With the exception of Anton Gustafsson and Dmitry Kugryshev, all of the Washington Capitals‘ top prospects attended summer development camp in July.
One player who has possibly made the biggest strides since then is John Carlson, the organization’s second first-round pick in June. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound defenseman struggled a bit during his first exposure to professional hockey.
Carlson returned for rookie camp this week at Kettler Capitals Iceplex determined to make a better impression.
“That’s what the great thing about the summer camps is - you can see the guys and say, ‘Listen, you’re not in shape. You’re not ready. This is what you’ve got to be like if you want to play,’” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think a guy like Carlson took that to heart and went home and did a great job getting in shape.”
Added Carlson: “It was really an eye-opener. It really lets you into what’s going on. They teach you how to practice like a pro and how to train like a pro. You think you know, but you don’t really know. They showed me what I had to do.”
So instead of spending his summer reveling in his new status as a first-round pick, Carlson went to work. He added to his off-ice workouts. He played more hockey. He spent 10 days with other top American prospects at a camp for players who might make the national team for the world junior championships.
He also showed up a few weeks early in London, Ontario, where he will play for former Caps great Dale Hunter in the Ontario Hockey League. The result - when other campers struggled to survive the conditioning on the first day, Carlson had little trouble.
“The skate he did in the beginning there were probably four or five guys that got through it and it didn’t seem to bother him one bit,” Caps assistant coach Jay Leach said. “I was pretty impressed with that.”
Last season, Carlson had 12 goals and 43 points for Indiana of the United States Hockey League. His size and offensive potential make him an intriguing prospect that could develop into the complete package on the blue line.
“He’s got great promise,” Leach said. “He moves the puck well, he shoots well and I know he’s in great shape. He has a lot of real good tools. He’s tough, can shoot, can make some plays and can skate. It also seems like he’s pretty calm under fire. I think the future is very bright for him.”
Bright enough that the Caps aggressively pursued his services at the draft in Ottawa. After selecting Gustafsson with the 21st pick, Washington traded former first-round pick Steve Eminger and a third-round choice to Philadelphia for the No. 27 pick and tabbed Carlson.
When he is done in Arlington, Carlson will go back to London to play for Hunter and the Knights this season. After originally committing to play college hockey at Massachusetts, Carlson’s decision to go the OHL route played a big role in the Caps’ desire to draft him.
“Dale played in the NHL all those years and obviously was a tremendous competitor and a very intelligent hockey player,” Caps director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney said. “I think he will teach John a lot of those little things that you need on the ice as far as his skill level and hockey sense but also the work ethic. I think it is going to speed up his progression and get him ready for what it is going to be like to be a professional hockey player.”