How Caps penalties create a snowball effect
It’s fair to say that just about everything that has happened to Connor Carrick this season has been above and beyond what the 19-year-old defenseman anticipated before arriving for training camp back in September.
“I came into camp hoping to make World Junior and sign [a pro contract] after Christmas,” Carrick said. “That was my goal. I wasn’t even part of the conversation [to make the Capitals’ roster]. It changes so quick.”
Indeed. Carrick signed his first professional contract [3 years, $2.35 million] on a Sept. 23 flight to an exhibition game in Boston. One week later he was suiting up in front of friends and family for his first NHL game in Chicago’s UnitedCenter.
Ten days and three NHL games later, which included his first NHL goal, Carrick was assigned to the Hershey Bears, where he played 13 games and recorded four assists before injuring his shoulder on Nov. 23.
“What really frustrated me was that I put together five or six good games in a row and then I got injured,” Carrick said.
“I’m sweating it because I’m waking up at night and my shoulder hurts. I’m only 19 and hopefully, I’m going to rely on that shoulder a long time.”
Carrick returned to health just in time to accept an invitation from USA Hockey to play in the World Junior Championships in Malmo, Sweden. The Americans were eliminated by the Russians in the quarterfinal game. In five games Carrick recorded three assists and had a plus-7 rating.
He said the early elimination was tough to swallow, but he enjoyed the experience and received a call from the Capitals shortly after he arrived back from Sweden, well ahead of his luggage.
Carrick was inserted into the Capitals’ lineup on Thursday night in Tampa, in place of veteran Steve Oleksy. In three straight games for the Caps alongside John Erskine, Carrick logged 12:59 of ice time against the Lightning, 13:37 against the Maple Leafs on Friday, and 19:30 against the Sabres on Sunday.
“He’s looked very solid,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “I think the junior tournament was such a good pace that he’s come in and he looks like he hasn’t dropped off at all. He looks good.”
Oates said there is nothing quite like the speed and physicality of the NHL and Carrick, listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, got a taste of both over the long weekend, taking a big hit from Tampa’s 6-foot-4, 224-pound left wing Ryan Malone on Thursday, and trying to contain Toronto’s shifty Phil Kessel on Friday.
“You get a shift against Phil Kessel and you say, ‘Whoa, I’ve never seen that before,’” Oates said. “In Tampa he got hit by Ryan Malone, There’s no one that strong in junior [hockey] or in that junior tournament. That’s part of the learning curve.”
Carrick said he likes playing alongside Erskine, a 33-year-old veteran of 13 NHL seasons.
“Ersk is predictable, which is what I need,” Carrick said. “When he looks at me I know he’s going to give [the puck] to me. He’s tough in front, got a good stick. He does a good job.”
Carrick said he’s still learning to deal with the unpredictability of being a professional hockey player and Oates couldn’t make an guarantees on how long the 19-year-old blue liner would be in the Capitals’ lineup.
“I hope he can stick around,” Oates said.