Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hey! Let's all get excited about the hockey stylings of John Carlson!

It’s foolish to get overly excited about a 19-year-old defenseman; almost as foolish as thinking MTV would ever film “The Real World” here getting all engorged over the idea of a flame-throwing right-hander single-handedly reversing the fortunes of your sputtering baseball franchise with his soon-to-be $10+ million arm.

But if you saw Tarik El-Bashir's report from Hershey in Monday’s WaPo, members of the Caps brass are fully tumescent about the play of John Carlson, who, along with the rest of the Bears, is one win away from hoisting Hershey’s second Calder Cup in four years (tonight, 7 PM).

[Carlson looks for fools to wreck. Image via The Patriot News]

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Carlson impressed just about everybody in the organization at Kettler during camp last year. And while spending the year playing for erstwhile Capitals sensei Dale Hunter’s London Knights (Ontario Hockey League), Carlson was second among all OHL defensemen in points (16G, 60A in 59GP) convincing George McPhee to give the kid a three-year entry-level contract.

When the Knights tasted cruel, cruel OHL defeat at the hands of the Windsor Spitfires, Carlson joined the Bears during the Calder Cup playoffs. He’s appeared in 14 games for the Chocolate Towners, posting modest numbers (1G, 1A) but earning the trust of his teammates and, most importantly, coach Bob Woods.

“Look at how [Mike] Green shaped up. He went through the same process, through two Calder Cup runs, then made the step," Woods told Tarik.

Ah, the inevitable stroking of our expectations. When it comes to projecting NHL defensemen, for every Mike Green, there are at least two dozen guys like Nolan Yonkman, Jakub Cutta, J.F. Fortin and Ross Lupaschuk. Did you just taste a little throw-up too?

(An aside: the Caps organization has been pretty fucking bad when it comes to picking NHL-caliber blueliners: between picking Sergei Gonchar in 1992 and Jeff Schultz in 2004, the Caps drafted exactly two guys – Brendan Witt in ’93 and Steve Eminger in ’02 – that went on to play more than a full season in Washington. Shit is right.)

Luckily, the Caps already have a guy named Mike Green, so Carlson doesn’t need to become a Norris Trophy candidate right away. What he would bring to the Caps that isn’t already there is his hard, low point shot that actually hits the net more often than it misses (you may put your hand down now, Mr. Jurcina). Dude can also hit; check out his nice body-work in the opening seconds of these difficult-to-locate highlights from Hershey’s Game 3 victory over the Manitoba Moose. Carlson’s too fly for YouTube.

In addition to his offensive tendencies, Carlson plays with an edge, something the Caps desperately need. He racked up 65 PIMs in the OHL, and with a full season of pro-hockey conditioning under his belt, Carlson’s liable to add some muscle mass to his Tom Poti-sized frame. Hockey's Future noted Carlson’s good at one thing Bruce Boudreau likes in his guys: he plays well within a system. And, he’s “willing to do whatever it takes to win.” Bonus!

So, should you run out and take out a second mortgage to afford that customized John Carlson No. 74 Caps sweater? Maybe.

With the likely departure of Shaone Morrissonn this offseason, there’s an opening on the Washington blue-line that likely has Hot Karl Alzner’s name on it. Meanwhile, Milan Jurcina and Jeff Schultz, both restricted free agents, are virtual locks to re-sign here, which would leave Carlson, Jurcina and Schultz battling for the No. 6 slot, barring any off-season acquisitions by McPhee.

Jurcina had a strong postseason and Schultz is Boudreau's homeboy, so it would take a very, very heady performance by Carlson to unseat either of those guys on the Opening Night roster. No point in having Carls Jr. up here if he’s going to sit next to Michael Nylander in the press box.

So it will likely come down to injuries: much like Alzner was in 2008-09, Carlson would likely be the first defenseman recalled from Hershey when Tom Poti inevitably tweaks his fragile groin or John Erskine repeatedly bashes his cartoonish head into Riley Cote’s fists. Injuries happen, and it sure would be nice to have Carlson to recall instead of Bryan Helmer or Sean Collins.

Regardless of where Carlson starts 2009-10, he certainly has plenty within the organization excited about his upside. Splitting the season between Chocolate Town and Chocolate City wouldn’t be the worst thing for him, so long as he doesn’t get too comfortable up there hoisting Lord Calder’s The Calder Cup.

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