson took his clutch goals to potential Calder Cup-clinching games at Giant Center:

As you can see, Carlson has moved up the ladder quite rapidly. It seems like for every rookie mistake, he nets an important goal. Even though other young blueliners like PK Subban, Drew Doughty, Victor Hedman, and Alex Pietrangelo seem to take most of the hype coming into 2010-2011, Carlson may just be the second-best of that group. I mean, aside from Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera, Alex Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom, any player with whom Carlson had at least 100 Corsi events during the regular season was better off as a result, and the presence of the latter two in the group is excusable because if Carlson wasn't on the ice with them, the world's best offensive defenseman, Mike Green, was. In reality, then, a defenseman playing his first professional season failed to instantly mesh with only two of his teammates.

For better or for worse, Carlson will be partially buried on the depth chart. Mike Green is a lock to play defense on the top power play unit, which, as we all know, takes most of the power play time. With Alex Ovechkin playing the other point, and those two playing around 90 seconds per power play, there is hardly any power play time for Carlson. Since ice time, especially power play time, is critical to putting up big point totals--check out Tyler Myers' 2:58 PPTOI per game, and now defensemen even-strength scoring--Carlson probably won't be able to get the big point totals many fans might want out of him this season. Even with power play time, the list of active defensemen who got 30 or more points as a rookie is very, very short, as is the list of defensemen 21 or younger who hit 30 points since 1990. We're looking at one rookie defenseman a season, on average, and I'd slot Alex Pietrangelo and PK Subban ahead of Carlson in terms of opportunity to put up points. Carlson has slim odds to hit 30 points, but that doesn't mean he is bad by any means.

Carlson really needs to take this regular season to fine tune his game some more. He probably needs to bulk up some more, as do most other young players. He needs to learn to conserve energy a bit more. He needs to work on his passing--passable for a third pair defenseman, not a 1D-in-waiting--and carrying the puck up the ice on the rush. He needs to work on his defense some more as well, so he can excel while facing tougher minutes than he has to date. He probably will have growing pains during this process, but he'll be the better off for it as long as he gets it together before the playoffs. If he can figure this out, he'll be playing big minutes in all situations again in the postseason, especially if his defensive partner is Karl Alzner, Tom Poti, or Jeff Schultz.

My expectations: 5-10 goals, 20-25 points, the 2nd most PPTOI/gm among Caps D but well behind Mike Green, and more than a minute of SHTOI/gm. He looks like he'll finish the season as the Caps' 4th D in terms of time on ice. These are truly high expectations for a guy who is not even 21 yet, but Carlson hasn't failed to exceed expectations in years. He seriously challenged for a spot on the roster before he was supposed to, he became the USA's top young defenseman not named Zach Bogosian, he jumped ahead of a blue-chip defensive prospect a year older than him on the prospect chart, and ended up as the most reliable defenseman for the President's Trophy-winning squad during the playoffs. He has shown no signs of slowing down.

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