John Carlson is indisputably one of best "rookie" blueliners this season, in the same class as others like PK Subban, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Jamie McBain. While he may be better than the latter three, they all probably have a better shot to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. Why? Well, they can actually get power play time. Carlson is hurt by playing behind Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin (and perhaps Tom Poti) on the power play, and asking for massive point totals at even strength is simply too much. I mean, look at how blueliners scored at even strength last season. Look at Tyler Myers' TOI per game (almost 3 mins per game on the power play, too). Carlson isn't going to get that sort of chance (save with a Mike Green long-term injury), and in order to win the Calder, probably needs close to fifty points. Yikes.
Since 1991 (when eligibility rules changed to prevent older players like Sergei Makarov, who was 32 in his 1990 Calder season, from winning the trophy), here are the Calder Trophy winners:
1991 Ed Belfour (Blackhawks)^*
1992 Pavel Bure (Canucks)^*
1993 Teemu Selanne (Jets)*
1994 Martin Brodeur (Devils)^*
1995 Peter Forsberg (Nordiques)*
1996 Daniel Alfredsson (Senators)
1997 Bryan Berard (Islanders)
1998 Sergei Samsonov (Bruins)
1999 Chris Drury (Avalanche)^*
2000 Scott Gomez (Devils)^*
2001 Evgeni Nabokov (Sharks)^*
2002 Dany Heatley (Thrashers)
2003 Barret Jackman (Blues)^*
2004 Andrew Raycroft (Bruins)^*
2006 Alex Ovechkin (Capitals)
2007 Evgeni Malkin (Penguins)*
2008 Patrick Kane (Blackhawks)
2009 Steve Mason (Blue Jackets)*
2010 Tyler Myers (Sabres)*
A * indicates the team made the playoffs that year, and a ^ indicates the team made the playoffs the year before (without the aid of the rookie).
13 of the 20 Calder Trophy winners here played in the playoffs in their Calder seasons, and 8 of those played for teams that were already playoff-caliber without the rookie-of-the-year. Drury and Gomez joined squads that had recently won the Stanley Cup, and Forsberg, Brodeur, Gomez, and Malkin joined teams that would soon win the Stanley Cup (Gomez winning it that same season).
Only Belfour, Gomez, and Drury joined teams that were already elite--during the previous regular seasons, the Blackhawks won the Norris division, the Devils won the East, and the Avalanche finished 3rd in the West. Carlson would be trying to join this trifecta of players.
Gomez finished 19-51-70 on the season, good for 28th in league scoring and second on the Devils, 2 points behind Patrik Elias. Drury went 20-24-44 and edged out 14-34-48 teammate Milan Hejduk for the Calder in a weak rookie class. Belfour went 43-19-7 in his rookie season, but had played 23 games the prior year, going 4-12 with 3 ties.
Carlson would need lots of help from the other rookies in order to win the Calder. Even Myers had the benefit of both John Tavares and Matt Duchene struggling at different points in the season, letting him finish close to those two in rookie scoring. With so many "name" rookies this season--Taylor Hall, Jamie McBain, Jeff Skinner, Tyler Seguin, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Eberle, Cam Fowler, Jonathan Bernier, Michal Neuvirth, possibly Jakub Kindl, and PK Subban, to name some off the top of my head--it's very likely Carlson finishes somewhat down the list in Calder voting. He's simply not in the right situation to succeed, in the Calder sense, especially compared to the rookies listed above.
He is, though, in the proper situation for getting minutes he can handle and being able to contribute decently. There's zero doubt Carlson would rather win the Stanley Cup than the Calder Trophy, and as a rookie 2nd or 3rd pairing defenseman on the Capitals, his situation is entirely manageable, possibly a bit easier than Niklas Hjarmalsson's last season. How did "Hjammer" end his season last year? Oh, right.
I'm crossing my fingers.