- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 8, 2009

John Carlson was born nearly 10 years after the events of one February day in Lake Placid, N.Y., changed hockey in this country for the generations that would follow.

Carlson spent part of his offseason in the small upstate New York town that has become a hockey holy land when he went to the evaluation camp for the U.S. junior national team.

“If you watched the movie [“Miracle”], everyone knows about that place. It was unbelievable to be in a place like that with so much history,” Carlson said. “Not just the 1980 ice hockey part - in the facility there are all the Olympic bobsledders and skiers who train there all year round. It was a cool thing to see.”

A first-round pick by the Washington Capitals in 2008, Carlson was one of the top performers at the camp from which the American entry in the 2010 world junior championships will be selected. Carlson, a 19-year-old with the body of a veteran NHL defenseman, has become one of the sport’s top prospects at his position, but he was left off the WJC team last year.

It seems likely Team USA will not make the same mistake and will extend an invitation for this year’s tournament in Saskatchewan. That said, Carlson began his quest Monday to make the Caps’ roster when the organization’s rookie camp opened at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

If Carlson is in the NHL in December, he likely would have the opportunity to return the favor to USA Hockey with a snub of his own.

“When you come to camp, it has to be your goal to make the team,” Carlson said. “It’s been my dream to play in the NHL ever since I was 3. I try not to think about that too much. I am just trying to make an impression day by day.

“Obviously I was disappointed that I didn’t make [the WJC team], but when you play hockey things like that happen. I tried not to think about it and just focus on my season. Maybe it was a good thing I didn’t go - who knows?”

Carlson had quite a 2008-09 campaign, racking up 101 points in 89 games between London of the Ontario Hockey League and Hershey of the American Hockey League. Thirty of those were postseason contests, including 16 games to help the Bears capture the Calder Cup.

“Anytime a young kid comes into a situation like that and doesn’t look out of place, it is very impressive,” said Bob Woods, who was Carlson’s coach with Hershey and is potentially his position coach with the Caps. “We knew he had that type of mentality and that he was a confident kid. He didn’t disappoint us.”

Carlson’s status as the top prospect in the organization without NHL experience adds expectations - but can a 19-year-old with little professional seasoning crack the Caps’ opening night lineup? Here are just a few of the obstacles he faces:

c Washington has seven veteran NHL defensemen under contract for this season. That doesn’t include Karl Alzner, who played 30 games with the Caps last year and is also a top young prospect. Nor does it include Tyler Sloan and Sean Collins, both of whom played for the Caps last year and have one-way contracts for the upcoming season.

c None of the current young homegrown defensemen (Alzner, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz) started their first full professional season in the NHL. General manager George McPhee believes in AHL seasoning, particularly for those who patrol the blue line.

c If the Caps don’t need Carlson because of injuries or roster moves, keeping him in the minors also makes long-term financial sense. Should Carlson play 39 games or fewer during the regular season, it would be an extra year before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. The Caps gained a year of control from this rule with Schultz (38 games in 2006-07) and Alzner (30 games last year).

“I think he’s going to get a good look,” Woods said. “There’s a lot depth at the defense position. Camp and exhibition games will probably dictate a lot of what happens. If he had to go down to Hershey, I don’t think it is going to hurt him. They haven’t rushed anybody at that position, and I don’t know why they would change anything, but if he goes out and does what he is capable of, he’s definitely going to open some eyes.”

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