That teen-ager Tom Wilson made the Capitals final roster doesn’t qualify as a surprise. That teen-ager Connor Carrick did does qualify as a surprise, though that’s not a knock on Carrick.
The Capitals knew they had a good future defense prospect in Carrick. What he showed during preseason was he was much further along in his development than anyone expected. His play during preseason pretty much left the Caps no choice but to keep Carrick around and see what he could do when things get real.
From Orland Park, Ill, Carrick is an offensive defenseman who can move the puck well and seems to have a natural feel for the game. A short conversation is all it takes to realize he’s exceptionally bright and realistic.
“I like to think I’m a player, the more you watch, the more you like them,” Carrick said. “I try to play to my strengths and play with confidence.”
Carrick was speaking after the Caps’ media luncheon last week, several days before final roster decisions were made. That same afternoon, general manager George McPhee and coach Adam Oates praised him heavily and dropped hints that he wasn’t going anywhere just yet, even though the Caps had options with Carrick that they did not with fellow teen Tom Wilson.
Though Carrick and Wilson are the same age and played for the same junior team last year, their situations are wildly different.
Wilson was drafted while playing for Plymouth in the OHL. Because of an agreement between the NHL and the Canadian junior leagues, teen-agers taken from those leagues either have to play in the NHL or with their junior teams. So Wilson couldn’t be sent to Hershey and if he was sent back to juniors, he couldn’t be recalled until Plymouth’s season was over.
Carrick was not with Plymouth when drafted so the Caps didn’t have those restrictions. He was with the U.S. national team development program when the Caps took him in the fifth round of the 2012 draft.
He could be sent to Hershey of the AHL if the Caps deemed that the best move. That they didn’t speaks volumes to the impression he made in camp. If the NHL proves to be too much for him right now, the Hershey option remains.
Wilson and Carrick will join their NHL teammates for the 2013-14 opener Tuesday night in Chicago.
Is Carrick ready for regular NHL duty? Carrick isn’t one to blow smoke. He’s confident but not a blowhard.
“I don’t know,” he said. I would know better if I played in actual NHL games. Every game I’ve played in so far, there’s an asterisk. It is a preseason game. Their best players aren’t going full tilt or they didn’t have their full lineup.
“Obviously, if I was asked to make the jump I’d feel ready. The players out here are really good. Do I think I can compete with them? Yeah, I do. I like my skills, I like my tools. At the same time, I respect them. They’re great players and they’ve had success at a level I haven’t had.”
Had he been sent to Hershey, it wouldn’t have put a damper on Carrick’s preseason. He did what he needed to do – make the right impression.
“It has been a blast,” he said. “It’s been fun for me on an experience level and the success I’m having is a huge plus for me.”