There’s a long list of candidates in the running for this year’s Calder Trophy award given to the NHL’s top rookie and though Jeff Skinner, Michael Grabner and Logan Couture appear to be the front-runners in a talented crop of first year players, John Carlson has made a strong case to be included among the favorites to win it.
After bursting onto the scene in last year’s first round playoff series against Montreal, Carlson followed up his debut with a terrific rookie season. The young Capitals’ blueliner hasn’t missed a game, is one point away from setting a Capitals record for points by a rookie defenseman and along with Karl Alzner has formed one of the NHL’s top young pairings.
While those accolades are impressive they don’t quite illustrate just how valuable Carlson has been. With Mike Green, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz and Dennis Wideman all missing significant time with injuries, Carlson has shouldered one of the NHL’s heaviest workloads in only his first full season. Throughout the year, he’s played at the point on the power play, been a key member of the penalty kill and leads the team in time on ice.
Here’s a look at Carlson’s TOI totals in 2010-11:
- TOI; 1,834:08 (1st on team, 1st among rookies)
- TOI/G: 22:38 (3rd on team)
- Shorthanded TOI: 189:21 (1st on team)
- Shorthanded TOI/G: 2:20 (6th on team)
- Power-play TOI: 180:34 (7th on team)
- Power-play TOI/G: 2:13 (8th on team, this excludes Keith Aucoin)
The Capitals probably didn’t envision Carlson playing that many minutes, but surprisingly he adjusted to the heavy workload. There have been moments where he seemed to be showing some wear and tear yet he’s muscled through his first year in outstanding fashion.
The fact that Carlson has taken on multiple roles and done so with poise speaks to his dedication, conditioning and mental toughness. There was a tremendous amount of pressure on him to contribute at a high level and he has done so, providing an immediate impact which has stretched into a season’s worth of stellar play.
The offensive skills were expected as Carlson has posted 7-30-37 in 81 games. He possesses a lethal wrist shot and reliable puck handling skills, making him one of the up-and-coming goal-scoring defensemen in the NHL.
However, the real surprise has been his seamless transition to playing defense against the best hockey players in the world. Though Carlson has occasionally made some poor decisions in the neutral zone, he’s made amends with his performance on the defensive end, leading the Caps and all rookie defenders with 159 blocked shots.
Carlson also has 70 hits (8th), 59 takeaways (1st) and a plus-22 (2nd) putting him in the top ten among rookie defensemen in those categories. Discipline hasn’t been a concern either as he’s logged just 44 penalty minutes in over 1,800 minutes of ice time.
Overall, Carlson has provided the Caps with a steady presence each and every night regardless of the game or the injuries plaguing the defensive corps. His numbers may not stack up to those of Skinner’s, Grabner’s or Couture’s, but none of those players maintained his consistency while filling the shoes of a Green or a Wideman.
Obviously a flashy forward is likely to win the award and there’s nothing wrong with that. Carlson’s job on the ice is far less glamorous than his competitors’ and it hurts his chances at capturing the hardware. But Calder Trophy or not, after spending much of the offseason listening to the critics voice their concerns about his inexperience, Carlson has emerged as an integral piece to the Washington Capitals puzzle.