- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

“Hershey Corner,” as Jay Beagle affectionately dubbed it, is the fastest-growing community in the Washington Capitals’ dressing room.

John Carlson, a 2008 first-round pick and one of the organization’s prized prospects, joined the Caps on Thursday and is likely to make his NHL debut Friday against the Montreal Canadiens. Carlson’s stall at Kettler Capitals Iceplex is next to Mathieu Perreault’s, and his is beside Michal Neuvirth’s. Three lockers to Carlson’s right is where Beagle calls home.

All four of them began the year with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League but have been called up because the Caps are besieged by injuries.

“It is kind of nice to be sharing the experience with guys you have battled with in Hershey,” Beagle said. “It is nice to go out to dinner with everyone and have some buddies around the rink, and we’re all either in the team hotel or the apartments [across from Kettler Capitals Iceplex].”

The Caps could be without seven members of their opening-night roster against the Canadiens; Carlson is the latest addition, with defensemen Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina injured and Tyler Sloan moved to forward to help fill in the holes up front.

Carlson likely will play alongside veteran Tom Poti in his first game in a Caps uniform. He had one goal and 10 points for the Bears this season while tying for the league lead with a plus-14 rating.

“He seems to be a very smart player,” Poti said. “He likes to carry the puck and make plays. It is exciting to have him up here.”

The guy Carlson is tied with at plus-14 is his normal defense partner in Hershey, 2007 first-round pick Karl Alzner. Bruce Boudreau said there could be salary cap considerations involved in Carlson being with the Caps and not Alzner, who played 30 games for Washington last season.

A team official would not say who among the team’s injured players is on long-term injured reserve, but if Mike Knuble - out three to four weeks with a broken finger - is, then the Caps have plenty of cap space to work with and this didn’t have to be a financial decision.

“I was actually with [Alzner] when I got the call, and he was happy for me,” Carlson said. “He should be up here, too.”

Added Beagle: “[Carlson] and Alzner are a pairing, and they’re lethal. They are really good together. [Carlson] has a lot of offensive talent, and Alzner’s got probably the best defensive talent in the AHL, so they make a good team. They’re pretty deadly.”

As the 27th pick in 2008, Carlson was the last defenseman selected in a first round that could be defined by the position. Atlanta’s Zach Bogosian and Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty are burgeoning stars, while Buffalo’s Tyler Myers and New York’s Michael Del Zotto are favorites to win the Calder Trophy this season as rookie of the year.

Playing with Del Zotto for London of the Ontario Hockey League last season, Carlson had a monster year, scoring 98 points in 73 games for the Knights. He then became a regular for the Bears during their run to a Calder Cup title.

“When I was on my couch five years ago, I never knew that I would be in this position,” Carlson said. “I’m just happy to be here, just like I was happy to be in Hershey. It has been a whirlwind couple of years here for me. It is exciting.”

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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