Now that the Capitals’ weeklong development camp is over and players have lugged their equipment bags back to their summer residences, we’re taking a look back at the impressions left by a handful of Caps’ prospects and what lies ahead for each.
Today: Defenseman Connor Carrick
He stands just 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, but it only takes a short conversation with Connor Carrick to believe he will one day play defense in the NHL.
The first thing you notice is the upper body strength he has gained since being taken by the Caps with the 137th pick of last year’s NHL draft.
“I think he’s really upgraded from last year,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “He looks a lot stronger and a lot more poised and more involved in all aspects of the game.”
And then there’s the confidence and hockey sense that oozes from Carrick. Those characteristics were evident last summer when Carrick arrived at his first development camp and confirmed he had bypassed a scholarship to the University of Michigan to play for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL.
Judging from the season he had in Plymouth, it was the right decision.
In 68 games with the Whalers, Carrick recorded 44 points [12 goals, 32 assists] and a plus-27 rating. In the playoffs, where the Whalers were defeated by Dale Hunter’s London Knights, Carrick added 18 points [two goals, 16 assists] in 15 playoff games.
“I feel that my playmaking ability with the puck has really, really increased,” said Carrick, an Orland Park, Ill., native who won a gold medal for the U.S. in the 2012 Under-18 World Junior Championships.
“I feel like I’m able to make some crafty plays -- plays that look like they have some risk but I’m comfortable with them. All around, I feel like I’m a better defensive hockey player but I think it comes down to confidence with the puck.”
Carrick, 19, said he’s benefited from playing under Whalers coach Mike Vellucci, who helped put him in a position to control the pace of games.
“When we’re down a goal, he asks me to make a good first pass, beat the first guy, jump up, catch and shoot if I get the opportunity," Carrick said.
“If we’re up a couple goals we’d shut it down, get pucks deep, keep it simple, don’t get injured, and win the game.”
Carrick’s plan is to return to Plymouth for a second season, “earn every second of ice time” and improve upon a solid year of growth, not just physically, where he’s added seven pounds and dropped a couple percentage points in body fat, but on the ice, where he’d like to lead Plymouth to an OHL title
“With Coach Vellucci, average is not acceptable,” he said. “I’m going to make sure that as an older guy and a leader on our team, we follow that suit and live up to his expectations as a hockey team.”
Carrick said he’s looking forward to playing another season with Caps’ forward prospect Tom Wilson, who finished second on the Whalers with 104 penalty minutes in 48 games and will battle for a roster spot with the Caps in training camp.
The two faced each other during last week’s scrimmages. Carrick called those games “a little like a scramble,” but enjoyed going to head-to-head against his bigger, stronger, and he hopes future teammate.
“He’s a big boy,” said Carrick, who gives up five inches and about 17 pounds to Wilson. “He got the best of me in the first game, but I think I got him pretty good, too. He’s a competitor; I’m a competitor. I’m not afraid of him and he’s not afraid of me. I liked playing against him but I’m real happy to play with him.”